Grading The Charlotte Hornets At The Midway Point

We have just passed the midway point in the 72-game truncated NBA season. The Hornets as a whole have faired pretty decently thus far. They sit at 16-17, atop the Southeastern division, and in 8th in the East, just a game out of 4th place. But how has each individual performed? Let’s take a look.

LaMelo Ball: A-

Ball began the season coming off the bench, thanks to the plethora of guards the Hornets employ and the lack of a real offseason (no summer league, training camp, and only a couple of preseason games). He provided a big spark off the bench and quickly forced the issue on whether or not he should start. The injury bug hit the Hornets hard, forcing Ball into the starting lineup where he will likely stay no matter who returns from injury when.

Ball is averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game. His per 36 stats are unbelievable, as well. 19.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds. Those numbers for a rookie haven’t been seen since Oscar Robertson. Ball’s in some good company.

For all the good, though, it’s not perfect. He is just 19, so these things are likely to change. He’s cut down on turnovers overall, but he had a poor start with them and is prone to having several in games. His shot selection also often leaves something to be desired. His shot is weird-looking, but he doesn’t seem to want to alter it at all. For now, it’s working, as he’s shooting 35% from three on the year.

Terry Rozier: B

Rozier has had a lot put on his shoulders this year. At full health, he slots in as the shooting guard, but he’s quite undersized. He sits at just 6’1 so most of his defensive matchups and peers are bigger than he is, making man defense difficult. And depending on the injuries or the rotations, he’s played a few games at small forward, with emphasis on small.

Rozier has bounced around different spots in the lineup but has maintained his grip on a starting role. He shoots at a 48.7/44/82 clip. His offensive rating in the clutch is quite good, too: 149.4, second among qualified Hornets.

He’s shown the ability to catch fire and carry the team, as evidenced by his 4th quarter outburst and game-winner over Golden State a week ago. His catch-and-shoot numbers are among the league’s best and his 20.2 points per game is second on the team. His defensive rating is a subpar 113.5. He’s prone to inconsistency but that and the lackluster defense are really the only negatives.

Gordon Hayward: A

Hayward has been mostly as advertised. The money on his contract remains an astronomical number, but this is NOT another Nicolas Batum situation. Hayward appears to have returned to his Utah, All-Star, pre-injury level. He’s scoring 21.5 points to go with 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He’s bordering on the 50/40/90 club with a 48.5/42.1/86 slash line.

His overall offensive rating of 111.1 is second on the team. His 8.4 turnover ratio is second, as well. A 24.1% usage rate tops the Hornets and he’s produced well. He rarely has poor shooting nights, though he’s not immune, he is sometimes just not aggressive enough. At one point he was averaging over 25 points a night. That’s obviously faded. His 12.2 PIE (Player Impact Estimate) leads all Hornets. He’s not quite an All-Star, but he’s been quite good nonetheless.

PJ Washington: B

Among the starting lineup of Ball/Graham, Rozier, Hayward, himself, and Zeller, Washington is the 4th option at best. In most rotations, he’s no higher than the 3rd option on the offensive end. He’s been up and down, but his points per game are up from last season to 12.7, boosted by a 42 point career-high outburst Sunday night against the Kings. He’s averaging 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists, both up from his rookie year. His 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks are 4th and 1st among Hornets, respectively.

He’s an undersized power forward (just 6’7) who has had to either start or backup the center position quite often. He seems to have good nights in rotation with Miles Bridges, but his numbers are solid. Probably boosted by the Kings game, his absurd clutch time offensive rating of 168.5 tops all Hornets.

The Hornets as a whole are 11-5 in clutch games with the highest net rating of all teams by a country mile, and Washington is a huge part of that. Washington struggles guarding centers as a small-ball center (to be expected) and often can’t get his own shot, but he’s still been pretty valuable this year.

Cody Zeller: B-

In this article’s most shocking development, Cody Zeller leads all Hornets with a 114.3 offensive rating. Zeller isn’t an All-Star and never will be. He hasn’t ever really lived up to his 4th overall selection, but he’s been a solid player his entire career. He’s an excellent screener and does a lot of things right.

As average as Zeller might be, the gap between him and Bismack Biyombo is chasmic. When Zeller has been hurt this year, they play at the center position (which has been lacking regardless) has left a lot to be desired. He’s the leading rebounder with 7.6 per game and has the third-highest assist to turnover ratio at 2.2.

He doesn’t create for himself or others very well and can’t shoot, but his nearly 10 points a night is serviceable for the 5th option and certainly better than his backup production. If the Hornets want to compete, an upgrade at Zeller’s position is paramount. But Zeller could be a stellar backup option in the future.

Devonte Graham: B-

Graham, thanks to injury and the stellar play of LaMelo Ball, has likely lost the starting spot he worked so hard to earn last year. His 13.7 points are a disappointment from last year’s explosion. However, he’s actually been pretty good this season. His 106.2 defensive rating is second among all Hornets and his 70.0 clutches defensive rating is the top mark on the roster. He has the highest net rating on the roster.

Simply put, they’re better when he plays than when he doesn’t. His shooting seems even streakier than last year and his assist numbers are down, but he doesn’t have to shoulder the load as much with Ball in tow. However, his clutch time field goal percentage of 66.7% is in the top 20 of qualified players. His stats don’t appear great, but his per 36 numbers of 15 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.3 rebounds are good, especially if that continues when he returns off the bench. He ranks 8th among players with 20 minutes a game with a 4.06 assist to turnover ratio.

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Malik Monk: B+

Malik Monk seems to finally have put it together in his fourth season. The former 11th overall pick showed spurts and seemed to have been putting it together last season before a drug-related suspension and then the COVID-19 cancellation. Then, this season began with Monk missing a few weeks with COVID himself. It took him quite a while to work his way back to game strength and seemed like his time in Charlotte was coming to a close. He was replaced in the rotation by the offensively challenged Martin twins and trade rumors were aplenty.

Once Monk returned to the rotation, he took off. His 13 points per game is a career-high and his effective field goal percentage of 58.4% is far and away from a career-best.

Monk’s 44% three-point percentage was 6th in the league before an 0-6 night against Sacramento. He has two game-winners this season and his clutch defensive rating is an astounding 73.9, second on the team. He’s got the second-best net rating of 1.8. Again, they’re better when he plays.

Before the season, Mitch Kupchak said he had the most talent on the roster. Monk is slowly proving him right. He still suffers from inconsistency and his finishing isn’t quite there yet, but he seems to be finally piecing things together.

Miles Bridges: B-

Bridges lost his starting job from a year ago as a result of the Gordon Hayward signing. He’s averaging 10.0 points off the bench to go along with career highs in rebounds (5.7) and assists (2.0). Much like Washington, Bridges has been a key factor in the Hornets playing small ball. Though not as frequently as Washington, Bridges has slotted in as a center sometimes.

And like Hayward, Bridges is quite close to that illustrious 50/40/90 with a 48.4/38.8/92.7 slash line. His 110.9 offensive rating is third-highest and his 10.3% rebound percentage is third-best among Hornets. He’s shooting 57.3% from three in the clutch and has the fourth-highest clutch effective field goal percentage with 77.7%.

Bridges struggles to get his own shot, and while he’s athletic enough to guard most positions, he’s not an elite defender. He is terrific on the receiving end of lobs from Ball and he’s a strong rebounder for an undersized big. His shooting has markedly improved, but the night-to-night consistency is lacking. His chemistry with LaMelo Ball, though, remains something to keep your eye on.

Bismack Biyombo: F

Biyombo has not been good. When pressed into starting in Zeller’s absence, the difference between them is glaring. He struggles to catch passes down low, and that’s a big problem on such a passing team (they’re 5th with 26.9 assists per game). He has the lowest offensive rating of all Hornets at 103.5. They’re really bad when he plays.

The fourth worst turnover ratio on the team belongs to Biyombo. His true shooting percentage of 55.4% ranks 9th on the team. For a big man who doesn’t shoot threes whatsoever, that’s incredibly low.

Only two players have a lower assist to turnover ratio than Biyombo. However, in clutch time, Biyombo’s defense ramps up. His clutch defensive rating jumps to 78.0, fourth on the team. He’s no longer on a horrendous contract, but he’s far from being a good NBA player. Oh, and they’re a team-worst -7.8 net rating when he’s on the court. Once Vernon Carey and Nick Richards are NBA ready, he may not have a job in Charlotte.

Cody Martin: D+

This Martin twin employs the highest defensive rating among Hornets players. His 23.6 assist ratio is third on the team. His 61.4% true shooting is second only to Terry Rozier. He doesn’t qualify with only four games played, but he does have a 200.0 offensive rating in the clutch.

That’s about where the good ends. He has the worst turnover ratio of any Hornet. His 105.7 offensive rating is third-worst. He can defend fairly well, but that’s about it.

Caleb Martin: D-

This Martin’s defensive rating of 108.1 is the team’s third best. He only has two clutch games, so he doesn’t qualify either, but his 66.7 clutch defensive rating would be the Hornets best. He has the fourth best turnover ratio with 9.0 and has the fourth highest assist to turnover ratio.

Again, the good list isn’t long. He has the second-lowest offensive rating, just .1 ahead of Bismack Biyombo. Second worst net rating with -4.5. They’re better when he doesn’t touch the floor. He has the second-worst effective field goal percentage at 47.5%.

James Borrego: A+

Borrego is doing an excellent job, and that’s putting it lightly. Look no further than Sunday night’s victory over the Kings. They trailed by eight with a minute to go. And sure, while they’ve performed well so far, this roster isn’t exactly flowing with talent. Borrego guided them to yet another improbable clutch victory.

They’re 11-5 in clutch games, the third-best record in such games. Their team offensive rating of 110.9 transforms to a monstrous 143.4 in clutch situations. That’s far and away from the best in the league. The 112.1 defensive ratings they sport rank 21st. Clutch time? It jumps to third with 90.4. They have a negative net rating but in clutch games, their net rating is an absurd 53.0. The next highest? Orlando with 23.4; that’s coaching.

He’s also helped develop players at an extremely high level. Turning second-round draft pick Devontè Graham into a starter and generating the Most Improved Player buzz last year is no small feat. Terry Rozier is enjoying his best year by far under Borrego this season. Miles Bridges continues to improve, as does PJ Washington.

The Martin twins wouldn’t likely contribute at all elsewhere, yet Borrego finds ways for them to impact the game. Malik Monk looked lost until Borrego was hired and he improved last year for a stretch before turning it on this year. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without Borrego, the Hornets would be floundering, rather than competing in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race.