By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)
Here we go! The first edition of random notes and observations from the Charlotte Hornets season. This column covers the first two games at Miami and Atlanta.
Costly Errors by Nicolas Batum Down the Stretch
The two contests provided us with nice examples of Nicolas Batum‘s overrated defense. It seems that he falls in the category of long wingmen (almost 6’8, wingspan of almost 7’1, per Draft Express) who are assumed to be good defenders because of their physical gifts. Chase-down blocks on fast breaks also can build such assumptions. Yet metrics have never exactly been kind to him when it comes to his defense.
His defense failed us in the moments when it mattered the most. At Miami he lost his concentration on the most important possession of the game for us, one on which we absolutely needed a stop to continue mounting our comeback. Dwyane Wade caught Batum too noticeably peeking over his shoulder and waiting for a screen:
That’s just unacceptable. How can you fall asleep on such a play? Wade already being besides Batum on the three-point line leads to Cody Zeller having to shut down the driving lane which then sets off a chain reaction of helping out on the next man. Three, game over.
Perhaps, Marvin Williams shouldn’t have over-committed to Goran Dragic. The intentions were good though. Chances are Dragic, a more dangerous option from the corner than Luol Deng above the break, would have taken the shot if it wasn’t for Marvin. Either way it started with Batum.
In Atlanta Batum disappointed by allowing his man, Kent Bazemore, two offensive rebounds in the dying minutes of the game:
Not a good look. He couldn’t have got involved in the battle for the second rebound, yet Batum was the one who gave him such a direct lane to the basket in the first place.
Overall, both opponents got their chances of penetrating to the paint and it’s visible that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Gerald Henderson aren’t the players we have on defense. Too many straight-line drives by opposing guards and wings.
On the whole, Batum played in a way too casual manner for my liking. Opponents driving past him while he’s basically guarding them in unbent knees, passes that thread the needle on the other end. We could have done without his turnovers or mistakes on defense.
Four Out Offense, Huh?
Marvin Williams‘s place around Al Jefferson‘s post-ups is a long-lived pet peeve of mine. Hearing from my podcast guest, ESPN 730’s Justin Thomas, that Marvin is Steve Clifford’s preferred starting big man due to us then having the ability to play “four out” around Not So Big Al made me wonder whether we might actually have Williams on the three-point line this year. Nope.
A wing (in this case Nicolas Batum) still is cutting besides Jefferson after the entry pass and Williams still is positioned on the other side of the paint. We just won’t ever generate three-point looks when Al goes to work because of our manner of spacing and Al’s inability to pass. Sorry, coach, but this is not exactly “four out”.
One thing I do give Clifford credit for is the way we closed out the game at Miami. After two years of Bosh routinely killing Al (standing in the paint and unwilling to step out) with timely three-pointers, we finally ditched the Al Jefferson – Chris Bosh match-up.
Per Justin Thomas, this was the exact reason why we went with Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller down the stretch. Coach Clifford said Jefferson only played eight minutes in the second half because of matchups, “When you’re down 10 or 12 with (Chris) Bosh shooting open 3’s, it’s just a matchup thing.”
And, you know, what? I would like to see us closing out games with this line-up more often. In this case we have the three players who are most capable of breaking down a defense on the floor. Marvin Williams has been a plus so far and does indeed look to be in better shape (announcer Eric Collins’s exclamation of “he has some springs” notwithstanding, haven’t been a fan of his Steve Albert-like false excitement style of announcing when very regular plays actually occur), while Cody Zeller is our only capable big defender.
Moreover, rolling out numerous pick-n-rolls around him and having four shooters out there gives us the chance to play an actual “four out” offense. Here’s Zeller sucking in Mario Chalmers on a roll to the rim, shortly before we break down the defense for one of the three threes which came one after another:
In the battle of small-ball this line-up proved to be victorious by beating their counterparts 150.5 – 118.2 per 100 possessions in 9 minutes of action.
(Side-note on Zeller – with every 18-foot miss of his, I more and more get the feeling that his destiny is to be a small-ball center. You wouldn’t exactly roll him out against the behemoths of the league, but he’s capable enough to protect the rim among most and his quickness gives us a nice dimension on offense. It’s definitely more dangerous than him missing jumper after jumper as a power forward.)
Frank Kaminsky Can and Should Play
The game at Miami proved to be a scare for Hornets fans who expect to see Frank Kaminsky on the court. I, for one, definitely felt disappointment after talking with Justin on the aforementioned podcast and having to acknowledge that Marvin playing minutes as a 4 leaves Kaminsky as our fifth big man.
The six minutes he played against the Heat wasn’t a good look. It wouldn’t make sense to draft a rookie who is NBA-ready on purpose and then not play him much due to not trusting him or since we have Spencer Hawes.
Frank can play. He has learned the pump fake and drive motion to perfection, he was able to step out to the perimeter and keep up with Paul Millsap on defense and having him spot up around Al Jefferson pick-n-rolls brought us some great spacing.
The odds of an Eric Collins exclamation and acknowledgment that Aaron Harrison has got his first professional points in the NBA, whenever that does happen, are at -1000. It absolutely will happen. Too bad I can’t get you clips of the Hornets feed from road games.
What’s actually notable is that with all the athleticism and speed Zeller has, he’s not even twice as good as Kaminsky at putting the ball on the court. He’ll look somewhat slow, he’ll make a risky spin move, he’ll seemingly get in too much traffic, yet he just ends up succeeding on his drives.
That pass by Batum just had to make the cut. Very indicative of his passing at Atlanta.
P.J. Hairston Holding His Own Against Dwyane Wade
In past I haven’t exactly given praise to Peter Jr. about his body of work on defense. I wasn’t quite in agreement with the motivation of inserting him in the starting line-up (which is his bigger body and him being suited to guard the opposition’s best wing), even if we don’t really have other options.
However, it does seem like the approach of trusting him did work. Perhaps, he’s the guy who becomes focused when specifically given the assignment of locking down a good player. I wish we would have seen him chase Kyle Korver through screens (probably will on Sunday though) as navigating them and playing defense off the ball is a major weakness of his but he surely was capable of guarding Dwyane Wade one-on-one.
This drawn charge on Wade made me a happy man:
Meanwhile, his offense remains shaky. Jeremy Lamb‘s three three-pointers served as a reminder on who is the more reliable scoring option.
Strange Out-of-Bounds Plays
Remember the Gerald Henderson curl into alley-oop with which he would destroy fools?
For some reason, we tried doing this with Jeremy Lin in Hendo’s place. It ended in very Lolcats-like fashion:
Also, it’s not enough to suggest starting a new compilation of horrible last Hornets possessions as there wasn’t much time and tools do work with, yet I still find the Kemba Walker game-winner attempt at Atlanta to be hilarious.
I wonder what was said in the pseudo-time-out (a officials’ review that allowed the Hornets to huddle up). Did Clifford tell everybody one-by-one to stay out of Kemba’s way?
An Atlanta Hawks observation which I found interesting enough to include in this column.
The Hawks seem dedicated to give the three big men occasional minutes from time to time. KL Chouinard mentioned this possibility on Nate Duncan’s Hawks season preview and at that point I didn’t find it to be all that probable. Some random spot minutes, sure. But not on a every other game basis.
So far they have played together for 9 minutes in 2 games and have a net rating of +38.4 (106.9 – 68.5). Their first trip down the floor ended with P.J. Hairston and Nicolas Batum switching and Millsap punishing us for that with an and-1 over Hairston:
Soon after we also rolled out a line-up which had Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum on the court. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw so many big bodies on the floor in a game.