The Charlotte Hornets have so much promise, but a major
fundamental issue is beginning to take over their season. After
another ugly blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns 137-106 on Sunday, it
was the latest showcase of an embarrassing defensive effort from
This is such a fun group oozing with NBA League Pass potential,
but you can tell constantly that a lack of any consistent defense
will eventually hold this team back from doing anything strong
throughout the 2021-22 season. Charlotte has the worst Defensive
Rating in the Association, allowing 114.8 points per 100
possessions, as it clings to a .500 record at 16-16.
Without a change on the horizon, the ship feels like it’s
beginning to sink on the Hornets' early-season promise.
LaMelo Ball is so fun to watch, as he takes a Year 2 leap to
stardom. Miles Bridges continues to keep his name in the race as a
serious contender for Most Improved Player, averaging 19.8 points
per game. Outside of those two building blocks, there’s a ton of
inexperience and inconsistency.
It’s time shake things up one way or another before the Hornets’
season falls below where their true ceiling could be. After their
31-point defeat to the juggernaut Suns, Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr.
spoke a similar tune with what went wrong.
“We were getting good shots in the first quarter but, we were
just missing. We let our offense dictate our defense,” Bridges said
postgame. “That’s just something we got to get better at cause
that’s losing us games. Our offense dictating our defense. We still
got to come in whether we’re missing shots, making shots, we still
got to come in and guard people otherwise its going to be a long
night every game.”
Oubre, a former Sun who was known for his two-way prowess during
his stint in the Valley, is a well-known energizer. As the Hornets’
sixth man, watching from the bench the whole vibe seems completely
off right now. And honestly, Oubre’s lack of effort on the
defensive end, on top of other veterans seemingly going through the
motions, was one of my biggest takeaways from their shellacking in
“Honestly, its that juice, that energy.” Oubre said. “Playing
desperate like we did in the second half against Portland. I think
we have to consistently do that every game because we have to go
harder than the other teams we face. Its mono-e-mono. Whoever goes
the hardest wins, and if we don’t come out setting the tone, it
trickles down the next three quarters.”
Over the last decade, Charlotte is right near the worst mark for
a team defensively. If it doesn’t improve, it will continue to
nosedive to more depressingly epic proportions. When looking over
the list Charlotte is in, the main theme is youthful teams with one
outlier being a team who was kept afloat thanks to a superstar.
- 2018-19 Cavs (19-63) = 116.8 DTRG
- 2020-21 Kings (31-41) = 116.5 DRTG
- 2020-21 Blazers (42-30) = 115.3 DRTG
- 2021-22 Hornets (16-16*) = 114.8
- 2019-20 Cavs (19-46) = 114.8 DRTG
Nine of the Hornets’ 16 wins this season have come when they've
scored 120 or more points, and in almost each instance they’ve
needed that much in the end to pull off the victory. A formula of
outscoring teams where the first one to 125 points gets the W
simply isn’t a sustainable recipe for success — especially over a
full 82-game schedule.
Charlotte’s starting lineup is beautiful to watch when it’s
humming at full speed. LaMelo is doing LaMelo things. Bridges’
athleticism is overpowering defenders, and he's also improving his
shooting range. Hayward and Mason Plumlee are capable tertiary
playmakers that set up Ball and Terry Rozier on both drives and
around the perimeter. When it’s fully in motion, the Hornets are
absolutely a must-watch team.
However, when it’s ugly like it was on Sunday against the Suns,
you really begin to realize just how desperate this team is in need
of a shakeup. So far this season, the Hornets’ starters are being
outscored by 5.0 points per 100 possessions in 205 total minutes.
And though Hornets head coach James Borrego's experiment — P.J. Washington playing small-ball
five in place of Plumlee — gives an offensive boost, it is a
total disaster on the other end; the starters-plus-Washington
lineup is carrying a negative-9.2 Net Rating.
Whatever the Hornets are trying to do to be competent on
defense, it’s simply not working at all. One idea I’ve been
hammering for weeks now is making an aggressive push for
Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, one of the NBA’s best shot
blockers and rim-protectors. Turner would be the ideal all-in move
to add a third piece to build around Ball and Bridges long-term in
The current outlook for the 2021-22 Hornets is a team that
starts off hot, but quickly dissipates into a disappointment and
wins around 35 games. If the Hornets don’t try to mix things up,
their defense will continue to swirl down the drain to unwatchable
“The goal right now is to stay together, stay positive, stay
optimistic, keep our heads up and move forward,” Borrego said.
Time is running out for the Hornets to find a solution.
Whichever route they decide upon will be critical for their short
and long-term success.