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Hive Dive: Going Cold

Courtesy of the Charlotte Hornets

We’re back with another edition of the Hive Dive, a biweekly(ish) series analyzing trends and narratives in the Charlotte Hornets that go deeper than just results. This week, we look at the Hornets’ serious offensive woes and discuss their moves at the trade deadline.

Past two weeks:

Record: 1-6 (28-28 overall, 9th in the East)

1/28 vs LAL – 117-114

1/30 vs LAC – L 115-90

2/2 @ BOS – L 113-107

2/4 vs CLE– 102-101

2/5 vs MIA – L 104-86

2/7 vs TOR – L 116-101

2/9 vs CHI – L 121-109

The Dive:

Going Cold

If you look at the last two weeks and are scratching your head as to how a team with so much promise could be completely imploding during a stretch of important home games, you’re certainly not alone. You may have even entered this article believing that there was a good explanation for what was going on. I can’t guarantee that I have a good explanation, but it’s at least a simple one.

Shooting Woes

Someone call a meteorologist because this is looking like the coldest February on record so far. The Hornets’ 6-game slide can largely be attributed to the fact that a squad who was 5th in 3P% two weeks ago at 37.4% is now shooting an abysmal 28.6% during this stretch, second-to-last in the league over that timeframe (via Cleaning the Glass). It doesn’t take very deep analysis to understand why a team full of shooters would struggle to put even a single win together when the outside shot isn’t falling, but it’s not as simple to find a way out of the slump.

The first route could be to look at shot quality, but Charlotte is getting roughly the same quality of shots during this period as they have all season, and it’s painful to watch it in action when open look after open look goes begging. A possible adjustment could be forcing the ball inside more instead, but the Hornets were already taking more attempts at the rim than almost any other team before this slump, with 36.1% of their field goal attempts at the cup. During this slump, that number has increased to 38.7%, but even so, it’s not enough to overcome truly arctic perimeter shooting (via Cleaning the Glass). 

Unfortunately, the best chance the Hornets have to get out of this funk is to keep shooting and trust that statistics will prevail and see Charlotte return to the mean. 

Help On The Way?

Of course, it would be foolish not to devote part of this Hive Dive to acknowledging the NBA trade deadline and the Charlotte Hornets move to bring Montrezl Harrell in from Washington in exchange for Vernon Carey Jr., Ish Smith, and a second-round pick. Harrell, a 6’7” big, is a 7-year veteran with extensive playoff experience, who won both 6MOY and the NBA Hustle Award just two seasons ago. This season, he’s averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 24 minutes per game. 

Addressing the elephant in the room, Harrell is neither a “full size” center, nor is he known for being a strong defensive presence. He does, however, give the Hornets two things they have desperately missed all year – actual depth at the 5 and a bonafide pick-and-roll threat for LaMelo Ball to connect with. Harrell may or may not end up starting, but I expect him to play at least as many minutes as Plumlee if not more minutes off the bench. A center rotation of Plumlee and Harrell also allows PJ Washington to slide over to his natural position at PF, which should see him with better matchups on both sides of the floor as well. 

Now, let’s talk cost. The sweetest thing about this trade is how little substance was given up in return. Vernon Carey Jr. was entirely superfluous, made redundant not only by Nick Richards but also by the newer, higher-ceiling pair of JT Thor and Kai Jones. As for Ish Smith, while he served an important purpose as a reserve guard, we saw extended stretches of the season with a fully healthy roster where Smith was relegated entirely to DNP-CDs. Harrell fills a position of much higher need for Charlotte and will prove to have a far greater impact on the game every night. 

Bug Bites:

First of Many

LaMelo Ball was named an NBA all-star as a substitute due to Kevin Durant’s current injury, making him the fourth-youngest all-star in NBA history behind Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Magic Johnson. Not only will he play for Team Durant during the all-star game, but he was also selected for the rising stars challenge, so the nation will have the privilege of seeing plenty of him during all-star weekend.

The Best Ability is…

The Charlotte Hornets have been rendered Gordonless for most of the last two weeks, with a COVID spell letting up just in time for him to play two rough games and get injured 6 minutes into the third. He is now out indefinitely once again with an ankle sprain, and he will be sorely missed. Charlotte’s record is so much better with Hayward available that it’s hard to be without him for any length of time, and his contract is a little rich to not sting extra whenever he’s sidelined.

Written by Michael Gallucci

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