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The risks of a Walker-Williams backcourt

Coach Steve Clifford was adamant that Kemba Walker and Mo Williams would be sharing the backcourt when Walker returns from injury. Offensively it sounds great, but what about the other side?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets have been a bad offensive team for the entire season. By every available metric, such as points per game, points per 100 possessions, field goal percentage, etc., etc., the team has been one of the worst in the league. No matter the lineup, or the competition, in general scoring and scoring efficiently have been issues. So when Mo Williams comes to the team and shoots 42 percent from 3-point land on nine attempts per game, it's not surprising when coach Steve Clifford proclaims that he will "definitely" be playing him alongside Kemba Walker. For a team desperate for offense, it sounds great on paper, but unfortunately it could be a situation of "Mo' money, Mo' problems".

This season, Clifford has experimented with a number of two (sometimes three!) guard lineups. The majority of which involved Gary Neal. Although Mo Williams and Gary Neal are very different players, defensively they provide the same challenge: they're both undersized and lack athleticism. This year, lineups featuring Walker with one of Gary Neal or Brian Roberts have been very bad on both sides of the ball with one exception:

Lineup Games Minutes OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg eFG%
Walker , Neal , Stephenson , Ma. Williams , Jefferson 12 48 101.4 117.8 -16.4 0.438
Walker , Neal , Stephenson , Zelller , Jefferson 11 47 99.9 112.6 -12.7 0.451
Walker , Neal , Henderson , Ma. Williams , Jefferson 13 37 97.2 108.4 -11.1 0.423
Walker , Neal , Kidd-Gilchrist , Ma. Williams , Jefferson 12 31 108 93.2 14.7 0.5
Walker , Neal , Henderson , Zeller , Jefferson 11 30 98.1 102.6 -4.5 0.489
Walker , Roberts , Hairston , Maxiell , Biyombo 3 16 86.2 130.6 -44.4 0.375
Walker , Roberts , Stephenson , Zeller , Jefferson 2 14 108.3 125.6 -17.3 0.476

OffRtg, DefRtg, and NetRtg represent points scored or allowed per 100 possesions. Stats per

The only one of the above lineups that has performed respectfully is the only one that includes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Just look at the third lineup, which includes Kemba Walker, Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Marvin Williams, and Al Jefferson. That lineup is stacked with shooting, but struggled to score 97 points per 100 possessions, which is basically just as bad as the Hornets' overall offense which scores 97.9 per 100 and is ranked 29th ranked in the league. All but two of the lineups would rank as badly or worse than the league's worst defense (currently the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mo Williams' old team, which allows 108.5 points per 100 possessions).

So if the results are so horrible this season, why is Clifford so adamant about this experiment? Well the first reason could be that Mo Williams might be the Hornets best offensive player. Clifford has always been a proponent of playing the guys he thinks are the best players, while figuring out how to create a team defense that keeps them on the floor. Think last year with Al Jefferson and the way Clifford structured a pack and recover defense to hide Jefferson's lack of rim protection.

The above shows how Williams will struggle to bother shooters when closing out in the Hornets base defense. This will only be magnified if he is guarding traditional shooting guards that typically have an average height of 6'5". Here's another example of a defensive play where Williams was unable to secure the defensive rebound or bother the 3-point shot on the swing pass.

Although Williams lacks the size and speed to really be a plus in this defensive system, he's been a very smart off-ball defender and has picked up the defensive scheme very quickly. Also, his energy level on that side of the ball has been really good, especially when he hasn't been over exerted from a minutes perspective.

The other reason for this experiment may be that Clifford has finally put his eggs into the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist basket. While everyone is aware of Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive talent (if not, read here, here, and here), it is his offense lately that is keeping him on the floor. Since his return from injury, which coincided with the end of the All-Star break, Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 34.4 minutes, 15.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 free throw attempts, and shooting 54.2 percent from the field (all of these rank second on the team, so basically one could argue that he has been the Hornets' second best offensive player behind Mo Williams). With Kidd-Gilchrist almost always on the floor, the defense may be able to play just good enough for the hypothetical high-powered offense to take flight.

Even if it does work, coach Clifford is going away from possibly the team's only strength this season, which is the pairing of Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing. Looking at the team's top ten 2-man lineups in terms of minutes, this is one of only two pairings outscoring its opponents per 100 possessions. The defense requires multiple crashes and closeouts from the wings on a single possession and also for wing players to defend on an island in isolation, fight through off-ball screens without much showing from near by big men, and a responsibility to clean the defensive boards while the likes of Jefferson and Cody Zeller block out. None of those requirements are necessarily strengths for Mo Williams.

In summary, the two guard lineup does not mesh with the Hornets' defensive scheme. If it works, it will likely be due to the play of Kidd-Gilchrist, who continues to receive more responsibility from his coach and recognition from the league. If it doesn't work, the team may find itself out of the playoffs and searching for answers as it enters an offseason with a ton of question marks. It's safe to say, the stakes are high.