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Five takeaways from the first five games

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The Charlotte Hornets have played five games. What have we learned?

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Kemba Walker

Per usual Kemba has taken his game to another level this season. He gets better every year, and the jump this year is a big one. Wednesday night was his worst game, and he still had 23 points and six assists. Other than Stephen Curry, no point guard in the league has been better. The increased emphasis on space and pace has greatly benefited the Hornets captain. For the season, Kemba is averaging 31 points per game on 47% shooting from the field and 44% from deep with 5.4 assists per game. Right now he is posting a ridiculous 61% true shooting percentage. He also has the highest usage in the league right now, but still rarely turns it over ranking in the 90th percentile in turnover percentage.

Kemba is struggling to finish at the rim, but he is making up for it by getting to the line more this season. He may not be able to keep up 31 points per game, but 25 is indeed doable. Kemba is a lock to be an All-Star again and looks poised for a career year. Whatever happens, let’s enjoy Kemba. Dude is on another level right now.

Experimental Lineups

You can’t say Borrego is afraid to try new things. In the first five games, he has tried almost every lineup possible to see what works best. We have witnessed Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and even Nicolas Batum all spend time at center. We have seen three-guard lineups with Walker, Tony Parker, and Malik Monk. One lineup that intrigues me is the Parker, Walker, Monk, Batum, group with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at center. It has only played 7 minutes together but has a +50 net rating. It is super small, but man is it fast.

MKG is a good enough rebounder to play the five, and oh by the way he drilled two 3-pointers Wednesday night. This group has shooting and multiple ball handlers, and I like Parker with Monk; I feel like he keeps him in check. On defense, there will be size concerns, but they should be able to switch most pick and rolls, and that should simplify things.

One combo I would steer away from is Monk on the court with Willy Hernangomez. We can only survive one lousy defender on the court at a time.

Pace/Threes/Ball Movement

As soon as Borrego got the job, he emphasized pace, more threes, and more ball movement. Let’s start with pace. Charlotte is only ranked 23rd in pace at 102.8 possessions per game. Sounds terrible, but that would have been the fastest playing team in the league last year. The NBA has gone nuts with pace this year, hence the increase in scoring. Charlotte has been playing faster this year, but they may need to play even faster to catch up with the rest of the league. Ball movement has been better as well. Charlotte is 13th in assists per game at 17.5 per game. That is up from 16.3 last season. It would be even higher, but Charlotte outside of Kemba is not shooting well so far this season, ranking in 25th in effective field goal percentage.

The good news is even though Charlotte is struggling from lots of areas on the floor, they are hitting their threes at a 37.6% clip, which is good for 8th in the league. They also rank in sixth in attempts. This is extremely encouraging. MKG, Cody Zeller and Hernangomez are even firing away from deep, so most of the time Charlotte has five willing shooters on the floor.

Defensive Concerns/Rebounding

For the season Charlotte has been slightly below average defensively, ranking 17th in defense. They have been awful in spurts and good in spurts. The first half against the Bucks was horrible, the second half against Miami was awful, the whole Toronto game was awful, and Wednesday night they couldn’t get stops when they needed too. The main problem has been protecting the paint. Opponents are shooting 64% at the rim, which puts Charlotte in the 22nd percentile in defending the rim. This is one of the downsides of going small so often. People have been complaining about the rebounding, but it hasn’t been as awful as people think. Charlotte is middle of the pack in defensive rebounding ranking 15th. I liked MKG with Miles Bridges together last night; they did an excellent job on the boards.

The bigger problem has been transition defense, where Charlotte ranks 23rd. They are giving away far too many easy points. This has a lot to do with lineups that have never played together before, and there have been several communication breakdowns. If Charlotte wants to go anywhere, this has to get better.

There have been some positives. The switch everything smaller lineups have done an excellent job taking away threes. Charlotte ranks 8th in three-point defense. Like past Hornets teams, they are also doing a good job keeping teams off the line, rankings 11th in opponents free throw rate. The strength of the defense though has been forcing turnovers, where the Hornets ranks 2nd. This has allowed the Hornets to get out into early offense more. The Hornets will need to keep forcing turnovers because rim protection and rebounding could be issues all season.

Malik Monk’s Improvement

Everyone wants to see how Malik Monk is doing after a turbulent rookie season. Here is the good news, Monk has done a good job reducing his turnover ratio from 8.4 to 6.4 a game. He has also improved his three-point shooting from 32% to 36%, bumping his true shooting percentage up to 50.7%. That is still not great, because he is shooting 37% from the field. Borrego is giving him 26 minutes per game and Monk is averaging 12.6 points per game, but it hasn’t always been pretty. He still takes a few horrible shots, especially long two’s.

Monk on defense has been better, but still has a long way to go. He is competing but is still one of Charlotte’s worst defenders ranking 8th in defensive rating. The problem is he exacerbates a Hornets problem- he is a terrible rebounder. Add it up, and Monk has a -4.8 net rating. If he wants to keep playing consistent minutes, he has going to improve his shot selection, rebounding, and defense. The good news is he is getting better and has the confidence and talent to do so. Monk is going to take a little more time, sorry Charlotte fans.