There’s a 99% chance that the Hornets’ starting lineup for opening night of the 2020-2021 season is Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington and Cody Zeller. James Borrego has started those players in all of their pre-season games, and none of them have done anything to warrant removal from the starting five.
Where’s the fun in that, though? I’ll tell you where; nowhere. It’s not fun at all to have your team’s starting five determined before the season even starts, especially with Hayward and LaMelo joining the fold, and if there’s one thing this game is supposed to be, it’s “fun.” So, let’s begin our exercise.
Plenty of Hornets fans harbor disdain towards Zeller, though plenty do not (those of us who don’t are correct, Zeller is good), so if fans were given the choice, it’s possible that he’d be firmly planted on the bench when games tip off. It’s also possible that some of us would want Rozier and his lights-out spot-up shooting as the first player off the bench rather than a starter. There’s also that guy they drafted third overall—I forget his name, someone remind me—who needs/deserves minutes as a rookie, starter or not.
There are a lot of options, but this is probably my favorite starting lineup combination;
G: Devonte’ Graham G: LaMelo Ball W: Gordon Hayward F: Miles Bridges C: PJ Washington
The Devonte’/LaMelo backcourt is so enticing because it’s essentially position-less. Both guards are capable of initiating offense and making plays for teammates as well as relocating to their spots off-ball and knocking down jumpers (LaMelo isn’t efficient yet, but he can make shots), and the team’s defense doesn’t suffer because Devonte’ has improved on that end/gotten stronger and LaMelo has shown himself to be a solid off-ball defender while he adds to his frame and gets better in ball screens. This also allows Terry to play freely and worry less about his teammates getting touches and more about shooting a lot of threes. He and Malik can share second-unit point guard duties with Caleb and Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels and/or Cody Zeller playing off of them.
Hayward is a lock for any starting lineup combo. Teams don’t pay players $30 million per year to come off the bench, and he’s probably the best player on the team right now. There’s no reason for him not to play 30+ minutes per game.
The Miles and PJ Frontcourt Experiment has yielded mixed results in the pre-season, but it could be lethal going forward. Miles seems to have taken a step forward as a ball-handler and decision-maker, and PJ is already an adept playmaker for a small-ball center. PJ is the floor-spacer while Miles is the vertical spacer, and both can play on either end of a pick-and-roll. Offensively speaking, there are really no downsides to this lineup, but there will be nights where it looks shaky on defense.
PJ and Miles are both long and strong but gargantuan centers like Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic will be matchup problems; what teams are those guys not a matchup problem for, though? Rather than trying to (poorly) emulate their style of play, it’s worth a shot to see if the Hornets could just run them off the floor. It’s happened before so it’s not impossible, it’s just a matter of whether the team has the right personnel for it, and we just haven’t gotten to see enough yet to determine that, one way or another.
What would your starting lineup look like if you got to hijack James Borrego’s job for the day? The combinations are endless. Well, not really, but you all catch my drift.