Ever since Steve Clifford began coaching the Charlotte Hornets back in 2013, one thing remained consistent. That has been the coaching philosophy of defense first, then worry about the offense. This proved to be a great strategy as the team has remained in the top half of the league in terms of overall defense in nearly every season under Clifford.
With new Hornets head coach James Borrego, we should expect more of the same. He comes from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, a tree that has created a strong foundation on the defensive side.
With that said, here are the players that, if played together, provide the Hornets to have the most effective defense possible.
- Devonte’ Graham
- Dwayne Bacon
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
- Marvin Williams
- Cody Zeller
You’re probably asking yourself: how is a second-round pick supposed to outshine established point guard Kemba Walker on the defensive end? Well, the answer lies within Graham’s collegiate experience. Graham spent all four seasons at Kansas, a feat that is rarely seen in today’s one-and-done era. During that time, Graham solidified himself as one of the best defensive backcourt players in the nation.
In college, Graham had three seasons where he was top ten in the Big 12 in total steals. His defensive rebound percentage was 8.9, a rare feat among point guards. Finally, despite playing a staggering 4498 total minutes in college, Graham had a defensive rating of 102.4
Of course, stats don’t show everything, especially on the defensive end.
So, here’s a clip of Graham defending NBA star Chris Paul. Special thanks to ATH writer Dylan Jackson for the content.
Devonte’ Graham looks fine. Here he is defending Chris Paul pic.twitter.com/ks7OlJit91— Dylan Jackson (@JaxonNBA) August 2, 2018
If he is already able to clamp down on one of the game’s best perimeter players, then there’s no doubt that he can be a key contribution for the Hornets defensively this upcoming season.
Bacon was quietly one of the best defenders on the Hornets last season. Listed at 6’7” with a 6’10” wingspan, his size advantage helped him to become that defender early on.
His size also allows him to become an excellent switch player on the pick and roll. He can practically guard positions one through four and shows a knack of defensive intensity that you like to see in a young wing.
There’s no doubt that Bacon could be very successful in this lineup. He will most likely guard the opposing team’s second best backcourt player, and should show promising results stopping him from scoring.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has shown an elite skill on the defensive side on the floor for Charlotte. That was his calling card coming out of college, and the Hornets have fully embraced his efforts and skills on that end. That’s why despite his offensive limitations, the team has constantly been using him as the starting small forward since his arrival to the team back in 2012.
Another reason why he remained a starter was due to his defensive versatility. Clifford tasked MKG with guarding the opposing team’s best offensive backcourt player. Ranging from Russell Westbrook and DeMar DeRozan to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, MKG has had the assignment. As you would expect, he has put on a great show in limiting the offensive scoring of all those players. MKG can truly guard positions one through four and sometimes the five. This is because has proven to be the best switch defender on the team.
Obviously, MKG’s offense remains a major question mark. He hasn’t been able to consistently produce any kind of deep-range shot. In today’s NBA especially, a lack of a 3-pointer will dramatically decrease the amount of spacing on the floor for a team. That’s why MKG should lean more to his mid range game in this lineup. The mid-range shot has been more reliable as his career progress. As a result, expect more attempts from that area this impending season.
Williams is the best fit man in this lineup. His offensive game on top of his intensity on defense has established himself into an ideal 3-and-D power forward.
Defensively, Williams has been a focal point of the Hornets defense. Clifford went as far to say that Williams was the “Quarterback of the defense” back in 2016. In response, Williams replied “I try to keep them [the Hornets] organized on the defensive end.”
While Clifford’s comments were two years ago, the same impact still applies to Williams commitment on the defensive end. He is constantly barking out plays and leading guys to their proper assignment. Frank Kaminsky has even commented that Williams is so aware defensively he reads plays before they begin. That’s why he can be a great ‘quarterback’ to this specific rotation as he will have all four guys who excel on defense.
Williams has progressed to become a lethal sharpshooter for the Hornets. He knocked down a well-above average 41 percent from the three last season, which was the best on the team with a minimum of 80 deep range shots.
This spacing allows this lineup to have at least some fluidity on offense. As I will get to later, the offense of this lineup certainly is a problem, but Williams dramatically helps the overall function of it as his shot allows the team for more space than previously encountered.
This was a close race between who the best center on the team was defensibely. Newly acquired big man Bismack Biyombo has always had a reputation of being a perennial shot blocker in the NBA. However, over the past few seasons, Biyombo has become a more hitt-and-miss blocker and has become too focused on blocking than playing solid paint defense.
That’s why this belongs to Cody Zeller. He is the most athletic center on the team and has been the team’s best perimeter big man defender. This is huge as he can also become a player who switches on the pick and roll as his athleticism allows him to stay close with his assignment.
Zeller is no run of the mills center either, as he also has become a respected shot blocker, especially amongst Hornets fans. His speed has allowed him to redirect his body and before a baseline to baseline block.
Here is one of Zeller’s best defensive plays against the 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis.
Of course, this lineup has question marks on offense. Both MKG and Zeller have never been able to establish any sort of 3-point offense. Graham and Bacon are also below-average from beyond the arc. This may hurt the team’s overall structure on offense, but Marvin Williams will dramatically help the spacing issue.
Expect a lot of isolation plays from this unit, as Graham and Bacon have transformed themselves into great one-on-one players on the offensive end.
This unit has athleticism all around, so the transition game should be a key factor in generating offense.
In the end, this defensive unit should be used this year by new Hornets coach James Borrego. All five guys have the ability to switch their opponent, while also having the length to create size advantages for their respective positions.