It’s been a few weeks, but we’re back for the stretch run. Let’s do this thing — eight up, eight down, starting with Kemba Walker and the Hornets.
(FYI: For more on the Charlotte Hornets, don’t forget to check out Episode 55 of Buzz Beat radio — Spencer, Richie and I break down the Hornets recent strong play, discuss the removal of Rich Cho, and start to look ahead to the draft.)
D12: Play it over the top
Prior to Wednesday’s blowout loss in Boston, the Hornets had strung together a nice five-game win streak, including four wins by 15 or more points after the All-Star break. One of the most refreshing mini-trends over that quick run: the involvement of Dwight Howard.
Charlotte finally went away from the post-up minutiae, and had Dwight focus on rim runs, lobs and doing the Charlie Work. It was effective, too; in wins over Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit, the Hornets grabbed at least 28 percent of their offensive rebounds.
Howard did well screening, and flashed some important chemistry with Nic Batum. It’s been an adjustment for those two this season, and they haven’t always clicked. However, some positive vibes have flourished over the last few weeks.
According to NBA.com, Dwight has connected on 57 alley-oops this season — an average of almost one per game. But over Charlotte’s last five games, Dwight has stuck the landing on 13 alley-oops (2.6 per game). Batum has assisted on 11 of those field goals, including some gorgeous dimes over the top of the defense — back shoulder spin, dunk.
In this run, Dwight has shot 81.8 percent in the restricted area, which is a fantastic number.
Far too often this season, when the offense bogs down, Charlotte dumps the ball into Dwight in the post, and lets him work, like it’s still 2008. Scrap that; this is type of stuff the Hornets need to look for when it gets congested on the offensive side of the floor. This is how Dwight can still be an efficient offensive player.
Kemba and Cody: Together at last — well, sort of
It’s a frequent talking point amongst the Hornets community: When Cody Zeller plays, this is a different team. Zeller is a productive big man that plays crazy hard, and cares only about running the floor and setting good screens. It’s no surprise that the ball moves side-to-side more frequently when Zeller plays — it’s not just high pick-and-roll with Kemba in the middle.
An expert screen-setter — Cody ranks third in the NBA in screen assists per 36 minutes — he pairs perfectly with Kemba Walker, one of the league’s top-five pick-and-roll players. (Zeller and Jeremy Lamb have a little PNR chemistry in bench lineups, too.)
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen all too much of those two together this season. Kemba and Cody have shared the floor for just 199 minutes; in those minutes, though, the Hornets have been brilliant: 110 points per 100 possessions, allowing just 99 points per 100 possessions. That net rating (+11) is better than that of the Golden State Warriors (+10.6).
In the four-game, post-ASB win streak, Charlotte — in 32 minutes — scored a ridiculous 135 points per 100 possessions with Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller on the floor.
For Charlotte to actually make a playoff push, it’s time for Clifford to continue to find ways for those two to play more together.
Cut Man: Jeremy Lamb
The proverbial light came on for Jeremy Lamb this season. After two years of being in and out of Steve Clifford’s rotation, Lamb is averaging career-best 13.3 points. Lamb has averaged 12.5 points in the 47 games when he’s come off the bench, which ranks second in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte’s sixth man plays with newfound efficiency from all over the floor; Lamb is a solid pick-and-roll player, and can be a dangerous spot-up attacker from the wing, too.
Another way that he’s started to influence games this season, though, is as a sneaky and explosive cutter. On the year, Lamb is shooting 82.5 percent (33-of-40 FGA) on cut possessions, scoring 1.7 points per possession. That ranks No. 1 in the NBA amongst players with at least 30 cut possession, per NBA.com.
As we’ve detailed before in this space before, Lamb has exceptional chemistry in this fake DHO action with Frank Kaminsky. It feels like every other game, Lamb smokes some unsuspecting defender backdoor.
A Monk in a Funk
After a somewhat promising first four weeks of the NBA season, it’s been a rough go of things for Charlotte’s rookie first rounder. Since Christmas, Malik Monk has appeared in just 16 games — averaging under six minutes per contest. In that stretch, Monk has shot just 24 percent from the field, and made only nine three-pointers.
To his credit, Monk hasn’t checked out; he’s remained engaged on the bench, cheering for his teammates, which is a positive sign. However, it would be nice — now 60 games into his NBA career — if there were at least one thing to hang his hat on — when this guy comes into the game, this is what he brings.
Right now with Monk, he mostly just wants to come in and get up some contested midrange jumpers. Nearly 25 percent of Monk’s field goal attempts are pull-up twos, and he’s connected on just 23.6 percent of those inefficient looks.
Look, he’s been dealt a tough hand. It would be tough to be a 20-year-old on a team that’s parted ways with its general manager midseason, been rumored to shop its franchise player and has only the faintest of postseason hopes — all while having his minutes and role jerked around.
Can Monk come back improved in 2018-19? Charlotte’s chances next season — define that however you please— may depend on it.
Jabari Parker returned to the lineup for the Milwaukee Bucks last month; so far, the former No. 2 overall pick has played just 195 minutes across 10 games. As Parker heads towards restricted free agency this summer, it’s important for the Bucks to see as much of Jabari and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor together as possible — including some minutes with Giannis as the small-ball 5.
Does Milwaukee have two franchise cornerstones or just the one — The Greek Freak, and all of his awesomeness? (This process could be slightly more complicated after Giannis injured his eye in Wednesday’s blowout loss against Detroit.)
Those two dudes have shared the floor for 99 minutes, and well, it hasn’t gone great…yet. The Bucks have scored just 95.5 points per 100 possessions in that time, and have a slightly negative net differential. But there have been some moments of excellence, too.
YOOOOO. Gimme all of that, like, right now!
This grand experiment may not work out; the Bucks are working against a clock here, too. Regardless, I know I’m pulling for this to become a thing.
Golden State’s Spaghetti Junction
On most nights, the Warriors are a nightmare to defend; it’s downright inhuman when they involve Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in actions together. We see them more and more in the pick-and-roll, basketball’s most unstoppable play. (Besides a Frank Kaminsky post-up, of course!)
However, it’s also cruel when Steve Kerr decides to involve those two in split actions to the weak-side of the floor. Switch, and there’s a big on Curry; or switch, and there’s a little dude on Durant. Or even worse: have a minor lapse in communication, and someone is sprinting open for a dunk or three-ball. These are all terrible options for a defense.
Watch this play start with Steph curling off KD, and cutting through, as Durant then rockets off a pindown from Jordan Bell.
The poor Wizards forget about Shaun Livingston, who is awesome at basketball and is now wide open for the easiest of slams.
The Insanity of Anthony Davis
It was a sad day in the #LeaguePassLair that Friday night when Boogie Cousins tore his Achilles tendon against Houston; to be honest, we’re still in mourning.
Anthony Davis may still be in mourning, too, but goddamn does my man know how to handle his grief — and that’s by absolutely balling out. Since Cousins went down, the Pelicans have gone 8-5, including five wins in a row, with a close to equal net rating.
In the 13 games sans Boogie, Davis has averaged 33.3 points on 49.8 percent shooting, 13.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. He’s used 34 percent of NOP’s possessions while on the floor (a monster share), and has a true shooting rate over 58 percent. Davis has averaged close to 10 FGA per game in the restricted area in this run, and has made damn near 72 percent of those attempts.
Harden probably has the MVP locked up, but The Brow is making an incredible late push.
Anthony Davis has scored 40 points in 5 of his last 11 games – with 2 38 point games for good measure in that span. Jesus.
— Haralabos Voulgaris ⚡️ (@haralabob) February 27, 2018
The Wild West
Hey, speaking of the Pelicans…that playoff race in the Western Conference is something else, huh? New Orleans is currently one of eight teams (3-10) with somewhere between 26 and 30 losses.
FiveThirtyEight gives all eight of those teams at least a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs; of course, two of those teams will be on the outside looking in. Minnesota has a 97 percent chance of making the postseason, but we’ll see what happens without Jimmy Butler in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
One-third of the league is tanking, another eight teams in the West are duking it out for playoff survival; the Warriors and Rockets are laughing while eyeing one another from a distance; somewhere in the middle of all of this, the Charlotte Hornets are running on that damn treadmill, once again.