The Charlotte Hornets are rebuilding around a “Core Four” of Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington. They are the only players to average at least 30 minutes per game and are often joined by either Cody Zeller (23.1 MPG) or Bismack Biyombo (19.4 MPG) at center to round out the Hornets five-man lineup.
Analyzing the effectiveness of the Hornets three most commonly-used five-man lineups reveals reasons for both optimism and alarm. Here’s how these different player combinations have fared per 100 possessions when on the floor together per Basketball Reference.
“Core Four” plus Cody Zeller (283 minutes) = +0.6 points per 100 possessions
There’s reason to be downright excited about this result. When Graham, Rozier, Bridges, and Washington team up with Cody Zeller this five-man unit has outscored its opponents by 0.6 points per 100 possessions. This should give Hornets fans some hope about building around the core. After all, if a five man unit consisting of the “Core Four” plus Cody Zeller is outscoring its opponents, imagine what they can do with a little more experience and an above-average center in the future. And that’s not a knock on Zeller, either. He’s perfectly capable but he’s not part of the future.
“Core Four” plus Bismack Biyombo (263 minutes) = -6.5 points per 100 possessions
Egads! Keep the “Core Four” together and swap out Zeller for Bismack Biyombo and the wheels fall off! Instead of slightly outscoring opponents, the Hornets are now being outscored by 6.5 points per 100 possessions. One of the main reasons for this is they simply get off fewer shots with Biyombo on the floor (-9.3) vs. Zeller (+1.0). Fewer shot attempts per 100 possessions means fewer points. Turnovers go up with Bismack and assists go down, so based on this data alone it looks like Biyombo gums up the offense.
The “Disaster Artists” (92 minutes) = -26.6 points per 100 possessions
The five-man unit with the next most minutes (92) is Rozier, Bridges, Washington, Zeller and Dwayne Bacon. Remember, when Devonte Graham was on the floor with those other four players the Hornets were +0.6 points per 100 possessions. Swap out Graham for Bacon and the margin plummets to -26.6 points. That’s...alarming. This unit saw field goal percent crater (-.155), rebounds drop (-4.1), and assists disappear (-10.1). If you still weren’t convinced of Devonte Graham’s value, I don’t know what more to show you.
None of the other five-man units played enough minutes together to put a lot of stock in the numbers. Analysis of five-man units also has to be looked at in context because of substitution patterns and how long each unit played against the opponent’s starters versus bench players. But overall this data gives me a lot of hope. The “Core Four” fared well with Cody Zeller by outscoring their opponents when they played together. As the young guys mature and the center position gets upgraded, the Hornets could be competitive sooner than many people realize.