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Fixing The Charlotte Hornets

Shane Rhodes looks at how the middling Hornets can move forward in the East.

Shane Rhodes



Basketball Insiders continues their foray into the lottery-bound squads with the next installment of our “Fixing” series. Today, the focus will be on the Charlotte Hornets, who currently reside at the 10-spot in both the Eastern Conference and the Draft Lottery with a record of 29-39.

The Hornets have dealt with a litany of issues this season; key contributors Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller have both missed significant time at different points this season.

Rookie Malik Monk continues to inexplicably receive little-to-no playing time from Steve Clifford. Monk has played in just 48 games this year and averages just 11.8 minutes per contest.

All-Star Kemba Walker, who has averaged 22.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists this season, isn’t doing their draft pick any favors, either. The team had an opportunity to move Walker at the deadline but chose not to.

Lastly, Michael Jordan may own the team, but the success of His Airness hasn’t exactly rubbed off on the Hornets. Charlotte last made the postseason during the 2015-16 season and haven’t advanced past the first round since 2001-02.

So, what have the Hornets done right, and what exactly can they do to improve their situation?

What is Working

A major plus for the Hornets is that Walker continues to play like an All-Star, even as the team has gone nowhere this season.

Charlotte failed to move Walker at the Trade Deadline, but they could certainly grab a haul for him in the offseason or in the build-up to the NBA Draft. Whether on the court or in trade talks, Walker is an asset, a major one to boot, something that is invaluable to the Hornets in their current situation.

Jeremy Lamb, who was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2015, has had a breakout season of sorts. Lamb finally seems capable of the instant offense off the bench that he was pegged to produce back in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Across 24.5 minutes per game, Lamb has averaged a career-high 13.2 points to go along with four rebounds while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 36 percent from three, also a career high. Just 25-years-old, Lamb could remain a nice anchor on the Charlotte bench should they retain his services past next season and through a rebuild.

Charlotte also has a nice stable of young bigs to build around. While Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Willy Hernangomez aren’t exactly elite, but all three are certainly capable of playing quality minutes for a competitive squad should Charlotte turn its fortunes around in the future.

What Needs to Change

The Hornets need to accept the fact that they aren’t very good. Slated for their second straight losing season, Charlotte needs to take account of the current roster and determine who will and won’t last through a rebuild.

All of that should start with giving Monk more minutes.

The Hornets invested the No.11 overall pick in Monk last June; at this point in the season, he should be averaging more than 11.8 minutes a night. The team has taken a step in the right direction over the past four games — Monk has averaged 17.3 minutes over the last four — and needs to heap minutes onto him. It may seem obvious, but young players need time to mature and develop, and it’s integral the Hornets get an extended look at Monk as they begin to plan for the 2018 Draft.

The same could be said for Hernangomez and fellow rookie Dwayne Bacon. Acquired from the Knicks near the Trade Deadline, Hernangomez has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes this season and is certainly capable of contributing, but has averaged just 5.3 minutes across eight games played with the team. Bacon, a second-round pick, could stand to play more than 11.6 minutes per game as the Hornets look to sort out the future of the roster as well. With the team going nowhere, why not see what Bacon can do?

Focus Area: The Draft

As things currently stand, the Hornets are poised to miss out on the “can’t miss” prospects of the 2018 class: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba, Michael Porter Jr. and Luka Doncic are all likely out of reach for Charlotte, barring a major shakeup in the standings or on draft night.

Still, the 2018 Draft is loaded with upside and has more potential stars than any draft in recent memory.

Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Villanova’s Mikal Bridges all present intriguing options at the guard position that could be available to Charlotte. Monk would fit nicely next to any of them at the two-guard spot should Charlotte choose to go in that direction. Drafting a guard doesn’t make much sense as long as Walker is still entrenched in the starting lineup, but things can change quickly in the NBA.

As for frontcourt players, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox are all versatile, impact players that could make some noise for Charlotte. All of them could push the aforementioned trio of Zeller, Kaminsky and Hernangomez from the outset and would have an interesting potential mentor in former All-Star Dwight Howard.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Hornets, who are currently over the salary cap, are projected to have nothing in terms of cap space next season. While most big-name free agents probably weren’t headed to Charlotte anyway, their lack of financial flexibility essentially takes them out of the free agent running before it even starts.

In terms of their own free agents, Charlotte doesn’t have to worry much. Julyan Stone and Treveon Graham can easily be replaced, while Michael Carter-Williams will hit the market coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery.

There aren’t too many enticing names that the Hornets could add on near-minimum deals, but handing out short-term “prove-it” deals to reclamation projects and other similar players a la Tyreke Evans could be something Charlotte pursues, (hopefully) with the intent to eventually flip them at the deadline for draft collateral. Avery Bradley, Willie Reed and Shabazz Muhammed are some players that come to mind.

The Hornets haven’t been the best version of themselves over the last two seasons and they seemingly have a long road ahead of them. Their conduct throughout the remainder of the 2017-18 season, into the offseason and up to the draft could go a long way in shortening the potential rebuild that looms over Charlotte.


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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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