Through six weeks the Greensboro Swarm were showing promise. Coach Noel Gillespie and the first-year franchise were winning basketball games, and finding a rhythm between the everyday roster and assignment players from the Hornets.
After an 0-5 start, the Hornets rallied to go 6-7 leading into Christmas for a 6-12 overall record. Right in the middle of a competitive Eastern Conference, Greensboro was showing the fight it would need to battle for a playoff spot.
Then the holidays hit and the wheels began to fall off. Since December 28th the Swarm are 1-6, their lone win coming at home by seven points. While that win counted, so did the half dozen losses - five by ten points or more.
There is no one issue to fix for the Swarm to begin winning again. It starts at the top, where first-time head coach Gillespie needs to get through to his players. Offensively guys such as Archie Goodwin and Christian Wood are putting forth effort, but he needs to find a way to get buy-in on the other end of the court as well.
Only once since the beginning of December have the Swarm held an opponent to under 100 and that was in a 99-92 loss to the Los Angeles DeFenders. Even when the Swarm are dropping in points, their inability to stop the opposing team cripples their chances at winning.
The scoring is generally not the issue. While the Swarm have struggled to score in late-game situations, they have managed to put points up effectively in the other parts of games. With Xavier Munford, Rasheed Sulaimon, Archie Goodwin, and Christian Wood, this roster is primed to explode on any given night.
But the explosions won’t matter if they cannot lock down on defense. Christian Wood dropped 45 points on the Long Island Nets Thursday, but was a major part of Chris McCollough scoring 37 for the winning Nets. In all, six different Long Island players scored at least 14 points.
Last Tuesday the Swarm lost to the Raptors 905, allowing seven opposing players to score in double figures, led by Brady Heslip’s 25. The 905 shot 51 percent from the field and a scorching 52 percent from beyond the arc. It doesn’t matter how spectacular Greensboro’s individual scorers are, that level of defense is a one-way ticket to the D-League basement.
There is still time for this team to make a serious change, for a defensive-minded head coach and organization to lead a breakthrough in applying Hornets coach Steve Clifford’s principles and scheme. Their first opportunity will be this week at the D-League Showcase, where every team in the league gathers to play in front of NBA scouts.
As the season of call-ups approaches, many of the Swarm’s elite scorers may be snatched up to audition on a 10-day contract. All of their razzle-dazzle with the ball in their hands may come to naught if an NBA team determines they are a weak link defensively. The fastest way to secure a promotion is to play at both ends of the court.
Whether players such as Goodwin and Wood have that level of defensive acumen in them remains to be seen. If they can pair offense with defense, this roster is talented enough to make some waves down the back half of the season. If they continue with the swiss cheese approach to defense, their record will stay deflated and their NBA dreams may follow suit.