The Charlotte Hornets have taken the NBA and Eastern Conference by storm (or should I say, by swarm), winning 6 of their first 9.
This has been Head Coach’s Steve Clifford 4th year with the team. Last year, the Hornets came back from a poor 33-49 performance in 2014-15, and won 48 games, finishing 6th in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets were badly bit by the injury bug. That they even got to 48 wins was an impressive performance, as key starters Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Al Jefferson (who left Charlotte for Indiana via free agency this offseason) missed a total of 139 games. That’s not even mentioning how many injuries this team had in totality – 35 reported injuries for 11 players.
The past few years, the Hornets have built this team on the strength of quickly moving the ball, spacing the floor, and keeping possession of the ball. Steve Clifford has instilled a simple yet effective offensive system. By spreading the floor with pick ‘n rolls along with quick decision making on the perimeter, it has opened up the floor for the shooters on Charlotte. The Hornets rank 1st in turnovers allowed (10.5), 6th in assists per game (25.3) and 7th in three point attempts (29.9) and makes (10.4), they have taken advantage of more possessions efficiently by not turning over the ball and choosing to shoot long range shots.
5 players on the Hornets average 3 or more three point attempts per game, and collectively have a three point percentage of 36.3. Compared to each of the 30 team’s average three point percentage, 36.3 is tied with the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat at 7. Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum, Frank Kaminsky, and Marco Belinelli are all capable and consistent enough to keep his up.
Kemba Walker has been the poster boy for the Hornets, and that’s for a very good reason. He’s averaging 25.3 points per game, 5 assists, while only playing 32.5 minutes per game.
Not only that, but his three-point percentage is at 47, leading his team and 5th overall in the league. His true shooting percentage is an elite 62.7%, only averaging 2.0 turnovers a game at a usage percentage of 30.2.
This usage percentage is a very important indicator of his statistical success. The past 5 years with the Charlotte franchise Walker has had a usage of about 25/26 percent, and except for his rookie year, he averaged about 35 minutes a game. What Hornets coach Steve Clifford has done this year, is drop his time on the floor by about 2 or 3 minutes, while increasing his role within the offense.
Clifford found the threshold of greatness for the 26 year old, and it’s paid off tremendously for the Hornets. Per 36 minutes, Walker is scoring 28.6 points and passing out 6.2 assists. Although he won’t be playing that high of minutes, in perspective this makes him one of the league’s top scorers.
Charlotte, much like the Los Angeles Lakers, has a great core of depth and uses it to their advantage. In terms of minutes played on a nightly basis, Batum leads the pack with 33.8 minutes per game, while the rest of the starting 5 averages 29.6. Charlotte has 7 players on their bench averaging at least 13 minutes per game. The power forward and center position seem to have a platoon of sorts, with Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky at power forward and Cody Zeller, Spencer Hawes, and Roy Hibbert at center.
Per 36 minutes, the combined numbers of Kaminsky and Williams are 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. Per 36 minutes, the combined numbers of Zeller, Hawes, and Hibbert come out to 16.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. To put this in perspective, the Spurs’ 5 time All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 17.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds. Again, Clifford has figured out how to place guys in the most efficient roles and minutes possible for team success.
A side note on Roy Hibbert; he is especially shining in his role. Hibbert has been labeled a castaway of sorts, because his injury prone body and playing type doesn’t necessarily fit that of a modern day center. Last year, he dealt with a lingering knee and elbow sprains, and it was no help to his game, as he only averaged 5.9 points and 4.9 rebounds for the lackluster Los Angeles Lakers.
Yet again, Clifford has placed someone in a role where they can thrive. Hibbert is playing only 16 minutes per game, but is averaging 7.8 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Per 36 minutes, he is averaging 17.6 points per game, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game. He is first on the team in Win Shares Per/48 and 2nd in PER. He is performing at an All-Star caliber, but in a smaller, sustainable role. Hibbert is another unheralded weapon for the Hornets.
Ever since acquiring him the year prior, Nicolas Batum has been the heart and soul of this Hornets team. So far, his stats are none too impressive – 13.6 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. However, there is more than meets the box score. Batum’s long arms (7’4″ wing span) and aggressive nature is a game changer for the Hornets defensively. Then, on offense, his presence alone just opens up the floor for the Hornets. His ability to be the primary ball handler takes a load off of Kemba Walker offensively.
Much like the effect Draymond Green has on the Warriors, without Batum on the floor, the Hornets are, for lack of a better word, trash. On average, the Hornets average 104.4 points, a 53.5 true shooting percentage, and a plus minus of + 5.6 per game. On the floor the Hornets average 110.8 points, a 56.4 true shooting percentage, and a plus minus of + 9.9 per game. Off the floor, the Hornets average only 89.4 points, a 46.4 true shooting percentage, and a plus minus of -4.9 per game.
When Batum is on the floor the Hornets average 21.4 more points, a 10 percent better true shooting, and 14.8 plus minus compared to when he’s off the floor. Batum is the superglue vital for his team’s success.
Going forward, this Hornets team must stick to their game plan by continuing to give Kemba the ball, spreading the floor, limiting turnovers and spreading minutes amongst their roster. Most importantly, keep Batum on the floor! With the Pacers and Celtics both struggling, a high seed in the East is attainable if they can continue to ride on their early success.