This has been one hell of a bizarre season so far. The Hornets stormed out of the gate on fire and overachieving; through the first ten games they were sitting in second place overall in the East, playing a surprisingly effective and efficient brand of team basketball led by stellar play from breakout All-Star Kemba Walker and “Just-Got-Paid” swingman Nicolas Batum.
Cody Zeller made a bit of a leap, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist things, scoring 23 points one night and then 0 a week later, and Marco Belinelli buoyed a thin second unit with an endless array of exciting off-balanced three pointers.
Alas, nothing gold can stay. Since December 31st, the Hornets have gone a deeply depressing 5-17; the second worst team in the NBA over that stretch only to the hapless Brooklyn Nets, who’ve yet to break double-digits in the win column this year.
There’s plenty of stuff to panic about going forward. But lets be honest, no one needs that right now. I thought we could collectively use a look back at some of the good times from the 2016-17 season so far. So here it is, my favorite things from the first half(fish) of the season.
BELINELLI HITS THE CRAZIEST GAME WINNER OF ALL TIME... ALMOST
On January 5th, the Hornets took on the Pistons for the last time at the storied Palace of Auburn Hills. Besides the fact that it was the last game Charlotte would play in setting of the perhaps the most problematic moment in NBA history, the game was significant in that the Hornets trailed by 19 at one point in the second half. Led by a 20 point firestorm from Kemba Walker, Charlotte clawed all the way back into the game, setting up an inbounds play with .04 seconds left.
Students of NBA history will remember the controversial Derek Fisher shot that helped establish the well-known metric that .04 seconds is technically only enough time to catch and immediately shoot the ball (side note: look at that final game score. Holy Cow).
With late-game-legend Kemba Walker unable to shake open for a look, Belinelli made a split second executive decision to do it his damn self. In a shot-call that would've been at home in a game of horse between MJ and Larry, Belly bounced the ball off of the inbound defender’s back, collected it, and launched it off the glass and in, only a fraction of a second too late. Had it counted, it likely would've stood next to Zo’s shot in the ‘93 playoffs as the most badass buzzer beater in Buzz City history.
Alas, as we’ve learned time and time again this season, moral victories just don't show up in the W column.
THIS DUDE AT THE HORNETS/CELTICS GAME
The January 16th game against the Boston Celtics was a highly anticipated head-to-head matchup between Kemba Walker and his backcourt rival, Isaiah Thomas. The game took place just three days before the All-Star announcements were made, and while Thomas had crafted an impossible-to-snub campaign leading up to that point, Walker’s inclusion in the mid-season showcase was still very uncertain.
The game lived up to the hype, as Kemba out dueled his star-counterpart for the majority of the first three quarters.
Then the 4th quarter happened, and Thomas, as he improbably has again and again this year, took the game over. He ended the duel with 35 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, with a +14 for the game (Kemba: 24/4/2/-11) walking away with the win for both himself and his team.
Seeing two of the league’s best point guards shoot it out was a highly entertaining endeavor, but it was completely overshadowed for me by this old man’s reaction to Thomas’ insane 4th quarter fireworks:
Bravo good sir. That’s not just a great reaction to that particular game, that may be the greatest reaction to anything. Ever. The 3 second part where he mouths “I can't. I can't hear.” and shakes his head should go in the Smithsonian. For what? I don't know, who cares? I love this old dude and his snowflake-and-fanny-pack clad lady, and think the NBA should pay this couple to be at every NBA game. ALL OF THEM. Old people forever.
THESE PATRICK EWING SHOES
First, lets just start with this picture. Look at it. Its majestic in its perspective confusion. Are these tiny shoes? Is the tongue enormous? I have no idea. As this article states, this color way is an “homage to Patrick’s coaching career,” which, I mean, is that a dig at the Knick legend’s consistent inability to land a head coaching gig, or nah?
I’m going to choose to believe that it isn't a cynical take, but rather an earnest appreciation of what the bigbigbig-man brings to the sidelines night in and out, namely- that same perspective confusion.
Much like the pictured shoes, every single shot of Ewing sitting on the Hornets bench is optically-disorienting manna from heaven; a precious gift to fans who enjoy seeing oversized-guys in hilariously uncomfortable regular sized guy situations:
He needs a bigger seat...
This is fine...
Ok he’s not even in the frame now...
THIS VINTAGE CHARLOTTE HORNETS SNAPBACK
I get on eBay periodically to check for old, weird Hornets swag to add to the “set” of our Facebook Live show, “Live from Grandmama’s House,” (if you haven't caught an episode yet please check it out.) Anyway, a few months back I came across this gem, listed in all caps as a “VINTAGE CHARLOTTE HORNETS BUZZ NBA EMBROIDERED TEAL BLACK SNAPBACK HAT GUC.”
At first glance, the image of the item appears not to be a snapback at all, but rather a photo of some sort of local real estate agent/assistant manager of an independent Jimmy Johns Franchise/your friend’s Mom’s boyfriend, Terry.
Intrigued, I decided to take a closer look utilizing eBay’s “Mouse Over to Zoom” function.
Upon further inspection, its is exactly as I feared. This snapback hat was obviously transformed into a middle aged businessperson by an evil enchantress; a spell which can only be broken by the weathered old cap finding true love in the form of an eBay buyer before the auction runs out. If no suitor can be found, the hat must remain imprisoned in it’s corporeal, goatee’d form for the rest of his days.
Or it’s just an image of what appears to be the owner (Proprietor? Spokesperson? Mascot?) of 5 STAR THRIFT STORE, the eBay store seller of this item?
Through a bit of hard-nosed sleuthing (scrolling down the page,) I discovered this image of the same dude, inexplicably photoshopped (trapped) in a regular $100 bill:
This second explanation seems almost as far fetched, as none of the other items listed in this store bear this man’s visage, and the hat continues to be re-listed, over and over again, at various reduced price points.
As of this writing, the Good Used Condition
man ball cap was marked down from $5.99 to U.S. $2.99, a savings of $3.00!!
I hope this item runs forever.
NIC BATUM CHANNELING JAMES HARDEN
Listen, saying Nic Batum impacts a game in the same way James Harden does would be like saying Nic Batum has a beard in the same way James Harden does:
Ok, yeah sure... one is obviously greater in volume and stands out a lot more, but hey, you gonna tell me those arent both beards?
I’m not suggesting Batum is playing anywhere near the level of the Rocket’s MVP frontrunner, but he has picked up and and been able to utilize one of the unorthodox superstar’s most pesky skills; the ability to consistently draw shooting fouls on defenders fighting over screens.
Batum has been solid/good/sometimes-great all year, and done everything you could really reasonably hope to get out of the 28 year old small forward after giving him a max contract. Some fans may have hoped for more eye-popping numbers out of a player commanding that much money, but Batum has been one of the absolute best Swiss Army Knifes in the league this year.
But while he’s always been known as a do-everything-guy, his ability to quickly put up a shot while drawing contact on trailing defenders shows a level of offensive savvy that I honestly wouldn't have anticipated from a guy not generally lauded for his scoring prowess.
Seeing guys like Harden and Batum exploit these wrinkles is highly entertaining for some reason, because even though both guys are years away from the “cagey vet” stage of their careers, this is Old Man Game at its finest.
AUGUSTIN EVERYTHING AFTER
During a December game against the Orlando Magic, Hornets analyst Stephanie Ready shared a fascinating anecdote about former Bobcats point guard DJ Augustin’s time in Charlotte.
Selected in the lottery by the Bobcats in 2008, Augustin eventually ascended to the starting role for the not-so-great Charlotte squad. In 2011, the Bob Johnson’s selected Kemba Walker in the draft, who spent his rookie year backing up Augustin. The following year the franchise (correctly) determined that Walker was their point guard of the future, and elected not to extend an offer to Augustin, allowing him to walk in free agency.
After four solid if not underwhelming seasons in Charlotte, D.J. spent the following years bouncing around the league; in all he’s been on seven different teams since 20012, and while he occasionally will show flashes of brilliance, he’s largely a footnote in the NBA landscape.
I for one, do not have a stand out memory of Augustin’s for years of service, and unlike other players that were in Charlotte for at least that amount of time, he doesn't hold any particular nostalgic resonance.
So when the Hornets matched up with the Magic earlier in the season, it was a welcome surprise to see D.J. in the game. Then Stephanie Ready dropped an anecdote about how Kemba had credited D.J. Augustin with teaching him how to use hesitation and change of pace. I reached out to Ms. Ready for clarification on the story, heres her response:
“So yes, that sounds correct... Kemba shared with me that he learned a lot that first season. DJ was more experienced and understood the value of changing pace as a very speedy point guard in the NBA. Kemba has figured out that the game is best played at multiple speeds, especially if you know in the end that you are faster than most and have the ability to keep the ball on a string.”
D.J. Augustin... is responsible...for perhaps the most devastating aspect Kemba Walker’s game???
*extremely Khaled voice*
WE THE BEST POINTGUARDS!!
Major Key Alert: Kemba’s mastery of that herky-jerky, change of pace, hesitation dribble drive action is, in my opinion, the biggest factor in his leap to All-Star form this year. We’ve seen him use it in the past, but without Al Jefferson clogging up the paint this year, Kemba has extra room to play around in and freeze defenders.
Walker came into the league with an elite set of offensive skills. His crossover was deadly. His step-back jumper is right up there behind Dirk’s One Legged Turnaround and the Manu/DWade/Harden Euro-Step as one of the league’s most definitive signature moves. But adding that change-of-pace, herky-jerky tempo has taken his game to another level.
Steve Nash changed the way the point guard position was played back in the mid-2000’s, with a captivating synthesis of ball-on-a-string, shifting speed while constantly in motion style of offense. Instead of just setting up a play at the top of the key and then dumping the ball off, Nash thrived off of a chaotic, probing style that wasn't beholden to a traditional play structure but rather sort of “discovered” one on the fly as it developed in relation to the defenses reactions; like a diagnostics system set up specifically to test a firewall for weaknesses.
This is sort of a “Peyton Manning calling audibles at the line of scrimmage/Coach-on-the-Field” version of point guard play. Obviously it relies on the actual coach putting a great deal of faith in the guy with the ball; but just as important, it relies on the defense respecting/fearing that same guy’s ability to make a play from anywhere.
This is the final, Neo/Matrix level of commanding an offense. Kemba always had a dangerous offensive tool kit to work with, but this element unlocked the final achievement.
Look I’m not suggesting we build D.J. Augustin a statue or anything, but I do think at a minimum a crudely fashioned starting lineup figure is in order.
MONTELL JORDAN PERFORMING “THE MONTELL JORDAN SONG” AT HALFTIME
What’s the “Montell Jordan Song,” you ask? Get real buddy, we all know what song I’m talking about. Heck outta here with that junk.
Yes, Montell Jordan is still knockin’ around the ol’ NBA halftime show tour circuit, giving the fans that either didn't have to pee bad enough or were to lazy to get up and walk around during halftime break exactly what they came for: the soulful New Jack Swing of his 1995 party banger, “This Is How We Do It.”
Couple of notes: Montell still sounds amazing. Like really good. He’s still tall as all hell; in fact, he still looks exactly the same as he did in his heyday. Whats his secret? How does he do it?
This. This is how he do’s it.
As you can see in this video, Jordan is sporting the classic Baggy Jersey/Skinny Jeans Combo, which has a historically bad -1000 plus/minus rating.
Whether it was his own decision or a move by the Hornets PR team, Montell was given a #00 jersey previously worn by the recently departed Spencer Hawes (Note: Spencer Hawes is NOT dead. But he is in Milwaukee.) Let this be a lesson to all of us. If your franchise fails to respect the legacy of Spencer Hawes by retiring his jersey, a slightly more famous person may come along and don his number while crooning a beloved R&B jam from the mid-90’s.
How funny would it have been if he came out and sang a deep cut from a different album?
PA ANNOUNCER: Ladie’s and Gentleman, R&B Sensation Montell Jordan!!
MONTELL: BUZZ CITY HOW WE FEELIN’???
Are y’all ready to show the world... How WE Do It???
That’s what I thought! Alright, lets take it back to the OLD school...from my fifth studio album— THIS...is “You’re the Right One”, DJ PLAY THAT SHIIIIIIIIT!!
So why does this performance stand out to me as a favorite moment of the season? Because Montell awkwardly changes key words in the lyrics to uncomfortably shoe-horn in local references, like, “The party’s here
on the West side in Charlotte,” or, “ South Central Buzz City does it like nobody does.” It’s great, and has an endearingly corny-charm that isn't so much New Jack Swing as Dad Joke Swag. Montell hit us with that “Cool Youth Pastor.”
At any rate, it was a nice, thoughtful touch and I appreciated the effort Mr. Jordan put in to personalizing the song just for us.
Sorry, I’m having trouble keeping it straight, does nobody do it like Buzz City does, OR IS IT CHI-TOWN?? Dub Nation does it like nobody does? Weird because you said the SAME THING ABOUT NEW YORK. Does the Talking Stick Resort Arena does it like nobody does as well?? YOU’RE SIX FEET EIGHT INCHES OF STRAIGHT LIES MAN! You know what, no, get out. You disgust me.
Just kidding. I love you Montell, and I love the Montell Jordan Song even more. I listened to every single one of those versions all the way through while researching this. It might be the best song. Ever. You can't prove it isn't.
I also just realized that “Traveling to NBA Arenas and Singing Montell Jordan’s ‘This Is How We Do It’” might be the answer to the question “What is the World’s Greatest Job?” In a 100 percent related note, I have a new goal for my vision board. I hope Montell Jordan lives forever.
THIS PHOTOSHOP BY MY FRIEND CHRIS
Shouts to my buddy Chris Daniels (@sirchrisdaniels), a comedian and host of the Book of Ye Podcast, for bringing this super dumb idea to life. My favorite piece from the Live from Grandmama’s House set.