The Charlotte Hornets are in a slump after its red-hot start to begin the NBA season. The Hornets have lost 7 of its last 9 games, and will be looking to get back into the highly contested Eastern Conference playoff spots.
One reason for the Hornets’ recent slump is the injuries currently plaguing the team. Over the past 9 games the Hornets have been without key players. For two games Nicolas Batum was out (Sick). He’s also been dealing with a nagging toe injury, which I think has contributed to his recent run of below average games.
The Hornets have also been without centers Al Jefferson and Spencer Hawes. Disregarding the quality player they’re missing in Jefferson, the loss of the two big fellas has left the Hornets extremely thin at the center position. This has given Tyler Hansbrough more minutes, and it hasn’t been pretty. Hopefully Hawes comes back soon, but Jefferson will be out for about 6 weeks after undergoing a successful arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
For the past two games, the Hornets have also been without Jeremy Lin. He has had a major resurgence in Charlotte, and his loss is huge for the Hornets. Without Lin the Hornets second unit, which has carried the Hornets for most of the season, is missing the quality ball handler and leader they need. This has made Kemba Walker and an injured Batum the only reliable ball handlers on the team. When both these guys are on the bench, the Hornets offense looks stagnant and have struggled to score.
Hopefully when these guys get back the Hornets will start to click again, and get back to their winning ways. They need to as well. Even though they are on pace for the best record in franchise history, the East is very deep this year. The 5-10 spots will be extremely close all season, and the Hornets can not afford to stay in this slump much longer.
There is some reason for optimism for the Hornets future. Both Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller have looked impressive in their expanded roles. Frank has really impressed me of late, and I think he will become a really good NBA player. His three point shooting percentage does not reflect how good of a shooter he is. For some reason his shots are just not falling right. He’s getting great looks, and he hasn’t shied away from taking them. What impresses me the most about him is his ability to drive the ball from the stretch 4 position at the top of the key. He is extremely mobile for a 7-footer, and has shown glimpses of his fantastic finishing potential and dribbling ability. As he gets more minutes and becomes accustomed to the NBA game I think he will be a fantastic player for the Hornets.
Cody Zeller is also showing why the Hornets used a lottery pick to select him in 2013. He runs the court extremely hard, and has shown that he has the speed and strength to score against centers. His game is steadily improving, but he has already shown me enough to believe that he will become a consistent double-double threat. He plays hard, and his defense is outstanding. His pick-and-roll defense is what stood out to me recently. This was showcased in the Clippers game. He played the Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll about as well as you can, and his defense helped the Hornets stay in the game.
Another bright spot for the Hornets has been the consistent and steadily improving Kemba Walker. He is quietly making a strong case for a spot in the All-Star game in Toronto. He’s consistently been the Hornets’ top performer as of late, and has even had a couple 30+ point nights. He has always been a great scorer, but he has added a consistent 3-point shot to his game that has allowed him to use his top-notch speed and agility to get to the basket. What has impressed me the most so far this season is his improvement on defense. He has played really well as of late, and hasn’t looked like the complete liability on defense that he has been in previous years.
What I think Hornets fans should be most excited about is head coach Steve Clifford. He has got the Hornets playing some sound basketball. The Hornets currently average the fewest turnovers in the NBA, and consistently play extremely hard and fundamental defense. I have also noticed that the Hornets have been outstanding on plays after timeouts. This is purely the head coach drawing up a play, and so far this year Clifford has been spot on. I think he is one the NBA’s best coaches, and, should the Hornets pick their play back up as players come back from injury, be in the discussion for coach of the year this season.
Stats from ESPN and BasketballReference