We back, baby. Let’s get right into this thing. The Charlotte Hornets are in Boston on Friday night for a very important game against one of the best teams in the league — make sure to watch that.
Someone please end this road trip
It was all good just a week ago. Charlotte was 5-3, in the midst of a three-game winning streak that included W’s over Orlando, Memphis and Milwaukee. Then I wrote a column about Kemba Walker deserving MVP consideration and ruined everything. Three straight losses, all on the road. Sorry, guys.
The most recent defeat came thanks to a fourth quarter collapse at Madison Square Garden. Charlotte played flat-footed defense, and ralphed up 35 points to Porzingis and the Knicks — 1.53 points per possession during the final six minutes.
Over the last three games, Charlotte has allowed nearly 114 points per 100 possessions — that’s the rate of the worst defense in the NBA. It’s unacceptable in the land of Steve Clifford. They better shape up quickly, because next up is Kyrie and the Celtics. For the the Hornets to be a playoff team, this has to be a top-10 defense.
Not Clutch City
As Charlotte’s defense gave out against New York, so too did the team’s shooting. It’s early, but this is a problematic trend for the Buzz — crunch time power outages on offense.
Hornets clutch shooting vs. Knicks — under 5 minutes to play, game within 5 points: 1-10, 0-6 on 3s.
– Kemba: 1-4, 0-2 on 3s
– Monk: 0-3, 0-3 on 3s
– Marvin: 0-2, 0-1 on 3s
– Lamb: 0-1
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) November 8, 2017
According to NBA.com, the Hornets have the NBA’s second worst offense in clutch moments — less than five minutes to play and the game within 5 points. In these situations, Charlotte’s scoring just 0.83 points per possession. Not great (Bob).
The Hornets have a lowly effective field goal rate of 25.9 percent, which is last in the NBA. Even with Kemba gunning, Charlotte has made just 1-of-15 three-point attempts (6.7 percent) in clutch minutes.
This jibes with the 2016-17 Hornets, who finished with the league’s fifth most efficient offense in clutch minutes: 117.3 points per 100 possessions.
MONK-SANITY: The rookie roller coaster
Like most rookies, it’s been an up-and-down start for Malik Monk. The first-year pro has put together some outstanding performances — Denver, New York and a fourth quarter masterpiece against the Bucks. In that final frame, Monk went 7-of-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from deep; it seemed like he simply couldn’t miss.
Kemba Walker and Malik Monk — combined 7-of-9 on above the break 3s. Degree of difficulty of some of Monk's bombs has been off the chart. pic.twitter.com/UdULZmL34d
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) November 2, 2017
Monk has show flashes in the pick-and-roll — making clever reads, whipping crosscourt passes to weak-side shooters and lobs to Dwight Howard.
However, there are turnover issues, and the shot is inconsistent. There’s the framework of a really good offensive player with Malik Monk; it’s just not present every night.
When Monk plays next to Kemba, the rookies shoots at a high clip (57 percent true shooting). He’s a fan of the corners, especially around pick-and-rolls with Walker and Howard.
As soon as Kemba hits the bench, well, like everything else for Charlotte, it goes haywire (net of -22 points per 100 possessions).
There’s so much to like, though. Let’s focus on the good. Monk’s connected on 73 percent of his attempts at the rim; he’s also splashed 38 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes.
Cody Zeller: Doing all of the little things
It’s time to give some appreciation to one of the hardest workers not only on the Hornets, but the entire NBA: Cody Zeller.
Relegated to a backup role with Dwight Howard now in town, Zeller is playing fewer minutes with his former pick-and-roll tag team partner Kemba Walker. Thus he’s subject to some ugly on/off differentials. Charlotte is -20 with Zeller on the floor this season (135 minutes).
Zeller, however, is clearly not letting that impact his play of effort level. In year one of his rookie extension, Zeller is still flying around and trying to make all kinds of hustle plays. He’s setting four screen assists per 36 minutes, which is down from a year ago, but still not bad. Zeller’s catch-all advanced numbers remain strong, too.
In the win over Memphis, he made a great play that will get lost in the ether of an 82-game slog. After a live-ball turnover, Jarrell Martin — Memphis’ power forward — soared in for a what looked like an open slam. Zeller raced back, fouled him at the rim, preventing a bucket. Martin bricked two free throws; Charlotte won by five.
NBA: Tatum, Unicorns & the inevitability of Death
ESPN’s boy Ben Simmons is as good as advertised; he’s doing stuff that’s never been done before, and he will run away with the league’s Rookie of the Year honor. That said, wow, this year’s batch of rookies is so freaking good. Included in that bunch is Boston’s Jayson Tatum — remember him?
Tatum averages 13.5 points, fourth best amongst his draft class, which goes along with some excellent range shooting and rebounding. The former Blue Devil has been a major contributor to Boston’s hot start, which includes a 10-game win streak, and the league’s No. 1 defense.
The rookie has splashed 64 percent of his catch-and-shoot three — tops in the NBA; he’s also drained 73 percent of his corner threes (8-of-11), which is smoking.
The 6-foot-8 Tatum hasn’t quite found his footing yet at the rim — 52 percent shooting inside four feet — but he’s toggled between both forward spots in Brad Stevens’ spacey offense. Lineups with Tatum, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford at center are blitzing everyone: 107.2 points per 100 possessions, net rating of 14.4 points per 100 possessions.
The Celtics have somehow managed to pick up the pieces following Gordon Hayward’s injury; Jayson Tatum has been critical in that development.
It's very early… but… Jayson Tatum could end up having the best season in NBA history by a teenager. And this was BEFORE tonight. pic.twitter.com/cu5BncA5zS
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) November 7, 2017
Kristaps Porzingis: Unicorning
It was painfully obvious for the first two seasons of Kristaps Porzingis’ career that the Knicks needed to burn it down and build around the Latvian Unicorn. Carmelo Anthony’s no-trade clause and Phil Jackson doddering old man nature made that seemingly impossible, though.
This tension crescendoed over the summer when Phil — clearly in I Don’t Care At All mode — floated the idea of trading KP. It was an idea mocked by literally everyone. It’s also what cost Phil his job, although I don’t think he’s too broken up over that.
Jump ahead five months, and Kristaps is ruling the world. The Knicks are a surprising 6-5 and feature a borderline top-10 offense that revolves around Porzingis, who is now a top-20 player in the world. He’s getting it done on both ends, too.
Porzingis leads the NBA in usage rate (35.7 percent), he’s shooting 41 percent on catch-and-shoot triples, and he’s a Nowitzian 53 percent from the midrange, per Cleaning The Glass. He was incredible in the win over the Hornets — and further proof that Charlotte’s conservative pick-and-roll coverages are susceptible to stretch bigs, like KP.
Just wait until this dude gets a guard that can he run screen-roll action with. He’s also second in the league in scoring (30 points) — behind only the Greek Freek; KP has scored 30 or more points in seven of 10 games so far. Plus, he can do this.
But that’s not all: Opponents are shooting just 34 percent against him at the rim, according to the league’s tracking data, which is the best in the league by the length of his wingspan. New York’s league average on defense when Porzingis plays, but gives up eight more points per 100 possessions when he sits; opponent effective field goal rate drops by nine percent when KP plays — one of the best numbers in the league.
Death Lineup: Still Deadly
In case you were wondering, the Golden State Warriors are still very good at basketball. As the pushes for a fourth straight Finals appearance, it still has its fastball, too: The Death Lineup.
With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green on the floor, the Dubs are scoring 1.25 points per possession — No. 3 amongst lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together — and grabbing 89 percent of available defensive rebounds.
Iguodala is the primary small-ball option when Golden State goes without a traditional 5; however, it really doesn’t matter who that player is. With Green at center and the other three All-NBA studs —Curry, Thompson, KD — on the floor, Golden State’s scoring 1.37 points per possessions, which is ridiculous, and playing at a pace of 109 possessions per game.
Better Get Right: Tyreke Evans
I was somewhat stunned when Memphis signed Evans this summer for just $3.3 million on a one-year get-good contract. That seemed like a low rate for such an explosive player (at times). However, I never thought the Grizzlies would get this much bang for their buck.
Evans is getting to the rim at will — 51 percent of his field goal attempts have come within four feet of the basket. He’s drawn a shooting foul on 9.1 percent of his attempts from the field. Evans has also splashed an unsustainable 47 percent of his above the break threes, per Cleaning The Glass.
When Marc Gasol and Mike Conley sit, Evans keeps Memphis afloat; the Grizz outscore opponents by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions in these situations.