This article stems from a comment on a recent piece detailing the Charlotte Hornets’ defensive issues. The piece suggested some trade targets the Hornets could look at to help patch things up. While the common suggestion is that Buzz City needs a better big man, commenter Buzz Light Year brought up an alternative solution.
“Curveball. What if Hornets address perimeter defense instead of center?”
They would go on to suggest nabbing players such as Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig to help shore up the perimeter. However, most other comments involved the likes of Myles Turner and Mo Bamba.
So what’s the correct diagnosis of Charlotte’s defensive woes? Do they need a better big? Should they focus on improved perimeter defense? In actuality, both are true.
However, neither is the main reason why the Hornets are so terrible on the defensive end. Sure, a better big man would help shore things up a bit, and better perimeter defenders could do the same. Despite this, the biggest flaws with Charlotte’s defense are issues completely under their control - communication and effort.
Let’s break it down.
Take a look at this play right here. Just what are Charlotte’s perimeter players doing? First off, Miles Bridges bites on a pump fake by Trey Lyles, which forces PJ Washington to help on the drive. But why is LaMelo Ball cheating in? He started the play closer to the corner than his man.
These are the types of inexperienced plays that are costing Charlotte stops. The Hornets give up the second-most three-point attempts in the league (39.8), and 20.9 of them are wide open (that number leads the league).
Here’s another example. Just what exactly is this? A 3-2 zone? It’s almost like a 2-1-2 defense with Ball covering the middle of the floor. Gordon Hayward is stuck covering two guys - Khris Middleton on the wing and Wesley Matthews in the corner.
By the time Ball gets out to Middleton to provide some semblance of a contest, he’s already shooting the jumper. Middleton is one of the most efficient shooters in the league, so of course, he nailed the easy one.
Here’s a simple pick n’ roll play with Caris LeVert as the ball handler. Mason Plumlee should switch onto him but instead drops back, giving LeVert an easy jumper.
This shows off Plumlee’s biggest downside as a defender - a lack of mobility. Cody Martin is forced to scramble back after getting hit hard and was ultimately too late. There’s an argument to be had that Plumlee had to pick up Sabonis on the roll, but Ball was already covering the paint.
Plumlee dropping back in pick n’ roll defense has been a common theme this year. It’s a result of a combination of scheme and Plumlee’s limitations as a defender.
While most of these plays show Ball’s lack of communication and awareness, he is far from the only issue. Those were simply some of the most recent examples. Let’s go back a little further. Here’s a play from Charlotte’s game vs. the Washington Wizards on December 3rd. Let’s break it down:
- After the pick is set, Plumlee comes up to defend Beal. Good!
- Terry Rozier sinks down into the paint to, presumably, help on Daniel Gafford on the drive. Okay…
- Ball rotates out to the perimeter to help on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Smart!
- No one tells Plumlee that the roll is already being covered, and since he sees Ball cheating out, he sits back into the paint. Bad.
A simple “stay up Plumlee!” from Rozier would have made this entire situation preventable. Even Gordon Hayward, who also was helping on the drive, could have said something. Instead, the play resulted in three Hornets players covering Gafford on the roll, leaving Beal wide open for a three.
Here are a couple more examples of communication issues, paired with a heaping helping of ball-watching (that’s where the effort portion comes into play):
That second clip was particularly awful. The Hornets had three guys in the paint just watching the ball whipped around the perimeter. Martin was seemingly the only player who cared about the possession. Even if Chris Duarte didn’t want to shoot that pull-up, he had Keifer Sykes wide open on the wing. An unacceptable lack of effort.
While Charlotte may not have a ton of great defensive players, that can often be patched up with solid defensive communication. The Hornets don’t seem to have that either.
So, when presented with the question of “What do the Hornets need?”, the answer is communication. Sure, it would be great to have some better defenders. A mobile big or an aggressive perimeter defender would be amazing. However, if this group can learn to communicate effectively and stop ball-watching, Charlotte’s defense would look a lot better.