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2019-20 Hornets Report Card: James Borrego

We wrap up our report card series with the Hornets second year head coach.

Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Normally head coaches are judged by their team’s wins and losses. James Borrego wasn’t held to that standard in his second season as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. He lost his two top players, including All NBA guard Kemba Walker, and led a team with the lowest projected win total in the league. Borrego’s goal was to develop the young talent on the team and find player combinations that could work long term. He did that.

The volatility of the Hornets rotation was evident early on, as rookie PJ Washington earned a starting spot solely based off a strong preseason. Devonte’ Graham opened the season as the team’s sixth man, which sounds like absolute blasphemy given what we know now. But Borrego wasn’t married to that lineup. Graham quickly found his way into a starting lineup that underwent several changes over the course of the season.

Even with all the roster variability, the Hornets still found a way to overachieve through the season’s first couple months. Most outlets had them projected somewhere around 23 game. They made it over halfway to that mark by the season’s first 28 games. They hit a dry spell in the middle of the season but finished strong. In the abbreviated 65 game season, the Hornets hit the 23 win total they were projected to reach over a full 82 game slate.

The final stretch of the season was especially encouraging for Hornets fans. The Hornets held the Detroit Pistons to 76 points on February 10. From that date until the end of the season, the Hornets went 7-6 and had the league’s tenth best defense. They put a bow on the shortened season with impressive wins over the Rockets and Heat in two of their last three games.

Borrego doesn’t just get credit for the team’s collective overachieving. He and his staff developed the Hornets’ young players, who generally made big leaps in their growth. Devonte’ Graham went from afterthought to star. Terry Rozier went from career backup to one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the league. Rookies PJ Washington, Cody and Caleb Martin, and Jalen McDaniels made much bigger impacts than expected. Even veterans like Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller made noticeable improvements to their games.

The Hornets finished the season 23-42, just 1.5 games away from making the NBA bubble. Instead, they’re set to pick eighth in the draft barring any major shakeups in the lottery. If there’s anything to complain about, it’s that the Hornets won too many games and played themselves out of what was expected to be a top three draft pick. But this draft is weak with star power, so that isn’t as catastrophic as it could’ve been.

Beyond that, I can’t find anything to complain about when it comes to Borrego’s handling of his young roster. Everyone received ample playing time over the course of the season. The young players showed improvement, the team was fun to watch, and they won more games than expected. That’s exactly what Hornets brass were hoping for coming into this season.

Final grade: A


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