OH GOD NO. ARE YOU INSANE? THIS TEAM IS SCREWED.
That's what many fans want me to say. It's what many fans want to hear. They want the Hornets coaching staff, players, and front office to all be roasted. Heads need to roll because the Hornets have started 4-14, the third worst record in the Eastern conference, and can't hold a lead to save their damn lives. Their defense has regressed, falling from a defensive rating of 101.2 per 100 possessions to 106 per 100 possessions. That's a big enough increase to drop them from the sixth best defense in the NBA to the 25th. Of course, the offense was supposed to get better this season. They added shooters, and all around guard Lance Stephenson. Instead, their offense got worse, dropping from an offensive rating of 101.2, to an offensive rating of 96.7. That fantastic number puts them at 27th in the NBA, only three ahead of the winless Philadelphia 76ers. To top all of this off, the Hornets are currently on a nine game losing streak and got shellacked by the Atlanta Hawks in their last game.
It's safe to say that things are bad right now, nothing has gone the way Charlotte wanted it to go. They were supposed to be better than last year, hell they were supposed to at least be as good as the team that won 43 games. Instead, everything is awful and there doesn't seem to be a fix for everything. Can the Hornets really fix all of this? Well of course they can, it's only been one month.
For starters, the Hornets have to learn how to execute, especially in close games. They can't continuously use this game plan of give the ball to Kemba Walker and hope he creates a shot. While he's shown in the past that he can be clutch, it's not the best game plan. It's awesome the Hornets have a guy with 100% confidence that isn't afraid to take a shot. But this dribble around and fire up a contested mid range jump shot thing has got to end. The deepest play design Charlotte has done so far is run a pick and roll between Kemba and Al Jefferson, which Kemba will inevitably shoot. You have Big Al on your team, he was an All NBA Player last year, give him the ball. Some of this is on Steve Clifford, and some of it is on the Hornets players themselves. Clifford can draw up a play that involves ball movement and passing, but if the players don't execute, all that design is for not, and the Hornets have failed to execute time and time again. When the Hornets are leading by one to five points in the fourth quarter, they shoot 29.2% from the field. When behind one to five points, the Hornets field goal percentage sky rockets to 42%. However, their three point percentage is very low, coming in at an ineffective 25%. Strangely enough, when tied in the 4th quarter, the Hornets are shooting 50% from the field, and 42.9% from three. However, they've only been tied for nine minutes in the 4th quarter this season. Except for the small sample size of being in a tie game, the Hornets fourth quarter close game numbers aren't very great, and a lot of that is because of an inability to execute.
This lack of execution leads to a larger overall problem, the Hornets can't hold on to a lead, because they don't know how to play with one. There have been many times this season that looked like Charlotte had figured everything out. The defense is back to one of the best in the NBA, and the offense is just good enough to scrape by. It's reminiscent of last year's team, the one that set all these expectations. But it's all been for not, 10 points, 15 points, 20 points, it's all been lost at some point this season. The Hornets just can't seem to figure out how to play when they have the lead. While they've become famous for choking away big leads this year, they've more commonly lost smaller leads. When leading by six to ten points, Charlotte is shooting an abysmal 37.5% from the field, and 15.4% from three. Clearly, whatever they're running when they happen to be in the lead, is not working. Their numbers tell us that the Hornets seem to be okay once they reach double digits, shooting 48.9% from the field when up 11 to 15 points, and 50% when leading by 16 to 20 points. The problem is everybody knows very well that's not case, the Hornets have famously choked away two games when leading by very large margins.
So why are the Hornets choking away leads? Well for starters, that lack of execution again. The offense doesn't feel very organized when the Hornets have the lead. At times it feels very passive and more content to run down time on the clock than get a good look. It's hard to figure out what exactly causes the Hornets to blow away their leads, but one thing is for sure, not every game the Hornets have lost has been like the Hawks game. More often than not, it was a close game, or one they were leading, that the Hornets let slip away.
A large part of why the Hornets can't seem to execute is injuries, and adding new players. Any time a player is added or taken out of the rotation, things get shaken up. The Hornets reached their lowest point when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist went out for an extended period of time with injury. Until he returns, the Hornets will be missing a key part of their starting lineup, and rotation. That injury, mixed with a variety of injuries across the roster, has created a lack of consistency in rotations. Players have been moving in and out constantly, which creates a lack of chemistry, and causes problems for the coaching staff. A lineup of 5 that might have worked together one week, doesn't work together the next week because P.J. Hairston is out and that gets rid of the spacing, or the most recent one, Marvin Williams is out moving Codzy Zeller to the starting lineup, which removes big man scoring depth from the bench.
To pile on top of the Hornets problems, there's been all these injuries, and then they've had a very tough schedule while fighting through said injuries. During the Hornets last 12 games, they have played eight likely playoff teams, with their most winnable games being against the Magic (which they lost) and a very injured Pacers team (lost that one too!).
We've seen Charlotte at their best, and we have definitely seen them at their worst. But their best is why there can still be hope they turn things around. Their best is the playoff team we all thought they were, dominating teams for entire quarters, or halves, and showing us glimpses of what many thought they would be. Then there's the ugly side of them, choking away leads, horrible execution, and all around horrible basketball. You might as well call them Jekyll and Hyde they can be so drastically different from quarter to quarter. But Jeckyll is why I believe Charlotte can turn things around.
There are Hornets fans that want Steve Clifford fired, and that's insane. Not only because it's still the beginning of December, but because he's a great coach with the ability to fix this. This is not to absolve him of all blame. He has done things like play Jason Maxiell. I don't really have any stats or analysis for that, just playing Jason Maxiell is a problem all together. He's also been the person calling some of these end of game plays that have been just terrible, and has had many questionable rotations and decisions. But he's earned all benefit of the doubt, and should be given that. If anybody can fix Charlotte's problems, it's him.
Execution, and learning how to play with a lead can be fixed. Charlotte does not have a talent problem, they have a playing together problem, and that can be worked on. Charlotte has shown they can play well, they just can't seem to do it for four quarters. If they can figure that out, and play well on a consistent basis, things can get turned around in a hurry.
However, Charlotte is running out of time to turn things around. The East might be bad, but a hole can only be dug so deep. If they don't right the ship by mid December, it won't matter if things get fixed, at that point it will be too late.