Free throw shooting is an underrated part of basketball and it decides just about every close game. For example, the San Antonio Spurs had the 2013 NBA finals pretty much sealed up in Game 6. However, in the last 28 seconds of regulation, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard missed free throws. This all eventually led to arguably the greatest clutch shot in NBA history when Ray Allen tied the game with a three. The Miami Heat would go on to win Game 6 in overtime to tie the series and win the title in Game 7.
Now, obviously the main topic here isn’t the Spurs or Heat but the Charlotte Hornets. In 2017-18, they led the NBA in free throws made and attempted per game. However, they were 24th in free throw percentage despite the amount of attempts. These stats are largely because Dwight Howard took a lot of them during his one season in Charlotte. Even though Howard struggled, he wasn’t a part of the late game lineup often because of his free throw problems. This brings us to today’s topic — who should be a part of a late game free throw lineup for the Hornet in 2018-19?
Late Game Free Throw Shooting Lineup
When you’re up by a few points very late in the fourth quarter, you need an lineup that can execute out of bounds plays to get open, and they also have to be the best free throw shooters on the team. The lineup should include a few veterans that have experience in big moments and product in those situations.
However, if there are rookies or second year players capable of making clutch free throws, they should be included too. It’s a chance for the young players to prove that they can help the team in big moments. The Hornets can only go up from being the worst clutch team in the NBA over the past few seasons.
With all of that in mind, the Hornets should use Kemba Walker, Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, and Marvin Williams in situations where the Hornets need to ice the game at the free throw line. All five of these players shot at least 82 percent from the free throw line last season. This lineup would likely be used in the last 30 seconds of a game which the Hornets were up two or three points. Charlotte would have possession and the opponent would be intentionally fouling to put the team on the free throw line.
This is a lineup for when the Hornets need to score a bucket in the waning seconds of a game is a little bit more difficult. Walker is, and has been, the Hornets main option in clutch situations. The numbers, though, show that Kemba didn’t come up big in big moments last season. In the last minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, Walker was 2-for-18 on shots to tie or take the lead last season. However, no other Hornet took more than three shots in that situation.
Close game situations have cost the Hornets so many games over the last few seasons. It was the main reason the Hornets have gone back-to-back seasons with a 36-46 record and a positive point differential. Overall, it is tough to create a clutch situation lineup when the team has been historically bad in clutch moments over the past few years.
The Hornets won a game in Orlando this past season by two points because Marreese Speights hit a three at the buzzer. That was the first time the Hornets won a game by three points or less since March 21st, 2016 against the Spurs. Going almost two years without a close win is horrible to say the least and the Hornets have to right this ship to get back into the postseason.
For the time being, James Borrego should go with a lineup that consists of a good amount of starters. Walker, Lamb, Batum, Williams and Cody Zeller are the ones that would get considerable playing time in close games. If there is a player off the bench that performed well throughout the game, Borrego could give a chance to a player like Monk, Miles Bridges, etc. The coaching staff will have chances to make adjustments to what lineups they use in close games. However, they should stick with their starting five (or four of the starting five plus one good bench scorer) in close games to begin the season.