With so much talent defecting to the Western Conference over the summer, the Charlotte Hornets seemed like a team poised to take advantage and get back in the playoff picture. It hasn’t worked out thus far as Charlotte, at 14-23, has only four more wins than the league-worst Atlanta Hawks.
It’s tempting to proclaim Charlotte’s Dwight Howard experiment a failure as so many have after his stints with the Lakers, Rockets, and Hawks. But Howard is one of only three Hornets with a significantly-positive net rating. His +2.7 trails only Kemba Walker (+4.9) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (+4.5) on the team. The problem has been how those numbers fall off after the top six that includes Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lamb.
From there, the second unit ranges from Cody Zeller’s -3.6 to rookie Malik Monk’s catastrophic -14.6 in 426 minutes, which is a larger sample than every member of that group except Frank Kaminsky and Dwayne Bacon.
Basketball Insiders’ David Yapkowitz profiled Monk and broke down his rookie season Wednesday.
Obviously, the loss of Zeller—a key component of last season’s starting unit—to a torn medial meniscus has been a major blow to the bench.
Although things look bleak, the team is 4-4 with wins over the Warriors and Bucks since a three-game skid. Assistant coach Stephen Silas told Hornets.com Thursday that the team is focusing on positives and looking for more contributions from the entire roster.
“Everybody contributes,” said Silas. “Our first group has been good all year and our second group is really starting to come together. You see how [Michael Carter-Williams] plays defense or how [Jeremy Lamb] is really being consistent or how Frank [Kaminsky] has been consistent of late or Traveon [Graham] and his contribution, even Johnny O’Bryant. So everybody is contributing, everybody is pitching in.”
After Tuesday’s win in Sacramento, Howard told reporters that he’s focused firstly on what he can improve himself.
“One-on-one defense, especially for the bigs, we could have done a lot better,” Howard said. “So we’re going to take it positively but we’ve still got some things that we’ve still got to improve on.”
Howard was asked about Friday’s visit to a struggling Lakers team and likened those struggles to the learning curve of some of the Hornets’ young players.
“We’re kind of in that process too, even though we have a lot of vets on this team,” said Howard. “You’ve got guys who have been asked to play big minutes and do things they haven’t done in the past. So it’s always a learning phase. Once we get over that, we’ll be fine.”
Howard added that the team’s leaders, including Walker, Batum and himself, have taken the responsibility to keep the rest of the team involved and engaged rather than try to carry the team themselves.
“The biggest thing is that Kemba, Nic and myself, we do a good job of getting everybody involved on the offensive end,” said Howard. “Whether that be screens, assists, attacking the basket, making plays — it’s on us three to get everybody involved and to make each other better. That’s the only way we’re going to be successful.”
Despite the poor start, the Hornets are only four wins behind the Indiana Pacers, current owners of the eighth playoff seed in the East. After Friday’s game in L.A., the Hornets will play eight of the next nine at home.
That could give Charlotte an opportunity to move up, especially if the second unit shows needed improvement.
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