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The Charlotte Hornets had been playing much better defense in the weeks leading up to the suspension of play. Players were connected on the defensive end, rotations were crisp, and the effort was unrelenting. That reflected on the scoreboard, where the Hornets held some of the league’s best offenses to point totals that belong in the 1990s. They held three top ten offenses (the Bucks, Rockets, and Heat) under 100 points and won two of those games.
From February 10th until the suspension of the season, the Hornets allowed 104.5 points per game, the fewest in the league. Some of that is due to the Hornets playing at the league’s slowest pace, but the defense has been good regardless. In that same time span (which covers 13 games), the Hornets have a defensive rating of 109.2, tenth best in the league.
Normally tenth best isn’t something to write home about, but the Hornets aren’t in a normal situation. They’re a rebuilding team that’s relying almost exclusively on their youth right now. Youth usually coincides with woeful defense. We saw that for most of this season. Prior to the February 10th cutoff date we’ve been using, the Hornets had the league’s third worst defense.
Every player on the roster has contributed to that rapid turnaround, but there are a few that deserve special recognition.
The turnaround in the Hornets defense closely coincided with the ascension of Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels to the Hornets rotation. Both started receiving meaningful minutes against the Mavericks on February 8th. On February 10th, the Hornets held the Pistons to 76 points with the two former G Leaguers playing 38 minutes. That started this run of stellar defense.
When Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels share the floor, the Hornets have a defensive rating of 107.4, which ranks in the 78th percentile among all NBA lineups that have played at least 100 possession together. That’s good, but it gets better when you add the better-defending Martin into this mix.
When McDaniels shares the floor with Cody Martin, the Hornets have a defensive rating of 102.6, which ranks in the 96th percentile. When the Martin twins are out there together, the team’s defensive rating is 101.3, which ranks in the 97th percentile. When all three are on the floor together (just 40 possessions so far, so small sample size alert), the Hornets have an absurdly low 79.1 defensive rating.
/Cue Vince McMahon gif
The caveat to all this is that the Hornets offense has been dreadful during this same stretch of play. But that’s okay, we’re looking at the positives right now. We have enough negativity in all our lives elsewhere. The Hornets are playing top notch defense with a bunch of guys that were playing for the Greensboro Swarm a few months ago. That’s a reason to be excited about the future of this team.
All lineup stats from Cleaning the Glass and don’t include garbage time minutes. All date-specific stats from NBA Stats.