Slowing down the Warriors Small Ball Lineup

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Look, there is no way of stopping the Warriors Small Ball lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Igoudala, and Draymond Green. All you can hope to do is slow it down. As of Saturday, they had an offensive efficiency rating of 154.7 and defensive efficiency rating of 84.8, for a total rating of 69.9 points per 100 possessions. They also shoot 64% from the field. No other five man lineup even comes close. Fortunately, they can’t play it all the time. In fact, they’ve only used it roughly 5 min per game and only in 14 games (when you blow out other teams, you don’t have too).  But when the Warriors break that lineup out, you know it’s crunch time.

There are many different reasons why this lineup is so lethal. Everybody on the floor can shoot. Everybody on the floor can defend and switch on pick and rolls. Draymond is an excellent rebounder and defender against bigger power forwards and centers. Iggy, Klay, and Barnes are all elite perimeter defenders. Oh, and that guy Stephen Curry, the MVP? He can shoot from anywhere within 28 feet and embarrass you. No team in the NBA has a small lineup that can beat them, your best bet is to not let them kill you.

So what if it is a tight game and the Hornets need to counter, what lineup should go with?

Point Guard: Kemba Walker

This one is easy, he is quick, he is an improved defender, and clearly he can score.

Shooting Guard: PJ Hairston

This one may be a bit of a head scratcher, but with PJ’s improved defense he is able to stay out on the floor and hang with this lineup. I considered going with Jeremy Lin here, but with the size difference between Lin (6’3) and Thompson (6’7), I think Lin would have a lot of trouble defending Thompson.

Small Forward: Jeremy Lamb

Lamb has the size to stay with Harrison defensively, and he has the playmaking and scoring to help put the ball in the basket on the offensive end.

Power Forward: Nic Batum

He doesn’t play a lot of 4, but he would be the ideal matchup for Iggy. Both good defenders, and Nic can score and make plays for his teammates.

Center: Marvin Williams

He is the same size as Draymond, and is a good rebounder for his size which is required when playing against Draymond. He can defend on the perimeter as well, and offers spacing to the offense with his shooting and passing.

I could also see Coach Clifford putting Marvin at the 4 and Cody Zeller at the 5 with Walker, Lamb, and Batum. Marvin is a good enough defender to stay with Igoudala and Cody is a very good athlete for his size. I think there is a good chance Clifford goes with this lineup because he feels more comfortable with players at their natural positions.

 

The biggest thing about the small ball lineup isn’t stopping it, it’s just not getting burned by it. Not only do they score, they swarm defensively, so even with a healthy Big Al, entering the ball into the post for him is nearly impossible. As Hornets fans, we need to hope we see the Warriors small ball lineup, because that likely means it’s crunch time and the game is close.

 

2015-16 Charlotte Hornets: Reasons for Hope, Reasons for Concern

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Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, there are a lot of fans in Charlotte who are buying into the hype of a 7-1 preseason and a team that looks like it will be fun to watch this year. However, looking at the improvements that a lot of other teams in the Eastern Conference have made over the offseason, I for one am very skeptical of how this season will turn out and have a hard time seeing this collection of players sneaking into the playoffs.

My first concern, which should be obvious to most fans, is the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the year. In an offseason that saw MKG sign a 4-year $52 Million extension, there was a ton of excitement about keeping a 21 year old elite defender on the team to build around going forward. That is why it was such a bummer to see him tear his labrum in the first preseason game of the year. Not only is he an elite defender on the perimeter, he is one of the most efficient rebounders at his position.  He is also a very good athlete who can get to the rim on the offensive end. In 2014-15, Hornets fans were stoked to see his jump shot improving. Outside of 10 feet, his first two years he shot 28% and 27%, but last season that number jumped up to 40%. Now he still has a way to go, but seeing such a big jump is a positive sign going forward. He also led the team in fast break points per game and ranked among the best in the league at cuts to the rim that generated points. The most staggering stat is that the Hornets were 27-28 with MKG in the lineup, and 6-21 without him last season. All that being said, the loss of MKG is massive and will really hurt the team on both ends of the floor.

Some will point to the addition of Nic Batum during the offseason as a reason to not be too skeptical about the loss of MKG.  I do believe the addition of the former Trail Blazer will be a positive one and will make the most impact of any acquisition the Hornets made during the summer. He had a down year last season, only shooting 40% from the field and 32% from 3 (career averages of 46% and 36%), but he was banged up last season.  In a contract year, I expect him to get back to his normal form. I also expect him to be more aggressive than in years past in Portland, where he was the 4th option behind Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews. In Charlotte he will be a much bigger focal point offensively, and he will still bring it as an elite defender on the perimeter.

JOHANNESBURG, SA - AUGUST 1: Nicolas Batum #5 of Team Africa dribbles the ball during the NBA Africa Game 2015 as part of Basketball Without Borders on August 1, 2015 at the Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)Getty Images

Coming into the season, Steve Clifford had hoped to play MKG and Batum together at shooting guard and small forward, but with no MKG, who does that vault into the starting lineup?

PJ Hairston. This is a GIANT red flag for me. PJ was very shaky as a rookie, both on offense and defense. When I say the name PJ Hairston, what basketball skill comes to mind? Three point shooting correct? Well PJ only shot 30% from and 32% from the field. When your one quantifiable skill that got you into the NBA is shooting, and you can’t shoot, that is what I call a problem. Watching the summer league games, he didn’t perform well either. If you are an NBA starter, and you can’t even perform at a mediocre level in the summer league, that isn’t ideal. PJ is also a below average defender, which isn’t good when you are also below average on offense. Now I was never the biggest Gerald Henderson fan, but one thing he did was bring it every night on both sides of the ball. That is something I have yet to see from PJ, but I would love to see him take a step forward this season now that he is in a bigger role.

My next concern would be the wings on the bench. Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels have proven basically nothing in their NBA careers to this point. Jeremy Lamb is in the same boat as PJ. Known as a shooter, but doesn’t shoot at a high percentage at only 34% from 3 for his career. Troy Daniels has been a very good shooter for the small amount of meaningful playing time he has had in his career (39% from 3), but he is only 6’4 so he is a small shooting guard and even smaller small forward. Jeremy Lamb is also only 6’5, so I am unsure who is going to be the backup small forward when Batum is off the floor. Coach Clifford seems to be of the opinion that Marvin Williams is a power forward and not a small forward, which eliminates him from backup small forward. I do believe that there will be stretches each game where Kemba and Jeremy Lin are on the floor at the same time at both guard spots, but I need to see Lamb and Daniels prove it before I actually think they will be positive bench contributors.

The bench big men are also quite confusing since they don’t seem to have a lot of variety. Assuming Cody Zeller starts at power forward, you will be looking at Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, and Spencer Hawes as your backup big men. All of them are below average defenders, none of whom can protect the rim. Sure they can shoot a little (which is nice since the 2014-15 Hornets were dead last from 3), but their skills overlap, and that will be a layup line for other teams. This is why losing Bismack Biyombo was a bigger deal to this Hornets team than it would be for most teams. For all of his offensive liabilities, he was a great rim defender; and when he was on the court, opposing teams knew it. Cody Zeller is now the best rim defender on the team, and even he is maybe only average at best. With no MKG stopping people on the perimeter when other teams get into the paint, it will be an issue. Now a lighter and more nimble Al Jefferson should help the interior defense, but he still is a liability on the defensive end.

I believe a valuable edition to the team is Jeremy Lin. Watching Jeremy in Los Angeles he was used incorrectly. Jeremy’s biggest skill is as a pick and roll ball handler. Steve Clifford loves some pick and roll, and I’m sure when Lin is on the floor there will be a heavy dosage. Pick and Roll with Al and Cody, and pick and pop with Kaminsky, Hawes, and Williams should be a very effective offense when the team needs a bucket. Plus, with the addition of Batum and Lamb on the wings (in theory), there should be more spacing for the pick and rolls to operate.

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I hope this season Coach Clifford does a better job offensively and closing games than he did last season. In his first year as coach of the Bobcats, Steve Clifford did a great job of taking a talent challenged team to the playoffs. However, last year he didn’t do as well. I do think a lot of this has to do with talent on the floor (looking at you Rich Cho), but this 2015-16 roster has a lot of money invested into it. I think if this team gets off to a slow start, he could be on the hot seat. He is a very good defensive coach, but this season he needs to be better offensively with more offensive minded players on the roster.

I also would expect Al Jefferson to get back near his 2013-14 All-NBA form after a step back last season. He lost roughly 20 pounds in the offseason by cutting out fried chicken, and I think this will help his career trajectory now that he is into his 30’s. He should stay healthier this season, which is a positive because this team takes a massive step back on the offensive end with him off the court. I hope the weight loss also helps him move better on the defensive end because he is a below average defender who often gets targeted by other teams. He is also in a contract year, and at 30 years old he will want to play well to earn one last big deal.

Overall, I feel that the biggest thing that will hold back this team is not having MKG. He is an invaluable asset that, on this team, cannot be replaced. With MKG, I think this team could have competed for the 7th or 8th seed in the East; but without him, I think this team is somewhere between 28-34 wins, and back in the lottery again. In a division with Atlanta, a healthy Miami, Washington, and up and coming Orlando team, I have a hard time seeing this team really put everything together to sneak into the playoffs (I hope they prove me wrong).

Follow Chris on Twitter @ExtraChrisP_

BUZZ WEEKLY: Training Camp Edition

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

 

(Written by David Walters)

There was a considerable buzz leading up to last season in Charlotte; the team was fresh off a playoff appearance and they were entering their first season as the rebranded Hornets. It appeared that the team was poised for an even stronger campaign in the 2014-2015 season but things were not as they seemed. The team was plagued with injuries throughout the preseason and, despite a fantastic home opener where Kemba Walker knocked down the game winner, things never really seemed to come together for Charlotte as they limped their way to a 33-49 record.

The Charlotte Hornets are now set to start training camp in their second season of a franchise renaissance. There are quite a few question marks going into this season after an extensive overhaul of the roster. With seven new players on the team, the Hornets have retooled the roster for this upcoming season by acquiring players that can help space the floor, opening up more space inside so that the existing core can play to their strengths.

Al Jefferson’s game is less effective when defenses can simply pack it in on defense because of a lack of floor spacing. Both Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist excel when they are able to get to the basket, an aspect of their game that was hampered when teams clogged up the lane on defense because of the lack of any reliable threat from long-range. I liken it to the philosophy that Orlando used a few seasons ago with Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard, where the Magic stretched the floor with four players whose range had to be accounted for, keeping defenses honest while giving Howard the room to operate.

The Hornets thought they had a steal last offseason after signing mercurial guard Lance Stephenson to pair with Kemba in the backcourt. It appears that the Pacers knew something we didn’t though, as Lance had chemistry issues and struggled to fit in. He was hampered by an early hamstring injury, and despite one memorable game winner, his time in Charlotte was painfully forgettable. The team flipped him to the Clippers in exchange for Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes, who was immediately bought out. Hawes is a rangy big man, who had signed with the Clippers but never seemed to fit in…sound familiar? Nonetheless, he adds depth and range to the Hornets, keeping with the team’s offseason goals.

Gone is the team’s longest tenured player in Gerald Henderson; he was moved in exchange for Frenchman Nicolas Batum, a lanky wingman that will bring a versatile set of skills to Charlotte, albeit on a one-year deal. He will likely step in as the Hornets starting shooting guard, and the team will be able to use him as a playmaker at the position with his well rounded skill set. Batum offers size, court vision, and shooting range, albeit on a one year deal. Also moved in that deal was little used 2014 draft pick Noah Vonleh, who was injured in the preseason and rarely found his way off the bench in Clifford’s rotation.

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

In the draft, the Hornets continued their love affair with Big Ten frontcourt prospects by taking Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, college basketball’s 2014 Naismith Player of the Year. In doing so, they added a player that fills a positional need for them; what Frank lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with versatility and basketball I.Q. He can get buckets down low and he can stretch the floor with his shooting. He showed glimpses of what he can do in the summer league but there were also stretches where he would seemingly disappear for minutes at a time. However, when he was involved on offense, you could see how he could help an offense flow and, in a best-case scenario, he could be a great compliment to Big Al in the frontcourt. It will be interesting to see how the battle for the teams starting power forward position will play out between Frank, Marvin Williams and third year forward Cody Zeller.

Last seasons back up point guard Mo Williams is gone, having left to reunite with LeBron in Cleveland. In his place, is Jeremy Lin. I like this signing, I’ve always felt that Lin was a victim of his own success, and its overshadowed what has since been a very solid career. Lin will fit in perfectly in Charlotte and I think this was a great under the radar signing for the Hornets. Clifford has said he will experiment with lineups that have Walker and Lin on the floor at the same time, which could work well, allowing Kemba to play off the ball more as a scorer.

There is also plenty of competition for minutes as the first wing off the bench. Lin may get some minutes at the position but P.J. Hairston, Troy Daniels and newly acquired Jeremy Lamb will all be fighting for time on the court this season. Hairston is down 13 pounds from last year, having spent part of his summer training with John Lucas; a former player and coach that is known for being able to reach troubled players. Troy Daniels offers three point shooting, but says he has worked on the other aspects of his game this offseason in an effort to improve his value on the court. And , a former teammate of Kemba’s from their UCONN days, is here after spending most of the last three seasons languishing on the bench in OKC. All three can shoot well, and all three are hoping to find their way into a significant part of Clifford’s rotation this season. Ultimately, it’ll come down to who wants it the most, and competition usually does nothing but push players to get better, which should work out either way for the Hornets.

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

And of course, we still have our remaining core of players between Kemba, MKG and Big Al. Kemba was on fire last season, going on a tear of games with 30+ points before going down with an injury. He never quite regained that form after returning but this season he will have more help around him and he won’t be so pressed to take the scoring load all on himself. MKG, fresh off signing a new contract extension, is the lynchpin of the Hornets defense. When he missed games last season, the team suffered. He brings much needed energy to the Hornets and often draws the opposing teams top defensive assignment. Big Al has also cut weight this offseason, his reason being that he is trying to save his knees in an effort to extend his career. Clifford has said that he won’t be the main focal point of the offense this season, but you can bet he will continue to be a major part of what the Hornets do on offense, particularly now that the team has improved their floor spacing.

It’s an exciting time of year, training camp has started and preseason games will get going this weekend. Despite the question marks entering this season, there is an heir of cautious optimism after last season’s disappointment. Stay tuned as the Hornets get cranked up for the year, it will surely be interesting to see how things play out this season as Clifford has as dynamic and versatile a roster as he’s ever had. Speaking of Clifford, this could be a make or break season for the teams head coach. He coaxed this team to a playoff berth just two seasons ago and it will be paramount that he gets this team off to a good start out of the gates for the Hornets to jump into the mix as one of the easts top teams.

 

It’s getting to be that time of year again folks, soon enough we’ll be watching our Hornets take the court to sting the competition! Until next time, KEEP BUZZING!!!

 

you can follow David W. Walters @Original_DWade.