During their last game against the Orlando Magic, the Charlotte Hornets did not shoot the ball well. Gordon Hayward, a max-contract former All-Star who has been playing well this year, only managed to put up one point on the night. LaMelo Ball ended with 22 points, but he didn’t really look like his normal self. Even Miles Bridges, who has been playing like an All-Star this season, could only scrounge together 11 points. Things were looking rough on the offensive end.
The Hornets won that game.
In spite of their lackluster offense, Charlotte was able to pick up their seventh victory in the last eight games. Their defense has been showing major signs of improvement, but it’s one lineup, in particular, that seems to be leading the way on that end - and it’s not a lineup many non-Hornets fans would expect.
At the 3:51 mark in the third quarter, the Hornets were down 68-74. Head coach James Borrego subbed in Bridges for Nick Richards, creating a lineup of Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, and Bridges. By the time the third quarter was over, Charlotte led 82-77. They would not trail for the remainder of the game.
Hornets.com writer Sam Perley asked Borrego about this lineup after the win over Orlando. He touched on what they bring to the floor and how they are able to help spark runs, as they did the other night.
“I think it starts on the defensive end. We’ve done it with a little bit of our zone, our switchability in that lineup. It’s really started with our defense, Sam. We’re able to stay in front of the ball with that group. It’s tough the get the ball downhill with that group. We’ve got length and size.”
That group of guys has appeared in four games this season, totaling eight minutes on the year. Among the 36 different lineups that have played at least that many minutes, they rank first in defensive rating (81.3). Opponents have shot 5-18 from the field against them.
Borrego also spoke about how that lineup doesn’t necessarily need to be elite offensively. They rank seventh in offensive rating (128.6) out of those aforementioned 36 lineups. Instead, they thrive in transition, blitzing opponents off of their stops.
“A lot of stuff you saw in that period was just off transition off of our stops. Nothing tricky in the halfcourt. It was really about turning our defense into offense going the other way. And that’s tough to guard, it’s a matchup problem. They had two bigs on the floor, we were getting stops, and they had a hard time matching up. I think that’s the goal every night with that lineup.”
With no Ball or Hayward on the court, the team has no real initiator on the court. Bridges has shown improvements in that regard, but he’s not known for his passing quite yet. However, all four of these guys are quick, athletic, and can outrun almost anyone else. As Borrego said, when the other team has one, or even two centers on the floor, this Hornets lineup will be ready to outrun them.
While this group may not be ready to play 10+ minutes a night, it’s nice to have players that are ready to get stops when they need to. They have only played eight minutes together, but we could be seeing a whole lot more of these five moving forward.
If the Hornets can remain a consistent force on the defensive end, there’s no telling what their ceiling could be. As of now, they sit at 12-8 on the year and will be fighting for a top-six seed once the playoffs come around. Ensuring that the defense is in tip-top shape needs to be a priority. This five-man lineup certainly helps with that.