Of all the weak spots this Charlotte Hornets roster may have, playing small-ball is not one of them.
The guard and wing play of guys like Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, and Malik Monk fit like a glove into a smaller lineup that is more focused on outpacing your opponent than using physicality to stop them inside. The team’s recent lottery picks, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington, translate best in the NBA as small-ball big men. The Martin twins are good enough ball-handlers, tall enough, and can shoot well enough to play any position 1-3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist plays some of his best minutes at the 4 or 5. Even Nicolas Batum could be slid in as a stretch-four for like 36 seconds before he quits the team. In short, I think it’s reasonable to say that playing small may be a strength for the Hornets at times.
Charlotte’s best small-ball lineup would look something like this:
Guard: Terry Rozier
Guard: Malik Monk
Wing: Dwayne Bacon
Forward: Miles Bridges
Forward: PJ Washington
The guard spots aren’t really what changes in a small lineup compared to a normal one, so Rozier assumes his position as the starting point guard. Having a more spaced-out offense would create a more open paint for him to drive into, and perhaps do some of the distributing that he’s been talking about/that he did in the first pre-season game against Boston. Whether he’s looking for a pull-up three, to attack, or pass, having more open space for Rozier to work with will help him limit turnovers.
Monk has the right run-and-gun attitude to fit in a smaller, faster offense. All he would have to do with this lineup is chuck threes, and finish around the rim transition. Smaller lineups typically have more volume shooters and less defense, which suits Monk well and would allow him to make use of his quickness and athleticism. He’s able to find the open spot on the floor, and, depending on the day, is pretty good at hitting the shot.
I personally feel that Bacon is better suited to play the three than the two, and this lineup allows him to do so. He’s not overly athletic, but he is strong and 6’6” with a 6’11” wingspan. Him being matched up with bigger players would give him more opportunities to throw his body around in the paint and mid-range, while making it easier for him to handle the ball on the perimeter since his defender will likely be slower.
Bacon is probably going to be the one who guards the opponent’s best player in this lineup, unless it’s a point guard or center. Assuming he plays solid minutes, that might happen to him a lot this season.
James Borrego has stated that he wants to play Bridges at the four more often than he did last season, so here it is. He’ll see more put-back opportunities if he plays on the interior, and his athleticism will be put to better use chasing rebounds. He also had three blocks in the pre-season game against Miami, so it’ll be interesting to see if that’s something he’s added to his game. That could be extremely useful when coupled with his elite leaping ability. He can shoot corner threes, defend reasonably-well, and catch lobs. Not a bad fit at the small-ball four.
The Observer’s Rick Bonnell came out with an article that talked about how Washington might see a lot of minutes early on in the year. The rookie is versatile enough to play either the four or five, and fits well into the “position-less” style of play that Borrego has mentioned multiple times during pre-season interviews. Washington has been the team’s bright spot over the first two games, with a team-high 16 points against Boston and 13 against Miami. He’s also 4/8 from three over those games, and has shown a willingness to play smart, tough defense. He had a really nice help-side block against Boston to end the first half.
During draft season, I saw a lot of David West comparisons for Washington, and a lot of people have have said it in comments as well since I started writing here. Now, they’re starting to become a lot more apparent. Washington is easily the best option to have at the five when Zeller’s or Hernangomez’s slow-footedness is hurting them.
I thought about getting real crazy with this and putting Bridges at the five, Bacon at the four, and sliding Monk to the three, and then having Devonte’ Graham and Rozier as a dual-point guard backcourt. Barn-burner type stuff. But, I didn’t think the world would be ready for that type of forward thinking. So, I’ll keep that idea to myself, then that way, nobody can read it at the end of a blog and call me an idiot.