Playing with size and length isn’t as in vogue as it used to be. Where teams in the past used to intimate opponents with sheer size and length, any mention of a “death” lineup these days typically involves a 6’9 center as it’s tallest player.
That doesn’t mean size can’t be utilized effectively, however. Some teams, such as the Milwaukee Bucks, thrive on it. When a team has four or five players of relative height and length, they can cause a lot of havoc defensively. Switching off screens is a given, as is controlling the boards and protecting the paint.
The Charlotte Hornets don’t have quite the length and size as teams like Milwaukee to make a 48 minute strategy, but in situations where they need to go big to defend against bigger teams, they have a few options. Just who, specifically? Well, this five:
- Kemba Walker (let me explain)
- Nicolas Batum
- Marvin Williams
- Willy Hernangomez
- Cody Zeller
Walker is the Charlotte’s smallest player, but the Hornets no longer have any “big” point guards following the departures of Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone. That said, I’m not sure either would make this lineup, anyways, especially if the Hornets used it for an extended period of a game. Size and length are important, but the Hornets wouldn’t add a lot of either if Malik Monk or Devonte’ Graham played in Walker’s place, and I don’t see Jeremy Lamb working well as a point. So all that said, Walker makes the most sense because he’s the team’s best player. He wouldn’t be able to switch off ball screens, but there is enough length and size behind him to provide support should a bigger guard take advantage of him.
Indications from the man himself suggest Batum will move back to small forward this season, but in this scenario he works at shooting guard. He can switch off ball screens with Williams, and his length should allow him to cover some of the bigger two guards (as he did the previous two seasons while playing shooting guard). There is some concern on the defensive end since Batum isn’t always the most willing defender, but I prefer him over Lamb, who also isn’t always the most willing defender, and Monk, who wasn’t a good defender at all last season.
It’s weird to think of Williams at small forward even though he was drafted out of college to be one. He operates best as a stretch-four these days, but he remains athletic enough to play the three in situations. Williams has proven to be one of Charlotte’s best defenders the past few seasons, not just in his ability to defend on and off the ball, but in his ability to communicate defensively with teammates as well. He can switch off on defenders ranging from the shooting guard to power forward, and he works as a great outlet in transition once the Hornets secure a defensive rebound.
I went back and forth on who to play here. I wanted a player who could connect from 3, which narrowed it down to Hernangomez and Frank Kaminsky. (Bridges doesn’t make the final cut because I don’t think he’s quite ready to play power forward, nor is his 3-point shot developed enough yet). Kaminsky is the better 3-point shooter, but I also wanted someone who could defend both the perimeter and the paint, which Kaminsky struggled with. That gave the edge to Hernangomez. I acknowledge he may struggle defending the perimeter, but all the work he put in getting stronger this summer should theoretically make him better defending the paint. For those perimeter situations, he and Zeller could switch assignments, meaning that Willy would play the four on offense, but play the five on defense.
Rounding out the lineup is Zeller, who, as I just suggested, works due to his ability to defend both the four and five positions. Zeller has better lateral quickness than Bismack Biyombo, Hernangomez, and Kaminsky, so I like his chances defending the four over the others if he had to. Plus, he’s a sneaky good rim protector, and paired with Hernangomez the two should be able to bring down a lot of defensive rebounds. In fast break situations, Zeller works great as an end-to-end center, and he should get some looks in transition and in the half court playing with Batum.
Is this lineup going to overwhelm other teams? Probably not. But it is one that could match up fairly well when facing off against other big lineups. I wouldn’t expect it to be utilized often, but when needed, this lineup checks the most boxes needed to defend against bigger opponents.