Last night, the Hornets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, bringing their record to 5-16 since New Year’s Day. The team seems to be falling apart. They’re struggling to beat bad teams and hardly showing up against good teams.
And no one’s sure exactly why.
So we decided to consult the great minds at At The Hive to figure this season out.
We talk the state of the team, possible solutions, potential trades, and more!
Joshua Priemski: Let’s hop right into it. What can the Hornets do to start winning games and save this season? Heck, should they?
Nick Denning: They need to play defense. I've said it all season, but they are allowing too many points in the first and fourth quarter, ranking 19th in the league for both. I don't know if it comes down to effort, or having the right mentality, but they aren't putting themselves in a position to win by having bad starts and finishes.
Along with that, opponents make and attempt more 3-pointers per game against them than any other team. Teams currently average 11.2 makes a game, that's 33.6 points per game just from 3-pointers. By comparison, Miami ranks first, allowing eight makes a game. Improving their perimeter defense could make a subtle, but much-needed difference.
Doug Branson: The three point debacle is coming from both slow closeouts from the likes of Marco and Frank and guys that are normally decent to good at preventing penetration (like Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) getting wrecked.
Josh: Do they need to make a trade, or can they figure it out with this roster?
Russell Varner: They do need to make a trade, but who can they trade and what exactly can they get back that can change and help the team?
Josh: I think an energetic glue guy could help. Perhaps a tweener? The bench tends to go through the motions, so anything to give that group a jolt. They could also use a backup point guard, or at the very least try Ray McCallum.
Russell: Yeah, I would like to see that...
Nick: They desperately need help for the bench. A post scorer would be nice, but they just made a trade for Plumlee, so it's doubtful they go that route.
I look at a point guard, or combo guard is an idea as well. Someone who brings energy, as you said Josh, and someone who can create shots for themselves.
Maybe this starts another conversation, but how much of their drop-off is the lack of progression from Frank Kaminsky and Marvin’s inconsistencies? I'm sure the organization felt those two would build off last season.
Josh: Agreed. Oddly enough, Frank's looked pretty good when starting at center. But his inconsistencies — particularly on defense — are infuriating. I don't know what's up with Marv, man. He's missing shots he'd have made last season and looks a step slow at times.
Makes me wonder, though: Are we underestimating how important Cody Zeller is to this team? We shouldn't need to depend on Frank to hold this team together. Not yet, anyway.
Doug: Cody is great for this team. But his absence still speaks louder to the lack of depth at center. When they brought in Hibbert it was about bringing in someone that could be a physical mismatch on both ends. Didn’t happen. Now with Cody gone you have almost nothing underneath.
If they don’t shoot lights out, then they have no shot. Because they will get out-rebounded, they will lose the battle for second chance points and they will be gassed by the fourth quarter if they expend the energy necessary to be competitive in the first three quarters.
Look at their last three fourth quarters and you will see a team incapable of making a run because they can’t consistently make shots they made last year and because they can’t contain dribble penetration.
Why? Probably part frustration, part effort, and part running out of fuel.
Nick: I'm just curious why this team is so dependent on fringe starters. First, this team couldn't win without MKG. Now they can't win without Zeller. Neither are star players. What's going on here?
Josh: I think they're very carefully constructed and when one piece of the machine is out, everything falls apart.
David Walker: Exactly, Josh.
Doug: MKG is your athletic multi-tool and Zeller is your athletic hustle guy. The rest of the team is skill-based. Kemba is obviously athletic moving towards the rim but teams can take that away.
David: This team needed each piece to play well, or at the very least be playing, to excel.
Doug: Right, you either build a team that depends on the overwhelming talents of a few or you build what the Hornets built that requires nine players buy in. It takes several gambles paying off and everyone staying healthy.
Josh: Do we place any blame on Steve Clifford? He’s attached to lineups more than most coaches. Seems he’s reluctant to try new things in the face of adversity.
David: I don't know...he's got what he's got for the most part.
I mean especially at this point he's got to play Roberts (or not) and no Cody, ONLY Frank, Marvin isn't hitting (still)...it's like, “Go get me 35, Kemba!” and hope someone else shows up.
Josh: Right, but Christian Wood has proven he can handle 5-10 minutes a night, and we haven't really seen McCallum at all. We're losing, so why not break the mold?
David: Yeah. He's definitely not really open to that.
Nick: I wish he would experiment more, but suddenly giving Wood more minutes isn't the solution. He's worth an extended look, but those thinking he will automatically solve the teams problems are basing this off his unknown factor.
Which makes my next statement a bit contradictory, but he should give McCallum a chance.
David: Right. They're not solving it but I get how it feels like almost time to pull out all the stops.
Nick: We need to figure out the point guard position more than any other spot. So experiment with McCallum, and if it doesn't work, look elsewhere.
David: Cody has to get healthy, Nicolas Batum has to stay aggressive and I think you're in a lot more games. Then you take what you get from Marvin and MKG, hope Frank can produce once he’s back on the bench and rely on Marco and Lamb. As it is they’re not getting blown out, really, but it feels like they can't find their way at all right now.
I think point guard is something that should have been addressed prior to Sessions going down but maybe they felt like a significant upgrade wasn't needed or accessible?
Nick: Feel free to immediately and rightfully dismiss me, but I think Brandon Jennings or Shelvin Mack could be had for little and could help this team.
Josh: I love me some Brian Roberts but yeah, I agree.
David: Yes, I think even some of these older free agents could have helped so I don't know why they were so adamant about sitting still.
Josh: Cho, zen master. No rash decisions. Let’s wrap this up. Do you think the Hornets make the playoffs this season?
Nick: No. They're about to start a seven-game road trip. They've been pretty awful on the road most of the season. I think this trip seals their fate.
Josh: Ouch. I agree, but ouch.
Reinis Lacis: Unlikely. It depends on whether Cody can heal his quad during the All-Star break.
The net rating of the starting lineup has been very good throughout the year. If they can get Zeller back at 100 percent, blowing through Detroit, Sacramento, Clippers, Lakers, Suns and Nuggets with a 5-1 record would be the last time to salvage the season.
David: Yes, they’ll make the playoffs. (Which makes no sense!) All hail the East!
Daniel Coughlin: I don't think there is an impact return on the market for Kaminsky or Marvin. Jeremy Lamb? I just don't see any expendable pieces that bring in value. So a weak East might just be a hold their hand situation.
The Bulls are on a three-game losing streak and have two games this week with Toronto and Boston. If they drop both of those, they might fall to the eight spot and be hovering just above the Hornets.
And if Chicago turns into sellers at the deadline, Charlotte could easily make a push for the playoffs, maybe even run at Detroit for the seventh.
Russell: Yes, Charlotte is still in it. But only because they are in the East.
It stinks because I can tell just from my friends and people I follow that interest in the team is already waning.
David: Despite how awful they've been they still somehow have a positive net rating (only five or six teams in the East do) and granted a lot of that is weighted heavily in the beginning of the season. But the framework is there to salvage something.
Time is running out though.