After an extended and totally undeserved holiday break, we return: 5 things on the Hornets, 3 on the rest of the NBA. (Tyus Jones in the house!) It’s the midpoint of the season, too. Let’s jump right in.
First things first: A caveat of Maverickian proportions
This was intended to be an exclusively postive post on the Charlotte Hornets — the road trip west was a success. Charlotte’s first opponent back home seemed like a safe landing spot, too: the Dallas Mavericks. That, however, wasn’t the case.
Despite a significant rest advantage, the Hornets (on four days rest) fell to the Mavs (on the second night of a back-to-back), 115-111. The team once again wasted a notable performance from All-Star point guard Kemba Walker: 41 points on 28 field goal attempts.
Charlotte’s two most expensive players — Dwight Howard and Nic Batum — were especially bad. Howard turned the ball over three times and went 5-of-18 from the free throw line.
Only 2 games in the NBA this season when a player has 15+ FTA and made 5 or fewer free throws. Dwight Howard is responsible for both of those performances. Tonight and in Oct vs. Houston.
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 11, 2018
Dallas initially tried to double Dwight, but after some nice pass-outs, the Mavs single-covered D12, and put him on the line if he was close to scoring. The strategy worked.
It was one of those games for Batum: zero aggression on offense and a less than hearty appetite to stick with his man defensively — usually his former Portland teammate Wes Matthews.
Nic didn’t make his first shot until 35 seconds remained in the first half; his 13.4 percent usage rate is emblematic of his ability to just check out on offense. Show me another $20 million wing with a 17 percent usage rate, please.
The Hornets shot 77 percent at the rim, and 9-of-20 on above the break three-pointers. Charlotte cleared over 90 percent of their defensive rebounds (the Mavs punted on hitting the glass), and held Dallas to just 10 FGA inside of four feet. All of that is great, but it wasn’t enough. (Who needs to shoot at the rim with Dirk is raining pick-and-pop jumpers?)
Regardless, that’s brutal loss. Seven of Charlotte’s next eight games are at home; however, this team is in a very precarious spot right now. But for the time being: Some more team-friendly notes and observations.
The Recipe: A West Coast Swing for Charlotte
November and December were, eh, not great months for the Hornets. After a 12-game stretch in December that featured nine games at the Cable Box, Charlotte was 12-22, and checked in with the league’s 22nd best offense. Not great.
However, a quick four-game road swing to California rehabbed the season — at least for the moment. Charlotte went 3-1, including a win over Golden State (sans Steph Curry) when they made just six three-pointers.
The Hornets scored 110.5 points per 100 possessions in that stretch — the level of a top-5 offense. Charlotte attempted 29.5 three-pointers per game, making 37.3 percent of those launches.
Everyone seemed to have moments; Dwight Howard, much maligned in this space, had a gem of a performance against the Warriors. But like most other things positively associated with this team, Kemba Walker was primary agent of good. The shooting numbers are far from amazing, but he was dynamic, and played with his customary swagger.
In the win over Golden State, Kemba absolutely chumped Draymond Green for a loose ball streal; as my guy Spencer Percy described it, this was the play of the season so far for Charlotte.
Do you know how freaking hard you have to work to outlast Draymond for a loose ball, like this? Kemba’s competitive drive is remarkable, and as good as any professional athlete in the world.
(To hear more on last week’s Cali road trip: Check out Episode 50 of BuzzBeat Radio)
Speaking of Kemba: The maestro of the pick-and-roll
The Hornets are rather bland and predictable on offense; the team lacks shooting, and relies too heavily on Dwight Howard post-ups. A lack of a high-usage second option — Nic Batum is miscast in this role — means it’s frequently up to Kemba Walker to win games by cooking dudes in the pick-and-roll.
Kemba is more than capable of taking games over; however, pick-and-roll action gets tricky when opponents load up or trap him off the screen. Dwight can’t make plays on the short role, and teams don’t worry about most of Charlotte’s wing shooters. Plus, Kemba isn’t Ben Simmons or John Wall; he can’t see over the top of teams that trap.
However, when he gets single-coverage, man, this dude is as good as anyone in the NBA. According to Synergy Sports, Kemba shoots 43.3 percent (49.2 eFG%) out of the pick-and-roll this season. He’s averaging 11.2 points per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
Walker scores 0.97 points per possession out of the pick-and-roll; this is a top-10 number in the league, too. Go under the screen, like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does here, and he’ll let it rip.
If you switch, well, that’s almost always a losing strategy, especially if the screen-and-roll is of the 1-5 variety. It’s curtains for Zaza here.
Treveon Graham: Self-made NBA Player
The contract of Hornets forward Treveon Graham became fully guaranteed on Wednesday this week. Every penny of his $1.3 million salary is guaranteed through the end of this season. He’s earned all of it, too.
Important to note on Treveon Graham’s Jan. 10 trigger date. Consider him a Hornet for the remainder of the season. https://t.co/xZxwxf4Q1v
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) January 8, 2018
Overall, Graham’s on/off numbers aren’t great — the result of him playing a lot with bench units that have crummy point differentials. However, this guy is an excellent fit on Charlotte’s roster — or anyone’s for that matter.
Graham is a low-usage wing that can guard multiple positions (2-4), move the ball on offense and hit three-pointers. The 6-foot-5 VCU product is shooting 46 percent on catch-and-shoot triples.
According to Cleaning The Glass, lineups with Kemba and Graham at small forward have scored 122 points per 100 possessions (245 total possessions). Those lineups have shot 42 percent on above the break threes, too, which is outstanding for Charlotte.
In 176 minutes with Kemba and Graham on the floor this season, the Hornets have outscored opponents by 64 points. That’s the best point differential for any two-man group on the Hornets this season that’s played fewer than 300 minutes.
This is a feel-good story. Hats off to TG.
Dunk you very much, J-Lamb
Jeremy Lamb has been one of the top bench scorers in the NBA this season, and is deserving of some secondary 6th man praise. (Lou Williams is the kingpin of this discussion at the moment)
Lamb is one of the bright spots for Charlotte this season, and could be an interesting trade chip leading into the deadline (Feb. 8). However, who cares about team building? Let’s watch some dunks!
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) January 6, 2018
Someone break up the Timberwolves!
Don’t look now but Minnesota is playing some awesome basketball at the moment. The Wolves are 11 games over .500 and sitting pretty at fourth place in the West. Minnesota is fourth in offensive efficiency, and after a woeful start, this team is making some moves defensively; led by Jimmy Butler, this team now 16th in defense.
Over the last 10 games, Minnesota is 7-3 — with wins over Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland — and over that stretch has allowed just 101.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s third in the NBA dating back to Christmas. A big part of the defensive effort: forcing turnovers. In their last 10 games, Minnesota has recorded 9.3 steals per 100 possessions — tops in the NBA.
The play by Butler here is ridiculous. It takes extraordinary reaction skills to read this play — one of OKC’s favorite sets, abort guarding Russell Freaking Westbrook and jump the pass to Paul George.
With Jeff Teague injured, former Duke star Tyus Jones helped steer the ship. Minnesota didn’t miss a beat with Jones in the lineup. Jones has helped in the steals department, too: 4.4 deflections per 36 minutes, which ranks second in the NBA.
Tyus Jones has now started 10 games. His plus/minus in those games:
Jones has been plus in all but one of his 10 starts, and overall as a starter he's +153 points in 337 minutes or +22 points per 48 minutes.
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) January 9, 2018
This run for Tyus also included what has to be the highlight of his professional career. Watch out, King James!
Cleveland Cavaliers: Leaking Again on Defense
In the month of November, the Cavs picked up their defense. Teams shot and made fewer three-pointers per game on Cleveland as LeBron and Co. switched more frequently. Things are trending in the wrong direction again, though.
There was likely to be some regression to the mean for Cleveland, but the team has given up over 112 points per 100 possessions in the NBA in four January games — two wins, two loses.
Opponents are shooting 65.5 percent against Cleveland at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass, and nearly 46 percent on corner threes. That’s just not getting it done in two of the money areas.
Milwaukee: Put some flare on that oop
One of the plays the Bucks love to run is an alley-oop for one of their guards in the middle of the floor, cutting of a screen from the Greek Freak at the top of the key. Malcolm Brogdon is the usual recipient of this.
No matter how deadly of a screener Giannis is, smart teams catch on, and can thwart the lob pass. I like this wrinkle to the play as a secondary action.
As Tony Snell runs of the screen, Marcin Gortat slides to the rim for help defense — this stops the lob. However, Milwaukee counters by having Thon Maker set a flare screen for Khris Middleton. Brad Beal gets crunched, and all of a sudden there’s no weak-side help for Middleton — a 43 percent three-point shooter from the corner.