(Image from wcti12.com)
Following a four-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder after blowing a twenty-point lead, it can be easy for fans to quickly become negative and categorize this team as the same old Hornets. Plain and simple, this team is not the same Charlotte Hornets. Change is visible from the coaching staff to the court, and for the first time in what feels like forever, it is not negative. Remove yourself from the emotion of blowing a lead at home and look at what the Hornets have done thus far. Three loses have been to teams in the mix for a top four seed in the east (Milwaukee, Toronto, and Philadelphia) with two of those being on the road. These were games that we could’ve won, but it certainly wasn’t an expectation given the team we fielded last year. The other two loses were a road game to a winless Bulls team who was hungry for their first win, and a struggling OKC team with two legitimate stars at home. Minus the Bulls loss, we have not lost a single game that we should’ve won easily. My point? We are beating the teams we should be beating, which any Hornets fan should know isn’t exactly normal for this organization.
While the wins and loses are fun to look at, the on-court evaluation is where this Hornets team begins to separate itself from years past. The young talent on this team is eye opening. The bench depth this team has is far better than the torment we had to endure watching when the starters came off the court last year, and we have a coach that has adapted to the new NBA by playing a fast-paced offense and shooting lots of threes. Starting with young talent, despite Bridges and Monk both only being twenty years old, they have shown so many flashes of brilliance that you cannot help but wonder how talented they may be in the future. While it is early, Bridges looks to be the best draft pick since Kemba, and should be a lock to participate in the dunk contest already with how many highlights he has produced in nine games. Monk on the other hand has shown he has all the talent to be a legit back court option to take the load off Kemba, with the only question for him being his defensive ability. The bottom line is, if these two continue to receive playing time from coach Borrego, there is no doubt we will begin to see some solid talent forming around Kemba.
Looking back at last year’s bench, we suffered through MCW, Jeremy Lamb, Treveon Graham, Frank, and Cody Zeller, with Malik Monk, and Dwayne Bacon getting limited minutes behind them. After the starters, we had zero defense, a point guard who was incapable of running an offense and continually missed easy layups, and no true scorer outside of Jeremy Lamb. In comparison to the bench this year, you cannot help but be joyful to see a future Hall of Famer in Tony Parker running the point when the starters leave the court. This allows our offense to flow much better when Kemba needs rest, and hopefully will allow him to sustain his high level of play through the entire season and into the playoffs. Also, our second unit is vastly improved from last year with MKG moved to the bench, and Bridges playing next to him. They both provide solid defense on the wing, and are versatile enough to guard anyone on the court if it is required. The biggest takeaway from the bench though is that they have not been prone to blowing leads this season, which was a trademark for last year’s bench. Actually, this bench has come in and sparked the team to play better because of the flare Monk and Bridges seem to show off on a nightly basis.
(Image from CharlotteObserver.com)
Lastly, coach Borrego’s new system seems to be getting the most out of our players, and fits well in today’s modern NBA. Yes, you could argue there have been several mistakes Borrego has made in regard to his rotations early on, but you must remember this is his first year being a head coach, so there will obviously be some adjustments he will have to make. The important thing, however, is that he seems to have a good coaching style, and seems flexible with who is playing night in and night out. One of the biggest issues I had with coach Clifford last year was that the rotation that was like clockwork. Every team knew who would be on the floor at what time, and he would not adjust it regardless of the matchup. Borrego searching for the players that will hustle on the court will hopefully prevent complacency, and allow the players that deserve to be on the court to get minutes.
All of these things are not only welcome changes from last year, but seem to bode well for seasons to come with this Hornets team. My goal and other fans’ goal for this team should be to win a playoff series this year. That would be a massive step in the right direction, and give us something to build on with our young talent entering a pivotal time in Hornets franchise history.