Only seven days into 2016, the only positive for the Charlotte Hornets has been the news that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is ahead of schedule in his recovery time. While his return would inject energy into the team (while improving the defense) he wouldn't help an offense that has struggled to find balanced, efficient scoring in recent games, and his return is still too far away for him to help fix the team's current crisis.
Five Hornets players average in double figures scoring, and that's been the case for much of the season. However, two of those players, Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson, are currently out injured, while Jeremy Lamb isn't shooting the ball as consistently as he was earlier in the season, and is now battling a wrist injury. Jeremy Lin is currently playing on a bad ankle, and Al Jefferson is out for the next month or so, leaving Kemba Walker as the only player among the Hornets' top scorers who hasn't been hobbled by some kind of injury.
Walker is currently putting up career best numbers, that, at least for now, don't seem sustainable. These increased numbers are in part a reaction to the injury crisis -- with Batum and Jefferson out, Walker is the team's best remaining scorer. He's put it upon himself to increase his role as a scorer, something he's done often in the past when there were no other reliable scoring options around him. While he's averaging 24 points a game so far in January, his field goal percentage has dropped below 40 percent. The bigger problem here is the scoring is no longer balanced -- Walker is taking more shots to compensate for the absence of Batum and Jefferson, and in doing so is creating a more one-dimensional offense.
Unlike previous teams however, other scoring options do remain. Despite their injuries, Lin and Lamb are both capable scorers. While Lamb's shooting percentages have dropped, Lin's December was strong. He averaged 13.2 points a game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three. Unfortunately, he's an outlier, as other Hornets -- Batum, Lamb, and Marvin Williams to name a few -- have all seen their 3-point shooting percentages dip over the past month. It's likely not a coincidence that these numbers started to drop around the time Jefferson went down with his initial injury, followed by the suspension. While Jefferson isn't the post scoring threat he was two seasons ago, he still can draw defenders and double teams, creating space for others on the perimeter. The injuries to Batum, Lin, and Hawes (the team's best playmakers) at various points during this recent slump have only worsened things as well.
The only long term solution to this problem is to get healthy, and hope that when that point is reached, the team remains in the thick of the playoff race. In the immediate time, other scorers need to step up. This isn't a ridiculous idea, Lin is averaging 14 points a game in January, and Lamb did score a season high 22 points against Golden State on Monday, but it needs to come consistently. Troy Daniels scored 13 points off the bench Wednesday against Phoenix, suggesting he could be in the mix for the rotation for the time being. Additionally, if Walker can hero ball a little less often, and create shot opportunities for others, the Hornets might be able to recapture the balanced scoring that was so success earlier this season. Such was the case against the Suns -- all five starters scored in double figures -- unfortunately poor defense cost the Hornets.
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