The NBA season is just about to start and I couldn’t be happier. Finally, we have basketball back. With that said, this will be the first of a new series I’m trotting out: BG’s St8 of the NBA.
Every week there will be 8 new things on the NBA — four of which will be dedicated to the Charlotte Hornets. The other four will track league-wide trends, and bits of news.
Without further adieu, let’s jump right in on the Charlotte Hornets. Giddyup.
Nic Batum Injury
Friend of the program Spencer Percy at Queen City Hoops — and one of my cohosts with BuzzBeat Radio — first broke the news of Batum’s injury late last week.
QCH Source: Nic Batum tore UCL in his left elbow. In all likelihood, he's done for the season.
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) October 5, 2017
The Hornets have subsequently backed off that timeline some; if Batum goes the route of recovery, he will miss closer to 8-12 weeks. There’s risk in bringing Batum back, though. Charlotte owes Batum $99 million over the next four season, including a $27 million player option for 2020-21. He’s currently the most expensive player on the roster; if he comes back too early, like MKG did two seasons ago, and re-injures the UCL, it’s an even bigger problem than it is now.
Batum missing extended time could force the front office to trade away a valuable asset, like a future first round pick, in order for a short term win-now band-aid. It’s unlikely to come that, although this injury puts stress on a wing rotation that was already thin.
Jeremy Lamb — a sixth-year wing — will get the starting nod as the team’s two-guard. Lamb can run a pick-and-roll, and he’s a helluva defensive rebounder (22.6 percent defensive rebound rate). However, he’s a bit of a chucker — 21.5 field goal attempts per 100 possessions — and he loves to pound the rock, which contrasts with Batum — a special playmaker and offensive connector.
Lamb is a bricky three-point shooter, which will pinch the team’s limited spacing; he also loves taking shots deep in the clock — normally Kemba territory. According to the league’s tracking data, 22 percent of Lamb’s shots came with under seven seconds left on the shot clock.
Everyone knows that Charlotte’s bread and butter on offense is high pick-and-roll with Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller. However, so much of the team’s attack plan on that end of the floor is predicated around Batum, too. Wide weak-side pindowns for catch-and-shoots, dribble handoff (DHO) action with Zeller and secondary creation next to Kemba. Not only that: with a few question marks at the backup point guard position, Batum could function as the de facto second point guard. For now, all of that is out of the window, though.
Hornets not only scored more points per possession with Batum on last season – also shot better (55 TS%), and assisted on a higher % of FGM.
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) October 5, 2017
The injury also robs Charlotte — for at least the first 2-3 months of the season — its best three-man combination from 2016-17. According to NBA.com, Kemba, Batum and Seller played 1,312 minutes together. In that span, the team scored 109.7 points per 100 possessions; and gave up 103.1 points per 100 possessions. That’s the rate of a top 5-6 offense and a top 4-5 defense.
The +6.6 net rating the Hornets had with those three on the floor last season was the best of any trio on the roster (minimum 1,000 minutes); it was also good for No. 8 in the entire Eastern Conference.
Preseason PNR Offense
Without Nic Batum, Charlotte will be even more dependent on Kemba Walker’s efficient pick-and-roll (PNR) attack.
Kemba led the league in pick-and-roll scoring last season; the addition of Dwight Howard as a rim-runner was supposed to help here, too.
There are been some positive signs in the preseason, however. Rookie Malik Monk is one of the most exciting players on Charlotte’s roster. My guy Richie Randall pointed out a great play Kemba and Monk had together in the win over Detroit.
In this clip, the Hornets run a double stacked PNR for Kemba; Howard sets the second screen. It’s enough to get Kemba into the paint, which draws Dwight’s defender — BOBAN! — to helpless slide with Kemba. As Dwight rolls, Ish Smith has to slide down from the wing to bump D12. Kemba whips it weak side to Monk, Ish closes out to quickly, and Monk smokes him for the slam.
More of this, please.
The center rotation: Zeller-Howard minutes
The Hornets acquisition of Dwight Howard earlier this summer allowed the team to shed the disastrous Miles Plumlee contract. It’s already a win for that; however, Dwight still has utility, too.
The Hornets, under Steve Clifford, have built multiple top 10 defenses without the benefit of a rim protector, like D12. Howard — a top-5 defensive center last season — would help with that, and allow MKG to float more off the ball, free safety style.
On offense, he gives the team another rim run threat to run pick-and-rolls with Kemba. However, Charlotte still needs to find time for Cody and Kemba to share the floor as much as possible.
Last season, the Hornets — in 1,541 minutes with Cody and Kemba on the floor — scored 110.3 points per 100 possessions. They gave up just 102.8 points per 100 possessions.
Kemba Walker: Off-ball menace
The ball needs to be in Kemba Walker’s hands as much on possible on offense. Charlotte is at its best when he’s making stuff happen off the bounce. However, Charlotte look to get Kemba moving off the rock more often, too.
According to NBA.com, Walker led the NBA in three-point percentage (47.7 percent) last season on catch-and-shoot attempts — for players with at least 200 launches. That’s right — better than Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, Kevin Durant and Kyle Korver.
The Hornets have a pet action involving a flare screen from either Marvin Williams or Frank Kaminsky to free up Kemba for a catch-and-shoot bomb; without Batum, that action becomes more of a challenge to run, though.
Seth Curry out indefinitely — stress reaction in left tibia
Man, this one is a bummer. Seth Curry really started to carve out a name for himself last season with a clunky but really fun Dallas Mavericks team. In year one of a two-year contract, Curry evolved into one of the best shooters in the NBA.
Brutal. Would've been fun to see him play next to DSJ. Curry: 40 3P% on catch-and-shoots, 44.4% on pull-up 3s, 63 FG% in restricted area. https://t.co/uqhUJCjjmL
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) October 7, 2017
It would have been really fun to watch him space the floor around Dennis Smith Jr. pick-and-rolls. Dallas isn’t a playoff team in a loaded Western Conference, but the Mavs offense has some potential. DSJ and Nerlens Noel go PNR while Curry, Wes Matthews and Dirk space the court.
Houston Rockets — preseason offense
When the Houston Rockets acquired the Point God, Chris Paul, this offseason, it raised a plethora of questions. Primarily, how would Paul and James Harden share the ball? And how would Paul — the midrange maestro — function within Houston’s three-point launch squad?
Rockets are also about to shoot waaaay more midrangers next season. FGA from 10-19 feet:
– HOU: 404 (last in the league)
– CP3: 346
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) June 28, 2017
So, how have things looked in the preseason? Well, Houston has looked awesome, especially when Paul went to work in the second quarter against OKC last week. Though the team’s first two preseason games, though, it looks like Houston’s Moneyball approach has already taken over.
Over last 5 years, Chris Paul is 11th in mid-range FGA & 1st in m-r FG% (min. 750 att.). Here's his shots in 2 preseason games w/ Houston. pic.twitter.com/MLvRmqInKa
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) October 6, 2017
This is something to monitor as the season progresses; I still believe Paul will find ways to help diversify Houston’s spread offense with some midrange goodness.
(The Rockets have also used CP3 as an off-ball screener in preseason, and it’s been devastating so far.)
OKC: Why we think Russ, PG, and Melo will fit
Are there enough basketballs and possessions to go around for OKC’s ball-dominant triplets? I think so.
First off, there’s the obvious thought of minutes staggering. At all times, the Thunder should have at least one of its big three on the floor, which will allow Paul George and Carmelo opportunities to cook against second units.
More importantly, though: George and Melo are excellent catch-and-shoot players. According to NBA.com, here’s how those two shot after holding the ball for less than two seconds last season:
PG13: 40.8 3P%, 59.6 eFG%
Melo: 40.9 3P%, 55.8 eFG%
Additionally: 42 percent of Melo’s field goal attempts came after holding the ball for less than two seconds; 47 percent of PG’s attempts fell within that timespan, too.
George and Melo are clearly high-usage wings that want touches, but they weren’t Jimmy Butler or Kyrie Irving. Only 25 percent of Kyrie’s attempts came after holding the ball for only two seconds; Butler was at 33 percent.
This will fit perfectly around Westbrook-Steven Adams pick-and-rolls — one of the best plays in basketball.
The ball won’t fly around, like the Warriors, and it will take some time to find a rhythm, but shooting solves some of the presumed issues. I love some of OKC’s small-ball options — running pick-and-pops with Westbrook and Carmelo, and Patrick Patterson at the five.
Joel Embiid: Worth his weight in Tweets
Early Monday evening, news broke that Philadelphia big fella and #TrustTheProcess supernova Joel Embiid agreed to terms on a five-year $148 million designated rookie scale max contract extension.
Embiid, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft, has played only 31 games during his career due to a host of injuries. There’s a lot of risk entrusting this much money hyper-talented but oft-injured center; personally, I thought they’d wait until after the season, then hit him with a max deal in restricted free agency — after seeing how this season went.
This deal, however, has some financial triggers that protect the franchise against Embiid’s larger injury concerns. And despite the risks, this is a move that should please the face of the franchise. Additionally, Philadelphia will still have upwards of $40 million in cap space next summer, too.
Jokes aside — this is all a part of The Process: Philadelphia has the flexibility to do something like this.
Hopefully he can stay healthy, because my god, is Embiid a special talent. Embiid is Godzilla on the floor — a two-way monster the influences the game in ways that few other players can…when healthy. Embiid shot 37 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, and opponents connected on only 40.8 percent of their field goals attempted at the rim against Embiid. That ranked No. 1 in the NBA amongst players with at least 150 field goals defended at the rim.