Up, Down, or Out



In his pre-draft presser, Hornets GM Rich Cho said they have explored trading up, trading down, and trading out of the draft. This should sound familiar. He said the same thing last year. And it really means nothing. It’s a way of answering a question without giving an answer. But it’s worth exploring the merits of each of these strategies with respect to the 22nd pick, the team’s needs, and the make-up of this year’s draft.

Trading Out

Trading out of the draft could be used as a way of obtaining a piece more prepared to contribute next season or shedding salary to facilitate keeping as much of last year’s team together. It’s impossible to predict which players might be available and what it would take to get them, but trading for an established player would have to offset the value of a team friendly rookie contract. I would be hesitant to move the pick for anyone on an expiring contract. It would also mean less money available for the current free agents so Cho would have to have a pretty good idea who is going and who is staying.

Trading out for the sake of freeing up some money to re-sign free agents could be valuable in the short term. The most likely candidates for a dump would be Spencer Hawes and his $6 million per year over the next 2 seasons or Jeremy Lamb’s 3 year, $21 million contract. Trading Lamb kills an already thin wing rotation.

The problem with using the pick to create cap space is in the long term. Again, you’re sacrificing a tiny rookie contract that would be more valuable financially in the long run than the short term gains of dumping Hawes. At that point, the team would be locked into the roster for the foreseeable future with limited methods for improvement. A rookie contract and the youth that comes with it would be a valuable way of providing future improvement internally rather than having to constantly make trades and sign free agents.

In the end, dumping the pick would be short-sighted. The Hornets are the type of team that can fill the roster out with ring chasing veterans and buy-out candidates the way Miami or OKC does. By using the new D-League team and draft picks with potential, the Hornets can build a talent pipeline to sustain the organization as players needs to be replaced.

Trading Up

Trading up brings its own risks in the form of sacrificing depth and/or future assets. In order to move up in the draft, Cho would have to package something with the pick. Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller seem the most likely candidates for such a move. Even if Charlotte retains all of its free agents, the team would still be at a deficit and forced to rely on a rookie to play a prominent role. Depth became a problem in the playoffs us multiple key players suffered injuries. With the free agent situation being what it is, the Hornets are just not equipped to handle sacrificing players.

I’m morally opposed to trading future picks of any kind unless you are a legit title contender. Too many things can happen in the interim, even with protections, to make that kind of gamble. Particularly in a draft as muddled as this one where the difference between the 15th and 40th pick might not be all that big. Cho would have to really love a prospect and have a plan in place to establish depth by other means for this to be an option.

Trading Down

Where the depth of the draft makes trading up a bit pointless (barring a huge jump into the top 8), it lends itself to opportunities to trade back. Cho did this before with the Heat, who coveted Shabazz Napier (that had NOTHING to do with LeBron, right?), while knowing that the guy he wanted, PJ Hairston, would be there 2 picks later. To make the move, Miami included a 2nd round pick.

This is the type of move that would be a golden opportunity to start establishing the talent pipeline previously mentioned. While the Hornets could use some wing depth, there should be plenty available late in the draft. Denzel Valentine, DeAndre Bembry, Malik Beasley, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Brogdon… All these guys are projected in the back third of the draft and into the 2nd round.

As with all deals, it takes 2 to tango and while the depth of the draft could serve the Hornets well, they’re not the only team in their position. Someone would have to really love a prospect to be willing to help out. But if the deal is there, it would be worth it in the long run.

Stay Put

In the end, the most likely thing is usually the simplest and that is drafting a player with the 22nd pick. It’s what I expect to happen and, while boring, could provide an important bench piece down the line.

Draft Thoughts



As the NBA season draws to a close, the draft is only 3 weeks away. That means team workouts, mock drafts, and misinformation all over the place. Look no further than Jonathan Givony of Draft Express for how this stuff works:

It can be difficult to know what to trust, what to value, and what to dismiss. In perusing all the draft coverage that has been coming out, a couple things stand out regarding the Hornets in particular. The first is that there is very little information. In Chad Ford’s latest big board, found here.
(more information can be found in his workout confidential here)

The Hornets are linked to a only 3 prospects in this list. For comparison’s sake, the Hawks, picking right before the Hornets, are mentioned 6 times and the Celtics 23rd pick is mentioned 6 times. Cho keeps things in house and I wouldn’t expect much else before the draft.

With that being said, there is some information to be glean from the light coverage. Actual reports, not guesses by mock drafts, have the Hornets showing interest in Malik Beasley, Denzel Valentine, Demetrius Jackson, and Malachi Richardson. Translation: Charlotte is looking at wing players, whether they be in the guard/forward variety or the combo guard. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given the possibility of losing Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee (and Batum, but I believe he’s staying).

All of these players are also shooters (at least allegedly). Again, this jives with what Steve Clifford has been saying for over a year now as well as the style of play implemented this past season. If you’re not protecting the rim on defense, you better be shooting from deep on offense.

Again, the legitimate information out there is limited and will most likely continue to be. But there are enough crumbs that lead me to believe the Hornets are looking for wing depth and shooting in the draft and will attempt to add some rim protection in free agency. So no, I don’t think Charlotte picks Brice Johnson. And if we’re going off bizarre, correlation but not causation trends, wouldn’t you think Cho would desperately be trying to trade up and grab Henry Ellenson? White power forwards from the Big 10 for life!

What Happened?


Things clearly didn’t go the Hornets’ way in game 1 against the Heat, getting shellacked by 32 points. One might assume the Heat are a far superior team and the series might as well be over after that kind of performance. However, the numbers over the course of the entire season point to this being the most competitive and evenly matched first round series. If that’s the case, and I believe it is, what went wrong and how fixable is it? In this case, the tape is far more instructive than the numbers.
The Heat built the cushion they would need for the entire game in the 1st quarter, outscoring the Hornets 41-22. That lead begins and ends with Luol Deng’s performance, who played the entire quarter and went 5-5 including 3-3 on 3 pointers and scoring 14 points. Of those 5 makes only 2 were contested. The other 3 were defensive lapses: a miscommunication on a switch, a transition 3 after Frank saved the ball to the wrong team, and a drive when the defense failed to get organized after an offensive rebound. While Deng is a good player, Charlotte shot themselves in the foot and allowed him to get his points.

For the Hornets to be competitive, Marvin Williams will need to play Deng to a draw. Instead he missed all 3 of his attempts, all of which were good shots that he’s been making all season. Other than Batum, the rest of the team didn’t pick up the offensive slack, though offense wasn’t the problem. The Hornets were getting good shots, they just weren’t going down. Miami pressured the perimeter heavily, to the point of over-extending the defense and leaving paths to the rim that Charlotte was able to take advantage of at times. Creating shots wasn’t the problem, it was making them. The whole team failed to convert open lay-ups, short runners, and free-throws.
Overall, the effort was just not there considering the stakes. Bad communication, boxing out an area rather than boxing out a body, trying to tip rebounds rather than go up with 2 hands and grab them, lack of second effort… It wasn’t pretty but the Hornets need only look in the mirror to see why they lost. Whether it was Batum letting Justise Winslow fly around for offensive boards or Jefferson failing to recover to his man for a rebound after helping on a pick-and-roll, the mental and physical effort just wasn’t there in a way that would off-set the poor shooting performance.

Aside from Deng, Dwyane Wade had a terrific game. Clifford gave Jeremy Lin a chance to guard him in the first quarter and it did not go well. While Lin has plenty of upper body strength, his base and core could not handle Wade’s post game. Rather than holding his ground with a strong base, Lin was leaning on Wade to use his upper body and Wade feasted on it, spinning every which way and getting whatever he wanted. This wasn’t the only mismatch.

But enough with the words, what did the video show? Frankly, poor communication. Here you can see Kemba do the right thing on a Dragic-Stoudemire side pick-and-roll. He helps off his man on the other side of the court, tagging Stoudemire to muck up his roll, while Frank slides down so he can recover to either shooter if the ball gets kicked out.

Kemba Tag

Stoudemire abandons his roll and steps out to give Dragic and outlet, then swings the ball to Deng who has repositioned himself to provide a kick-out option. Frank follows him while Al hangs back, prepared for a Stoudemire post-up or a Deng drive. Lee follows his man, Winslow, and all Kemba needs to do is get back to Richardson. Excellent, typical Clifford defense. Until Kemba hesitates, caught in no-man’s land and looking around, leaving Richardson wide open.

Where Did He Go?

Kemba does a solid job recovering, but Richardson never should have had a shot. The defense has done its job but a failure to communicate with Kemba, coupled with his own hesitation, lets the defense down.

Too Little, Too Late

At the end of the first quarter, with Dragic racing up the court, the defense again fails to communicate. I honestly have no idea what Jeremy Lin is doing here. I would guess he’s trying to anticipate the Stoudemire screen in an effort to get over it but he turns his back to his man, leaving a free lane to the rim. He and Jefferson have to do a better job of communicating what their coverage is supposed to be.

Ummmm.... Wut?

Transition communication was just as bad as half-court communication. In basketball, the guy with the ball is the only one that can actually score points, so maybe guard him.

Someone? Anyone?

The physical effort was just as concerning as the lack of communication. Despite having 9/10 of their feet in the paint on this shot attempt, the Hornets failed to get this rebound and, after several tips, Deng got the put-back:


The lack of effort wasn’t just on rebounding. Here, Batum ices the side pick-and-roll and while Cody doesn’t do a great job containing Wade as he snakes back in front of the pick, Charlotte has 3 defenders in help position. Lin in particular has already left Richardson open to help, to the point he won’t be able to recover, but fails to take one more step and cut off the drive. Instead Lin, Walker, and Williams watch Wade convert an easy lay-up.

Wade Getting All Slithery

Batum isn’t doing anything to dispel the soft European stereotype here when he walks into a screen that Deng never had any intention of setting.

What screen?

Rather than taking one step up to pressure the ball, he allows himself to get screened.


Marvin Williams, realizing what Batum is doing, has to change directions and hustle back to contain the drive, only to get smashed by a Haslem screen. Cody does a decent job preventing the easy lay-up, but Wade is able to convert a tough turn-around at the elbow like he has a thousand times before in his career.


If it’s a botched switch, it’s poor communication as Marvin Williams clearly had no idea that was happening. I’m not convinced. Batum needs to step up and, if that screen hits him, he needs to shrug it off and not get dragged out of the play by it.

So the bad news: Charlotte got creamed. The good news: it’s easily fixable. I’m not convinced there were any serious schematic failures. There were concerns about the way Charlotte played pick-and-rolls, seeming to show hard more than dropping back, but I didn’t see that on tape. Cody has always done more hedging than Jefferson, especially on the sides. Here you can see that type of defense:

It's a trap!

The problem isn’t the hedge. Batum and Cody are in good position to cause a turnover or a timeout with no real outlet in sight and only 9 seconds left on the shot-clock. The strategy is sound. The execution fails though. They leave a seam in the trap, allowing Joe Johnson to step through with an escape dribble and hit Deng for an open 3. Close that seam and that pass never happens. Good strategy, bad execution.

The effort wasn’t there and shots weren’t going in. In the second quarter, the defense improved and held Miami to 26 points. With an offensive flurry the Hornets could have been right back in it by half-time.

Here, Lin helps off his man to stop a Whiteside roll to the basket. Making Whiteside make decisions with the ball in his hand outside the restricted area is a winning proposition most of the time.

Way to go buddy!

Basic pick-and-roll defense here as Jefferson walls off the paint and Lin fights over the pick, forcing Dragic to snake back in front of Whiteside, taking him out of the play and resulting in a tough, missed step-back jumper. Stan Van Gundy would be proud of that wall of defense.

Build an effing wall!

I don’t think there’s anything magic Clifford and Co. need to do, the team just needs to be more focused and on a collective string defensively. Grab rebounds with 2 hands, put a body on someone when a shot goes up, keep moving offensively, talk constantly, and make your shots. That’s not to say the team can’t make adjustments. 2 things stood out to me when re-watching the game, one offensively and one defensively.

On offense, Charlotte needs to get downhill. The Heat perimeter defenders are being very aggressive. Cody was able to drive right by Whiteside for a dunk because nobody was below the free-throw line. Aggressive attacks lead to buckets and fouls to the tune of 37 attempts to the Heat’s 21 attempts. Cody was as effective as a roll man as I think I’ve ever seen him. Whiteside can dominate physically, so you have to make him think and make decisions. When that happened, Charlotte often won. When they went straight at him, he was able to contest. Just keep attacking.
The biggest defensive adjustment involves some interesting action only Miami runs (that I remember). After multiple screens, they’ll get Wade or Johnson the ball at the elbow and immediately have Whiteside set a ball screen below the foul line.

Here it comes....

This forces Whiteside’s man (Cody here) to corral the ball handler (Wade) or leave a free rim run. With a shooter in the strong side corner (Richardson) and so little space between the screen and the basket, Lin is unable to bump Whiteside before he’s at the rim.


Whiteside’s length makes it easy to pass over the top, even someone like Batum, so a switch still leaves Charlotte at a disadvantage. What’s left is an easy pass over the top and a lay-up for Whiteside.

Ruh roh

This action repeatedly gave Charlotte trouble and will have to be addressed. To me, the best thing would be to have Batum deny Wade the screen, no easy task considering how quickly they get into the screen-roll once Wade gets the ball. If Batum can beat Whiteside to the spot and force Wade back towards the sideline/baseline, Cody doesn’t have to compromise his position on Whiteside and can drop back. Batum would have to recover in a hurry and use his length to bother any drive or shot by Wade. Otherwise Cody is stuck between contesting Wade and blocking the rim run by Whiteside. Lin might have to dig down a little to stop the drive without compromising his ability to defend the corner 3.

Spoelstra is a smart coach and this elbow screen-roll caused some serious defensive problems as Charlotte failed both in effort and communication. That being said, it’s not unguardable and I expect Clifford & Co. to have a solution.

I thought re-watching this game would be torture. I was pleasantly surprised. Charlotte can and will be better, both offensively and defensively. Increase the effort and communication, look to attack downhill offensively, and clean up some small schematic issues defensively and the Hornets will be right back in this series.

Health is the Key to the Stretch Run


As the deadline came and went, there were some who said Charlotte needed to make a move if they wanted to make the playoffs this year. They did so, acquiring Courtney Lee in exchange for PJ Hairston and Brian Roberts, a move that clearly makes the team better. However, a trade is not what is going to get the Hornets into the playoffs. Health is the most important factor.

It’s easy to remember that the Hornets struggled in January, going 6-11. It’s also easy to get caught up in the MKG injury after such strong individual and team performances during his 7 game cameo. It’s also easy to forget that, in November and December, the Hornets were a top 10 unit both offensively and defensively.

A quick look at Charlotte’s lineup data on nba.com’s stats page, sorted by minutes played, shows 9 out 10 lineups with strongly positive net ratings per 100 possessions. Ignoring the MKG lineup, every one of these lineups includes at least one of the Batum/Lamb/Lin trio that struggled with injuries throughout January.


The same information for just the month of January hammers home the importance of health for the Hornets. Despite playing 17 games in January, no individual lineup appeared in more than 7 games. The typical non-Al Jefferson starting lineup maintained a positive +6.6 net rating. Meanwhile, lineups missing Batum and featuring PJ Hairston at the 3 along with Kemba and Lin were atrocious.


The human mind has a tendency to over value the most recent results, in this case January results and the MKG injury. This is what’s known as recency bias or the recency effect. But a step back reveals the Hornets should be fine in the stretch run as long as they stay healthy. This is a good team with a good coach and good players. When all of those pieces are allowed to work as intended, the results speak for themselves.

53 Down, 29 to Go


The post all-star break schedule represents the stretch run of the NBA season. When games resume, the trade deadline will have passed and rosters will be set, other than veteran buyouts looking to boost a contender in the playoffs. This provides a good opportunity to try to determine what the Hornets can expect to accomplish this season.

To determine where the team is going, we have to establish where they are (and by extension, where they’ve come from). Currently, the Hornets are in 8th place in the east, 1 game over .500 at 27-26. While Cleveland and Toronto are running away with the top 2 spots in the east, the Celtics are in 3rd place but are only 3 games ahead of the Hornets in the loss column. The playoff race cuts off with Orlando, only 3 games behind Charlotte in the loss column. With such a tight race, what lies ahead will play a major part in how things shake out.

If that wasn’t a boring enough lead-in, analyzing the upcoming schedule will put you to sleep. So I’m going bullet point on this. 10 important facts about the remaining 29 games on the schedule.

  1. 29 games in 54 days
  2. 13 home, 16 away
  3. 7 back-to-backs (1 home/home, 3 away/away, 3 home/away)
  4. At Milwaukee (2), Cleveland (2), Indiana, Detroit and Toronto; 22 on east coast
  5. 7 game home stand from 3/4-3/16 (10 of 12 home from 3/1-3/21)
  6. 8 games against bottom 5 teams (3 Brooklyn, 3 Philadelphia, 1 Minnesota, 1 Phoenix)
  7. 22 games against the east, 7 against the west (PHX, MIN, NOP, HOU, DAL, DEN, SAS)
  8. 10 games against teams within 3 losses, above or below, the Hornets1
  9. 4 games against top 4 teams (@ Cleveland twice, vs San Antonio, @ Toronto)
  10. No game on April 7th (that’s my birthday)

1. How the schedule stacks up with playoff contenders:

Team Home Away
Indiana 1 1
Atlanta 0 1
Detroit 1 1
Orlando 2 0
Miami 0 1
Washington 0 1
Boston 0 1
Total 4 6