In terms of star-power, the Hornets are towards the bottom of the list. They have a borderline All-Star in Gordon Hayward, but past that just a bunch of really solid NBA players. Despite this, they are 6-5 and sitting in position to be in playoff conversations. It’s still early, but it’s starting to look like Charlotte could find themselves in the play-in tournament by the time the season is ending. So since there’s no superstar on the roster, what is winning the Hornets all these games? The answer - ball movement.
I’m jealous of the Hornets passing tonight— Fireside Knicks (@FiresideKnicks) January 12, 2021
One thing that was very clear during their recent game against the Knicks was that the Hornets’ offense is worlds better when the ball is moving. At the start of the game everyone was passing the ball and the Hornets went up big. Yes the Knicks may have been struggling offensively, but regardless, Charlotte’s offense looked beautiful. However, as the second and third quarter got going New York began to catch up. The biggest difference from the first quarter to then - the Hornets stopped moving the ball. There were too many isolations and rushed possessions, and it was clear that the offense had stalled because of that.
This offseason, the Hornets added two great playmakers in Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball, both of whom are averaging at least four assists per game on the year. Add onto that Devonte’ Graham, another great playmaker, and they were primed to have improved ball movement this season. Just how improved is it, though?
Last season, the Hornets ranked 19th in the league in assists per game (23.8). This year, however, Charlotte currently ranks first in assists per game (28.9), and has a massive 1.6 assist lead over the second ranking team (Wizards). With the way Borrego has been running his rotations, it is rare that the Hornets have a lineup without one of Ball, Graham, or Hayward on the floor, meaning that there’s always a solid playmaker running the offense. In fact, there has only been a total of less than two minutes played this season with none of those three players on the floor.
So the “passing equals better offense” idea passes the eye test, but are the stats there to back it up? In short - yes. As mentioned, the Hornets average 28.9 assists a night which is good for first in the NBA. Along with that, 74.3% of Charlotte’s made field goals this season have come off assists, which is nearly 6% more than the next team in the rankings (Heat, 68.4%). What’s even more interesting is seeing how many of Charlotte’s two-pointers have been assisted on. While only 85.4% of their made threes come from assists (11th in the NBA), a whopping 68.7% of their made two-pointers come off assists. This is over 10% higher than the next team up (Heat, 58.0%).
With that in mind, it’s important to look at how well the Hornets perform in isolation situations. Since 74.3% of their field goals are assisted on, that means they have a league low 25.3% of field goals that are not. This adds up when you consider that the Hornets are 25th in isolation frequency per game (4.1%) and second to last in isolation points per game (2.7). On isolation plays, the Hornets shoot a league-low 24.3% and turn the ball over 13.7% of the time.
Charlotte is one of the best passing teams in the league, but what’s worse is that they are absolutely dreadful when they don’t pass. They brought in Ball and Hayward to improve the offense, and they’ve done just that through their playmaking. What was clear from the eye-test is further backed up by statistics - when the ball’s not moving, the team isn’t scoring.