Over the past five years or so, the NBA has established a guard-heavy, fast-paced motion offensive system. As such, many teams are shying away from playing taller, less-agile players together on the court. With a higher emphasis on creating more possessions, teams are running in transition more than ever. This has to lead to a large majority of teams sticking with a wing/guard-heavy lineup throughout the course of a game.
While most teams in today’s NBA prefer to play small ball, there are a few teams who buck that trend. The Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers are two great examples of organizations that have gone against the grain by featuring taller players in their lineups. Last year, the Heat played two bigs — Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo — on the court together for 1,038 minutes. For context, this duo placed fifth in the team’s two-man combinations in 2018.
With all that said, here’s how the Charlotte Hornets can establish a “big” lineup of their own this season.
PG: Cody Martin
Martin was the primary reason why I decided to write about this lineup. Standing at 6 feet 7 inches, he has a monumental height advantage when squared up against conventional NBA point guards. This should give him a great edge on the perimeter, limiting the amount of his opponents’ blow-by chances cutting to the basket. Last season, Martin was named to the Mountain West Conference’s All-Defensive Team, which is a great indication of his intensity on that end of the floor. He should be a great addition to the Hornets’ overall defense this season.
On offense, Martin’s unique ball-handling ability for his size suits him well in this lineup. He’ll be the one distributing the basketball, running the plays and making sure everyone’s in good position to score. He has done this work in the past, as he had moments of being a point-forward at Nevada. Averaging five assists per game last season, Martin should be poised and confident enough to command the ball movement out on the floor.
SG: Dwayne Bacon
Like Martin, Bacon’s unique height advantage for a guard has allowed him to establish a great defensive identity. During late games last season, Bacon was relied upon to defend his opponent’s best offensive guard off the bench. He did a fine job in this role and made a lot of clutch stops on defense. Schematically speaking, Bacon is one of the best on-ball defenders on the team. The combination of Bacon and Martin on that end of the floor should lead to some offensive struggles for their opponents. One could say that these two are arguably the best defensive backcourt the Hornets can utilize this season.
Bacon’s ability to score on all three levels of the half-court will do wonders for this lineup. He can occasionally have the offense ran through him, leading to more opportune times to score. Luckily, Bacon isn’t strictly a pure scorer, but as his high school and late-college play has showed us, he’s capable of becoming a team’s main facilitator if needed. I wrote about this situation in a fanpost two years ago. Pairing Bacon with Martin gives the Hornets two respectable facilitators of the basketball. This can lead to a substantial increase in offensive flow, as additional distributors of the basketball allow for more precise ball movement.
Who’s ready for some point guard Bake?
SF: Marvin Williams
Playing outside of his conventional power forward role isn’t new to Marvin Williams. During the Hornets’ 2016 playoff matchup against the Heat, he was slotted at the three spot for the majority of the series. In fact, he was seen as more of a small forward through the first eight years of his career.
The 6-foot-9-inch Williams should provide great defensive coverage in this lineup. Although his athleticism has slowly declined over the years, he’s remained a solid force on that end of the floor. The catch-and-shoot area should continue to be his main source of offensive output in this lineup. Shooting from distance has become Williams’ calling card ever since he landed in Charlotte, making a total average of 38 percent from downtown. He should have no worries receiving shot opportunities from this lineup’s multiple ball handlers.
PF: Willy Hernangomez
The four spot is the biggest question mark in this lineup. For one, the Hornets don’t have a lot of athletic big men and have relied on smaller players to fill this role. Hernangomez is no different as his lack of athleticism has been one of the biggest red flags in his game throughout his career. However, former head coach Steve Clifford used to play the Spaniard at the four when matched up against taller backcourts, like in Philadelphia a couple of years ago.
Hernangomez should provide a steady offensive output in this lineup, especially if he’s matched up against a smaller power forward. His post-up game is the best on the team and he should have no problem backing down shorter opponents. More importantly, this height advantage should lead to great rebounding opportunities on both ends, a facet that Hernangomez has been a true force in.
C: Cody Zeller
Zeller’s spot in this lineup shouldn’t surprise Hornets fans. He’s been (and remains) the best center on the roster. With hard-setting screens and the ability to roll to the rim he has become a staple of this franchise for years, albeit with a major injury bug.
As it pertains to this specific lineup, Zeller can anchor the already boisterous defensive network. Although he rarely blocks shots (he holds a career 2.7 block percentage) he’s still able to make his presence known in the paint. This should help formulate one of the most efficient defensive combinations head coach James Borrego has at his disposal.
Although this lineup goes against the customary guidelines of the NBA, it’s worth noting the effectiveness these five men can have on the court together. Two reliable facilitators will help orchestrate an offensive system that would feature many catch-and-shoot chances, as well as rolling opportunities at the rim. You may only see this lineup in limited moments this season (if at all) but it’s certainly a fascinating combination of players that should be looked into.