After a pair of rough losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Charlotte Hornets entered a week featuring three games against teams vying for home court in their conferences, and the Hawks. Taking two out of four could be seen as a win, but it could have been so much more.
The Hornets kicked off the week with a huge win over the Boston Celtics. The Celtics haven’t been the force many expected this season, but they still boast one of the league’s best defenses and trot out mostly the same roster that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Hornets followed that win with another big victory over the Indiana Pacers, though they were missing their best player. The week ended with a quick two game road trip to Oklahoma City and Atlanta, where they picked up a pair of losses.
Kemba Walker continued his All NBA caliber play. He averaged 26.5 points and 8.3 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from behind the arc. Only eight players scored more points per game and only seven assisted more. He hit 15 3-pointers and has now hit more of those than any player in the NBA this season. His performance wasn’t perfect by any means, and there were significant warts, but we’ll get to that.
The biggest positive takeaway from the week was the offensive output from Hornets not named Kemba Walker. Jeremy Lamb has stepped into that ‘reliable second scorer’ role that many Hornets fans have been clamoring for. He scored 17.5 points per game on 46.2 percent shooting while knocking down almost two 3-pointers per game. Marvin Williams also seems to be finding his stroke, as he his over 40 percent of his 3-point attempts during the week. As a team, the Hornets connected on over 36 percent of their arc shots in three of the four games, with an abnormally cold game in OKC the only outlier.
The losses in Oklahoma City and Atlanta were each marked by an unacceptable performance in one key area. In Oklahoma City, it was the 3-point shooting. The Hornets connected on just six of their 31 3-point attempts. There might not be anything more frustrating that watching a team lay brick after brick from the arc, but there isn’t much that can be done to fix it. It’s just a thing that happens.
In Atlanta, the Hornets lost purely because of their defense. They took on a Hawks team that had lost ten straight coming in and let them get anywhere they wanted on the court. The Hawks connected on 53.2 percent of their field goal attempts and 41.0 percent of their 3-point attempts. They scored 58 points in the paint. Seemingly every possession ended with an uncontested shot from behind the arc or a lightly defended layup. Most stops were the result of ill advised shots by the Hawks early in the shot clock. The Hornets offered up little resistance defensively.
The loss to the Hawks is the third Hornets loss this season to a cellar dwelling team. In all three games, the Hornets have looked apathetic and listless during stretches. This team can be good, but it’s not good enough to sleepwalk through games and still win, even against the league’s worst teams.
Despite the offensive success, a disturbing trend took shape during parts of the two losses. In the second quarters of both games, Kemba Walker tried to take over. He failed miserably both times. In roughly 14 minutes of second quarter court time, the captain hit just one of 13 shots and turned the ball over three times. In both cases, he seemed to be frustrated with the officiating and tried to take it upon himself to get whistles to no avail.
That hero ball mentality popped up again in the fourth quarter against the Hawks. With a one point lead and under a minute to go, Walker spent the first 23 seconds of the shot clock trying to create a shot for himself. After getting stuck under the basket, he finally threw a pass out to Miles Bridges, who didn’t have time to get a shot off. With the role players starting to find a groove offensively, Walker needs to be better about taking a back seat when his offense isn’t working.
Even though the Lows section was much wordier than the Highs, it wasn’t a bad week for the Hornets. They came away from the week 2-2, which would have been expected. The actual games won and lost was a surprise, but it’s the NBA. That happens. Next up is a twelve game stretch featuring ten home games, starting with the Bucks on Monday night.