We’re back with another edition of the Hive Dive, a biweekly series analyzing trends and narratives in the Charlotte Hornets that go deeper than just results. Today, we look back at the season so far, and what it may forecast about the year ahead in 2022.
Past two weeks:
Record: 4-3 (19-17 overall, 7th in the East)
12/15 @ SAS – W 131-115
12/17 @ POR – L 125-116
12/19 @ PHX – L 137-106
12/20 @ UTA – L 112-102
12/23 @ DEN – W 115-107
12/27 vs HOU – W 123-99
12/29 @ IND – W 116-108
The Hornets 2021 Progress Report
The Charlotte Hornets began this season with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
Last season, Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball showed the entire world that he was the truth, surpassing the expectations of even some of his most fanatical supporters. Last season, the Hornets front office showed that they had the pull to attract an all-star caliber free agent in Gordon Hayward, who immediately bolstered the team with his veteran IQ, versatility, and calming presence. Last season, the Hornets finally found an identity with their run-and-gun pace and stunning athleticism. Last season, the Hornets saw themselves slide from 4th in the conference down to 10th on a streak of injuries, and ultimately get run out of the building in a play-in game that could only be described as an embarrassment.
36 games later, the Hornets find themselves a deeper, more resilient, more mature team than any time in recent memory, and things are looking up. Here are three things that have defined the season so far.
A Grueling Schedule
The Hornets have had to hit the ground running this season, with one of the most difficult schedules in the league. With 10 more road games than home games so far, the Hornets have had more road games than anyone else in the league, including both of their extended west-coast trips that featured some of the toughest competition in the NBA. Even Gordon Hayward, as an 11-year veteran, has remarked on the schedule, saying that “the stretch that we’ve had here to start the season has probably been the most difficult schedule I’ve had in my career.”
For the Hornets to have come out of this chunk of the season 2 games over .500 has been a blessing, especially considering expectations at the start of the year. For reference, Vegas placed the preseason over/under for Charlotte’s win total at 38.5 wins, a number that the Hornets are on pace to surpass by almost 5 games even if they were to perform exactly the same for the rest of the 21-22 campaign as they have thus far. Given that the remainder of the season contains far more home games, an easier strength of schedule, and even a slight downtick in the density of back-to-back games, it feels safe to be optimistic that the Hornets will have an even stronger second half of the season.
An Electric Offense
The Hornets have been a walking flamethrower this year, with their 115.2 ppg second only to Utah, who currently holds the third-best record in the league. The Hornets have also jostled for position as the best 3pt shooting team in the league, both in efficiency and total made. Not only does Charlotte score at an elite level, but they do it unselfishly, with the third-highest number of assists per game as well.
It should be no surprise that the Hornets are so hot on offense, as their roster contains more weapons this year than at any point I can remember. The bugs have five players (Hayward, Ball, Bridges, Oubre, and Rozier) who have scored 30 or more in a single game already this season, and another pair (Bouknight and Martin) who have scored at least 20 in a game. This embarrassment of riches on offense leads to very few nights where the team fails to score as a whole, as even on nights where several key pieces are struggling, there are so many players on the Hornets who can take over a game that the slack is quickly picked up.
Such prolific scoring begs the question of how the Hornets aren’t in equally elite company in the standings as they are in points per game, which brings us to the boogeyman that has haunted Charlotte all season long.
A Disappointing Defense
Charlotte needs help on defense. A lot of help. The Hornets give up the most points in the league at 116, nearly 10 points over the league average of 108. The Hornets would not need a stellar defense to immediately become a team threatening a deep playoff run. In fact, they would not even need good defense at all. If Charlotte could muster even a league-average defensive effort, they could very well be fighting for home-court advantage right now. So far this year, the Hornets are a flawless 10-0 when holding opponents to less than 110 points, a mark that should be a regular occurrence for any team that hopes to sniff the playoffs.
The Hornets need to improve every level of their defense dramatically, with equally flimsy perimeter, interior, and even transition defense. While this may sound like a doomsday scenario, the fact that Charlotte only needs to marginally improve from “worst in the league” to “inoffensively sub-par” to find success means that they have multiple routes to address this issue.
You’ll remember I wrote about a month ago about how the Hornets try to shore up their interior by sacrificing the resistance they do provide at the perimeter. This seems to suggest that if both wind up untenable anyways, that a shift in their defensive scheme to staying home on shooters may be enough to stop the bleeding. Additionally, while interior defense may only be fixable with a trade at this point, transition defense can be improved simply by sending far fewer players to the glass for offensive rebounds. Either way, there is room for Charlotte to grow defensively without personnel changes, and that’s fantastic news for a general manager in Mitch Kupchak that is notoriously stingy on mid-season trades.
As my belated holiday gift to you, I’ve decided to get fun with this edition’s Bug Bites section and break down fun or interesting Charlotte Hornets stats this season in the style of the 12 Days of Christmas. And I better not hear anyone say I don’t get into the Christmas spirit after this.
The league-wide 3-point percentage ranking of Cody Martin (48.6%).
The number of triple-doubles that LaMelo Ball has.
The number of technical fouls Terry Rozier has.
The number of reverse dunks that Mason Plumlee has thrown down.
The Hornets’ longest losing streak (11/1-11/8)… AND their longest winning streak (11/10-11/19).
The number of different players who have been the leading scorer for the Hornets on a given night (Ball, Bouknight, Bridges, Hayward, Oubre, Rozier).
The number of blocks Ish Smith has.
The highest number of 3’s a Hornets player has made (Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball).
The number of 25+ point games that LaMelo Ball has had (which leads the team).
The number of times that Kai Jones has snuck into garbage time.
The most minutes we have been subjected to of Vernon Carey Jr. in a single game.
The number of charges Cody Martin has taken already (the franchise record is Kemba Walker’s 28 in a season).
Happy new year, Hornets fans.