The Charlotte Hornets are once again grinding their wheels in the pit of mediocrity.
Currently at 24-33 on the year, the Hornets aren’t a legitimate contender. However, they aren’t the trash of the league either. The Hornets mean well. They have a modest roster chock full of good intentions. But their good intentions aren’t producing much.
If you listen to mainstream sports media and some fans, they would tell you that the sensible thing to do is to trade star guard Kemba Walker and start rebuilding. Actually, that was the talk during the trade deadline. The thought that Walker is wasting his prime in the ‘Queen City’ is a prevalent one.
It is also not true.
What most don’t realize is that the Hornets with their current roster can contend for eighth in the East. In fact the Hornets have lost a handful of winnable games. In some of these games, they blew their share of leads, Also, they are 1-5 on the season in games decided by three points or less. The difference between say the seventh or eighth seed in the East and seven games behind, are the games that the Hornets had control in.
While Charlotte can’t change those missed opportunities, they could still make a push to sneak into the playoffs. Here are a few ways that “Buzz City” can undergo a renaissance and get that eighth spot.
Implement Walker/Howard Pick and Roll
Usually, the Hornets go to the Kemba Walker/ Dwight Howard pick and roll to end games, or when they just need a bucket. In the occasions that they run the pick and pop during the flow of the game, the Hornets’ offense produces, and gives them their best chance of winning games.
For example, When Howard sets a high screen for Walker, the paint is open for the roll but the play doesn’t end there. The defense collapses on Howard, and leaves Walker, Nic Batum or Marvin Williams open. If the defense stays on the perimeter, Walker would lob it to Howard for an easy bucket.
Whenever the Hornets run this pick and roll properly, more often than not, more avenues become available for Walker to score. You can find an example in an early season game against the Magic. Walker scored 34 points while Howard grabbed 22 rebounds and snagged 10 boards in a Hornets’ 120-113 win.
Another thing the Hornets could explore offensively is taking advantage of an occasional Howard double team. For whatever reason, the Golden State Warriors decided to double team Howard in their December matchup. Consequently, the Hornets took advantage of that and pulled off the upset at Oracle.
Granted, the Hornets don’t have a wing or a guard that can stretch the floor consistently, but letting the offense flow through various sets of the Walker/Howard pick and roll is a solid strategy to help get some much-needed wins in the season’s second half.
Treveon Graham minutes
In the midst of the Hornets’ four game losing streak, the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell wrote an article about the Hornets’ rotations. In it, Bonnell suggested that the team should take some minutes away from guys like Jeremy Lamb and Treveon Graham.
If anything, Coach Steve Clifford should give Graham more minutes. Why? because Graham is a scrappy player who knows how to hustle. Sure, he doesn’t offer much as far as offense is concerned, but sometimes the best offense is defense. In spite of being sketchy on defense, the Hornets rebounding is a positive. They are third in the league in total rebounds, and it has much to do with the scrappiness of Graham when he’s out there with the second unit.
When Graham is playing, he seems to be that player on the floor who wants the ball more than anybody. In a recent game against the Suns, I saw him battle for board after board. Also, Graham is shooting 43 percent from three. It’s worth it to get Graham some extra minutes and get him some open looks. He may be an extra option coming out of the Howard double team or Howard/ Walker pick and roll. Coach Clifford has nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting Graham involved more.
Make Consistent Defense A Priority
“These are the nights that you really have a chance to do something. For our team, we’re are good enough offensively but if we’re not going to defend we don’t have enough of offense to be a great team” -Coach Steve Clifford after falling to the Denver Nuggets 104-121
Sure Coach Clifford was referring to the Hornets’ collapse at the tail end of the Nuggets game but he can say the same thing for the entire season. In different times in the season, Charlotte has struggled to finish games. They have blown very winnable games because of weak defense.
Opponents score 106.7 points per game against the Hornets’ defense. Howard offers solid interior defense, and is currently 7th in the league in blocks and averaging 9.3 defensive boards a game. The Hornets hustle to rebounds and 50-50 balls on defense. So it isn’t interior defense here. The Hornets’ problem is guarding the perimeter.
Against Denver recently, Charlotte shot 55 percent from the floor with 3:05 remaining in the game including 40 percent from three. They just couldn’t run Denver off the three-point line and it cost them.
The same issue almost cost them the game against Orlando before the All-Star break.
The Hornets have some length to them and versatile enough to switch. But what it boils down to is effort. The Hornets seem to show hustle and effort on defense sporadically. This is where you need someone like Graham to come in and be a defensive specialist because of his tenacity and hustle. If I were Clifford, I would put Graham out there with strong defenders such as Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to try to shut offenses down in the closing minutes of the game. When you don’t have a lot of offensive weapons, solid defense can compensate for that. Charlotte may not have shooters everywhere, but they do have long defenders that is able to contest threes regularly, and should take advantage of that.