The Charlotte Hornets have lost a bunch of games lately. Negative results on the scoreboard have made it a little harder to find nuggets of optimism, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The Hornets have been very good in two areas that bode well for their future as inexperienced players gain experience and youth turns into savvy.
The first is probably somewhat obvious to anyone who’s been exposed to a lot of Hornets basketball this season—the Hornets are clutch. Last week I illustrated how the Hornets have been winning an extraordinary amount of close games relative to their overall success. Some of that is good fortune, but a large part of it comes back to the players.
The NBA’s standard definition of a clutch situation is a game that’s within five points with less than five minutes left. In those situations, the Hornets have a net rating of +11.3, the ninth best mark in the league and a significant improvement on their overall net rating of -7.0, which is 26th in the league. Both the offense and defense are better in crunch time, but it’s the offense that takes the more significant leap. The Hornets score 118.5 points per 100 clutch possessions, fourth best in the league and a 12.4 point leap over the overall offensive rating.
The Hornets make shots when they need to. They have the best effective field goal percentage and the second best true shooting percentage in the clutch. And it’s not just the usual suspects in Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. Every single Hornet that’s played significant minutes in crunch time has a true shooting percentage of at least 50% (except for Nicolas Batum who has somehow managed to not attempt a single shot in 28 clutch minutes). The team is converting 44.4% of their 3-point attempts, sharing the ball well, and not turning it over in key situations.
All of that suggests that the young Hornets aren’t frightened by big moments. They maintain their poise in difficult situations and play with extra attentiveness. That doesn’t matter much for this season as the team stumbles towards a high lottery pick, but it does suggest that good times are on the horizon.
There’s something else the Hornets are doing well, and it spans the entirety of games—they have one of the best shot profiles in the league. According to Cleaning the Glass, if the Hornets shot a league average rate from every location, they’d have the fifth best effective field goal percentage in the league. The Hornets attempt the sixth most shots at the rim and the seventh most from behind the arc. The system in place generates the right looks. The players just have to make more shots.
The most encouraging aspect of the Hornets shot profile is its consistency regardless of the quality of opponent. The Hornets have the sixth best shot profile against top ten defenses, which is extremely impressive for a young team. You’d expect the system to break down when met with resistance, but it hasn’t happened.
As the losses keep coming, remember that this was supposed to happen. This season is about developing the youth on this roster, and early indications are that there’s a lot of promise already there.