To say that the Charlotte Hornets’ defense is struggling is an understatement. The proclamation also sounds like a broken record at this point, as that’s been the main concern with the Hornets all season. But when things are as bad as they are, there’s no limit on how many times the subject can be brought up.
Charlotte ranks dead last in the NBA in points allowed per game at 116.6. That’s a full point ahead of the 29th-ranked Houston Rockets (115.5), and almost three points higher than the 28th-ranked Sacramento Kings (113.8). They are one of two teams in the bottom 12 with a winning record, with the other being the Los Angeles Lakers.
While the Hornets have up-and-coming stars, the harsh truth is that they don’t have the safety blanket that is LeBron James. If they want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders, their defense needs to improve. Their offense is elite, there’s no denying that, but even the best offenses in the league can go cold at times.
When Charlotte scores less than 100 points this season, they are 1-4. When they score less than 110 they are 5-9. When the Hornets score more than 120 they are 11-6, and four of those losses came in overtime. There’s a very clear pattern here.
The Hornets have not lost a game yet this season where they allow less than 110 points. They are a perfect 10-0. Defense determines success for Charlotte, as backward as that may sound.
There’s no doubting that the Hornets have good defensive pieces on their team. Cody Martin has been a revelation and JT Thor has shown some chops. But when it comes to their ability to play defense as a team, they fall apart. So with the trade deadline mere weeks away, what should Charlotte’s plan of action be?
Obviously, adding defensive-minded players to the roster should be a priority. However, the Hornets are a young, up-and-coming team, so selling a ton of assets wouldn’t be very smart, either. There’s certainly some wiggle room, but giving up young players in favor of winning now seems silly.
That being said, there could be some guys around the league available for cheap at the deadline. Players as good as Myles Turner may be off the board, but he’s not the end-all-be-all of trade targets. Any guys that can come in and give the Hornets a defensive spark should be welcomed with open arms.
Turner isn’t the only player on the Pacers who could help the Hornets. If they want defenders, which they should, why not take a look at Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig. Both are versatile wing defenders who can space the floor on the other end. Both are veteran guys, though, so Charlotte would have to gauge whether or not it’d be worth trading away young assets for them.
Past that, look at a guy like Robert Covington in Portland. The Trail Blazers are in shambles right now, and it recently came to light that everyone outside of Damian Lillard could be available. Making the salaries match could be challenging, but getting a defender like Covington would be huge for the Hornets.
Who knows what the Magic’s plan is, but if Charlotte wanted to take a chance, they could even inquire about Jonathan Isaac. He hasn’t played in what feels like years, so who knows if the Magic have moved on yet. Maybe they’re ready to add younger players. It would definitely be a risk for the Hornets, but Isaac has Defensive Player of the Year upside.
Lastly, if Charlotte wanted to really make a splash, there are three obvious home runs - Jerami Grant, Pascal Siakam, and Ben Simmons. Each would require some major pieces to be shipped out, but all would undoubtedly improve Charlotte’s defense. That sort of blockbuster is highly unlikely, though.
All-in-in, improving on the defensive end needs to be at the forefront of Mitch Kupchak’s mind ad the trade deadline approaches. Maybe they ride this season out and address it in the offseason, but something has to change. As odd as it may sound, Buzz City’s future rests on the success of its defense.