With the 2016 NBA Playoffs fast approaching, and the Hornets getting closer and closer to clinching a playoff spot (likely 3-6 seed), it is time that we dig a little deeper into the four keys to the Hornets being successful in the playoffs.
The Crunch Time Lineup
A crunch time lineup that Coach Clifford has run with last few games is very interesting. This lineup consists of Kemba, Lin, Batum, Marvin, and Al. Now this lineup isn’t a juggernaut defensively, but when it comes to scoring, ball movement, and creating shots, this lineup takes the cake for the Hornets. It fits Clifford’s “One in four out” philosophy (4 perimeter guys who can shoot, surrounding one big man down low). This lineup can also be interchanged for key defensive possessions, with Lee replacing Lin and Cody replacing Al.
Kemba, Lin, and Batum can handle the ball, score, and set up teammates. The three of them along with Marvin all shoot well from 3 (Kemba 38%, Lin 33%, Batum 35%, Mavin 40%), and Big Al can still do Big Al things in the post. I will be very interested to see how much Coach Clifford uses this lineup going forward, especially at the end of games, because I think it has the potential to score a lot of points.
Lin, Lamb, Kaminsky, and Al have been a very up and down bench as of late. Some games they can either take the lead against weaker benches, but some games they give away a lead and don’t perform at their max potential. The inconsistency has been alarming however, and the individuals in the unit don’t always seem to perform well at the same time. Lin went through a rough patch before going on a recent hot streak. Lamb got benched for Troy Daniels because of his mistakes on both sides of the ball. Frank still has the rookie ups and downs. Al still seems to be getting his legs underneath him after missing a big chunk in the middle of the season. Luckily for the Hornets, the bench goes deeper besides these four. Spencer Hawes is finally healthy, and he can contribute if someone is hurt or not playing well. Also Troy Daniels always seems to play well when called upon and can light it up from downtown any game when inserted.
Clifford has tinkered with the fifth man in the rotation trying out Kemba, Batum, and Marvin, and getting mixed results game to game. The bench is going to be very key come playoff time, and if they aren’t playing at their peak, it seriously diminishes the Hornets chances of advancing in the playoffs.
Cody Zeller’s Confidence
Every fan who watches Hornets games consistently knows that Cody can be great or he can be shaky. When he is confident and is playing with confidence, he finishes strong at the rim, sprints from end to end like Usain Bolt, is a strong rebounder, and is a good rim defender (which is vital to the Hornets who lack one). When Cody is lacking confidence, he is picking up cheap fouls defensively, and he seems to get bodied offensively. A key for Cody is to get a bucket early in the game, which is something Clifford likes to do.
Cody is a huge beneficiary of Nic Batum coming to Charlotte. Many of his easy points come off great Batum passes, often off the pick and roll. Getting easy dunks, offensive rebounds, and putbacks are huge for Cody. The Hornets will need to make sure he is confident come playoff time, with likely first-round matchups of Sullinger/Olynyk, Stoudemire/Whiteside, or Horford.
Kemba and Batum
The biggest key to this team come playoff time is simple. Having the two best players on the team play like the two best players on the team. Scoring 20+ points, making plays for others, being efficient. If even one of these two has a bad couple games or a bad series, it could single-handedly sink the teams chances in the playoffs. When Kemba and Nic are firing on all cylinders, it makes life easier for the players around them to get easier shots and perform better as well.
If Charlotte can get these four things rolling come playoff time, there is no reason that the Hornets can’t advance to the second round, or even surprise some people and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.