It’s a new era of sorts for the Charlotte Hornets. A new general manager and a new coaching staff signal possible changes of direction and style of play. We’ve already seen the front office tinker with the roster, moving Dwight Howard for Timofey Mozgov, who was then swapped for Bismack Biyombo. Meanwhile, rookies Miles Bridges and Devonte’ Graham replaced Treveon Graham and Michael Carter-Williams. The additions mean new wrinkles to to rotation, so we felt it was a good a time as any to speculate as to the kinds of lineups could see this season.
Over the next week and a half, we’ll be releasing a series of posts examining what players will fit into different lineups. From the starting and bench unit to the 3-point and small ball, we’ll be breaking down who could fit where.
To kick things off, we’ll starting in the most logical place — the starting five.
We know that James Borrego wants to up the tempo with early offense and get more shooting on the floor. That means, among other things, possible changes to the starting lineup. While doubts remain as to whether the Hornets can compete for a playoff spot, Borrego has made it clear that’s the goal. In that case, let’s assume he goes with the most talented group.
So who could that be? Based on what’s been said so far, I expect Borrego to start this group on opening night:
- Kemba Walker
- Jeremy Lamb
- Nicolas Batum
- Marvin Williams
- Cody Zeller
Winning games in the NBA requires talent and experience. While there is talent among this group, there isn’t an overwhelming amount of it. There is experience, however, with two players (Batum and Williams) over 30, two players (Lamb and Zeller) entering their primes, and one player (Walker) in his prime. Granted, last season’s starting five had more experience, and, depending on who you ask, more talent. What makes this five possibly better, however, is how they fit together.
If Borrego wants scoring, spacing, and guys moving the ball, this group will give it to him. Let me explain, player-by-player:
I don’t have to convince anyone why Walker starts. The greatest player in franchise history will continue to lead the team at the point and should continue leading the team in scoring. But Walker will need help on offense, and this lineup could provide it. With three other outside shooters (at least on paper), and an offense that wants to get more shots early in the possession, Walker will likely mix it up by bringing the ball up the floor or deferring to Batum (or even Lamb on occasion). These off-ball situations could work particularly well for Walker when the team wants to get an early shot attempt, and that could lead to even more scoring opportunities. It’s understandable to assume Walker can’t improve his scoring averages at this point, but he has also continued to out perform expectations the past few seasons. Who’s to say that couldn’t continue?
Lamb slides in as the starting shooting guard coming off his best individual season and entering a contract year. I can’t think of a better opportunity for him to legitimize his place as a starting caliber player.
Lamb shot a career high 37 percent from 3 last season and his field goal percentage remained high despite attempting roughly two and a half more shots per game. He shot 56.7 percent on layups and 50.7 percent from 10-14 feet. While he’s not quite a prolific scorer from multiple areas of the floor, these numbers indicate he has the potential to do so. Lamb’s ability to score could lessen the pressure on Walker and Batum, and teams won’t be able to sag off on him as they did with MKG.
Plus, he’s a solid rebounder, and his 2.3 assists per game last season suggest he is a willing passer as well. If Borrego wants the ball moving and shots going up quick, Lamb is the best player for this position.
Defensively, there will be some drop off, but Lamb has the size and length to be a solid defender. He had his lapses on that end last season, but it was still his best season on the defensive end thus far.
Batum slides back to his natural position of small forward, a move he seems very willing to do based on comments made on Twitter last month.
He should also welcome the additions of Lamb and Zeller. Lamb gives Batum another scoring option to look for, and he had a well established partnership with Zeller two seasons ago. Much of the criticism surrounding Batum is warranted (though plenty of it isn’t as well), but it’s clear the Frenchman prefers to play with others who move well into open space without the ball.
Batum tends to play well when he can get others playing well, so it makes sense to start a group of players that will take advantage of his playmaking. This should not only improve Batum’s assist numbers, but the addition of Lamb in particular means he may not have to assume the role of the team’s second leading scorer.
I know we should expect more from the team’s highest paid player, but I also think we’ll care less about his contract if he’s playing well. If that means shooting less and acting more as a playmaker, so be it.
Williams is a great locker room presence and an efficient low-volume shooter. He probably shouldn’t be starting at this point in his career, but no one on the Hornets has been able to move ahead of him. Maybe that changes at some point in the season, but on opening night, Williams returns as the starting power forward.
He remains an above average 3-point shooter; in fact, 2017-18 was his best season from beyond the arc at 41.3 percent. Williams also attempted less per game than in any previous season in Charlotte, which suggests that while reliable, he is the type of outside shooter to look for only when he’s open.
I’m fine with Williams shooting less. The addition of Lamb puts less pressure on him, as well, and should allow him to pick his spots.
Outside of the occasional one-handed dunk, Zeller is not a flashy player. He doesn’t fill up the stat sheet, either, and yet he is an effective end-to-end center. We should see less post ups with Zeller at the five than we did with Dwight Howard and more pick-and-rolls. While I’d love for him to develop an outside shot, I’m not holding my breath at this point. Playing with Batum more should create more scoring opportunities as it did a few seasons ago, and overall, there should be more space for others to attack the rim.
Defensively, Zeller is a sneaky good rim protector. He is by no stretch elite, but he has proven to reliable at defending close range shots.
The key is for him to remain healthy. He played in just 33 games last season, and rarely looked 100 percent.