BUZZ WEEKLY:HORNETS OFF TO STRONG START

So far, so good in Buzz City.

The Hornets sit at 4-1 five games into the season, with their only stumbling block being a loss to the Boston Celtics in their home opener. They have managed to compile this record despite suffering a few injuries along the way to some key pieces to the team.

After a strong debut in the Hornets first game, Roy Hibbert has remained sidelined with what has been described as “knee soreness,” which can certainly be cause for concern for a big man, particularly in the early stages of the season. The Hornets have managed to play well on defense despite his absence; they rank fourth in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing a stingy 95.4 points per outing while also ranking near the top in blocked shots as a team.

As well as Charlotte has played thus far, it would probably be in their best interest to take their time with the veteran big man in order to preserve him for the latter part of the season as he was ultimately brought in to be the veteran defensive stopper the Hornets lacked in the playoffs last season.

Guard Jeremy Lamb is also out nursing an injured hamstring. He is initially listed as being out for 1-2 weeks but, hamstring injuries can be nagging, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team be cautious with this one also.

Philadelphia 76ers v Charlotte Hornets

Photo credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Moving on to the early successes of the team, the Hornets have notched victories against Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. While that isn’t necessarily murderers row, it IS four W’s in the win column, and I think Hornets fans will take a start like this any day of the week.

This team underwent an offensive renaissance last season, after years of setting the tone with their defensive identity, by spreading the floor and adopting a four-out, one-in approach that helped them to a good playoff showing last year. While the offensive principles remain basically the same this year, the team seems to have balanced the focus out better this season, with an emphasis on both sides of the ball and their record boasts the results of that renewed focus.

The team has four games coming up in the coming week after a leisurely start to the season. The Hornets start a three game homestand Monday against the Indiana Pacers who, after a slow start to the season, are coming off a strong showing against the Bulls. It will be a homecoming of sorts for former Hornets big man Al Jefferson, but most of the focus will be on superstar Paul George, point guard Jeff Teague and emerging young center Myles Turner.

Next up will be a second home game against the Utah Jazz. They are another young, up-and-coming team that plays a style similar to the Hornets. They also feature an emerging star big man in Rudy Gobert and forward Gordon Hayward, who is a cognitive piece to their offense, has just returned from injury and looks to be picking up where he left of last season. Newly acquired point guard George Hill is having an offensive resurgence in Utah, leading the team in points and assists.

To finish off the homestand on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors come to town. They are a top five defensive team, they are battle tested and they will be a legit test from a strong playoff contender for the Hornets. Guard DeMar DeRozan has been on an absolute tear this season so far, leading the league in scoring at the moment with 33.7 points per game.

That game should serve as a good springboard for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. I obviously don’t have to build this one up much, this will serve as the teams biggest test of the season as the Hornets match up with the likes of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. As of now, the Cavs sport the leagues only undefeated record at 6-0, and their offense is clicking as they are leading the league in scoring at 112.3 points per contest.

Those are four tough games on the schedule in the next seven days and they should serve to show us what kind of team we really have this season in Charlotte. Realistically, I can see them coming out of this four game stretch with another three victories, but that will take disciplined play.

The Hornets can ill afford to have slow starts to these games as they did against Brooklyn on Friday. These are all strong defensive teams and if we allow them to set their defensive tone early, it will be tough to get things going afterwards.

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets

Photo Credit (NBAE/Getty Images)

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s boast about this team a little bit.

Nic Batum has recently appointed himself as the head of the “Get Kemba to the All-Star Game” committee. (*while having the all-star game here would certainly help his cause…cough, cough*) Walker has had an efficient start to his season so far, averaging 24.4 points per game to go with 4.6 assists and three boards per game. He is shooting more efficiently this season and it’s obvious how much the team trusts Kemba down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Batum is filling the stat sheet across the board and MKG has injected a spark into this team on a nightly basis while leading all small forwards in rebounding with 9.2 boards per game.

Cody Zeller has played efficiently and Frank the Tank is getting the opportunity to show off the versatility that led the Hornets to draft him. Marvin Williams hasn’t had the best start to the season, struggling with his shooting in a few games, but he has so far shown a penchant for making the right shots when we need them the most.

Belinelli has seen his minutes increase with the absence of Lamb and he has answered the call with his court vision and basketball IQ that made him a player that Cho has coveted.

Even Spencer Hawes, the player most often brought up in Hornets trade scenarios, has shown where he fits in on this team. Hawes isn’t going to wow anybody with his athleticism or his man bun, but he does have an accurate shot with range and an incredible basketball IQ as well. He has filled in well during Hibbert’s absence and he has provided a steady hand in the Hornets strong start to the season.

And then there are the intangibles; the chemistry and culture that this team has built in the locker room is conducive to winning. On Friday, former Hornet Jeremy Lin echoed the sentiment from last season that the Hornets locker room is how all NBA locker rooms should be. He’s not the first player, current or former, to comment on the chemistry this team exhibits. Coach Clifford has helped build a culture in Charlotte that the players can buy into, and that’s something that takes time and enough belief in each other to handle the responsibility they’re given.

While the teams 4-1 jump out of the gates is very encouraging, this week’s slate of games can help us get a better scope of what we have in this team. We’ve got a good thing going here at the Hive this season, so sit back and enjoy the view from up here Hornets fans. Until next time, KEEP BUZZIN’!!!

 

 

you can follow David W. Walters @Original_DWade. 

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Four Keys to Hornets Playoff Success

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.

The Bench

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.

Slowing down the Warriors Small Ball Lineup

PI-NBA-Charlotte-Hornets-Kemba-Walker-112814.vadapt.955.high.87

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.

 

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.