Charlotte Defense Gets Stronger with MKG’s Return

Buzz Words | Hornets 2017-18 Season Notebook

Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout the 2017-18 NBA season and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds.

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Wednesday, October 25, 1:51 p.m.

A Charlotte defense that currently ranks fifth in the NBA will get another boost tonight with the return of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The sixth-year veteran recently rejoined the team following a personal leave and will start this evening’s game against the Denver Nuggets.

Despite the time off, Head Coach Steve Clifford stated he still planned to put Kidd-Gilchrist amongst the first stringers for a couple of reasons at this morning’s shootaround.

“First, we’ve got to get to our [regular] playing groups. I want that second unit to be more balanced that way,” said Clifford. “The other thing is the [Wilson] Chandler matchup. When there is a mismatch, [Denver] goes to Chandler a lot early in games. It’s in the post and Mike’s the best guy to guard him there.”

Chandler finished as the Nuggets’ third-leading scorer last season (15.7 points), while four-time All-Star power forward Paul Millsap also signed with the team over the summer. The combination of these two players plus center Nikola Jokic has made Denver’s offense extremely potent.

As for Kidd-Gilchrist, he ranked tied for fourth in the league amongst all small forwards last season in defensive real plus-minus (2.47 points per 100 defensive possessions). He also averaged career highs in steals (1.0) and blocks (1.0) over the course of the 2016-17 NBA campaign as well.

The Kentucky product’s return could strengthen a Charlotte defensive unit that has looked impressive through its first three games. The Hornets are currently allowing 95.6 points per 100 defensive possessions, a mark that trails only the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio, Toronto and Portland this year.

The team also ranks first in the league this season in both defensive rebounding percentage (86.4 percent) and opposing free-throw attempts per game (14.0), fifth in rebounding differential (+8.4) and eighth in opposing three-point percentage (30.5 percent).

Denver finished with the league’s fifth-best offense last year (110.0 points per 100 offensive possessions), although sits in 18th place through three outings this season (101.0). The Nuggets are also currently averaging a NBA-high 20.0 turnovers per game, but do have the 10th-best defense (101.0 points per 100 defensive possessions) after finishing 29th in 2016-17 (110.5).

Continuing to lock down on defense and capitalizing on turnovers will be imperative for Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets as they look to begin a three-game homestand with a seventh win in nine attempts against the Nuggets.


Charlotte Rookies Making Strides in Preseason

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Wednesday, October 11, 12:11 p.m.

With just one week remaining until the start of the regular season, the Charlotte Hornets are back on the floor Wednesday night to take on the Boston Celtics for their first preseason home appearance. So far, one of the biggest storylines over the last couple of weeks has been the impressive play of the team’s two rookie draft picks, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, who are picking things up quicker than some expected.

“We knew Malik could score. We knew Dwayne could score, too. It was all just going to be if they could get the defense down and they’ve done that well,” said third-year forward Frank Kaminsky. “They’re getting better and better each time and you can see it in the shootaround. They’re just mentally further along than I thought they’d be on defense.”

Bacon is expected to start tonight for the injured Jeremy Lamb (groin) with Monk continuing to see extended minutes in the second unit, which is where he’ll likely spend a majority of the regular season.

Monk currently ranks second on the team and third amongst all NBA rookies in preseason scoring this year (14.3 points per game), while Bacon is coming off a 12-point, eight-rebound performance in Miami two days ago. The former Florida State Seminole is also tied for 11th amongst NBA rookies in preseason rebounding (5.0). With a banged-up Hornets backcourt, the pair knows they are being counted on even more despite their rookie status.

“Kemba told me [I wasn’t a rookie] as soon as I got drafted,” recalled Monk. “He sent me a text and said like the rookie thing is out the window. I really wasn’t considering myself a rook, but [my teammates] call me rook, so I got to take that,” he said with a smile.Bacon added, “I feel good about [being counted on]. I don’t feel like it adds pressure on. I just feel like they expect us to mature a lot quicker than we were supposed to. I’m perfectly fine with that.”

Although the Hornets are dealing with a handful of injuries right now, the team’s two first-year players seen to have firmly taken advantage of their increased opportunities.


Hornets Open Preseason Against New-Look Celtics

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Monday, October 2, 10:43 a.m.

The Charlotte Hornets hit the road to kick off their five-game preseason schedule Monday night as they take on a very different-looking Boston Celtics squad. This will be the first of two preseason matchups for the Hornets against the Celtics as the teams will also meet again in Charlotte on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Following practice on Friday afternoon, Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford pinpointed the biggest benefit gained from the team’s first preseason outing.

“These first couple of preseason games, really seeing where [we’re] at organizationally and what things you have to work on. It just gives you more than anything else a teaching tool to make progress going forward.”

Even though it’s a preseason contest, executing a normal, gameday routine will still be a focal point for the Hornets come Monday.

“It’s [our] chance to get used to the way we do shootaround, this is the way we do team prep,” Clifford added. “This first [preseason] game is hard obviously because [Boston] will have four new starters. Once you’ve played a game, it’s basically your chance to get a process down.”

Despite finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular standings last season, the Celtics have just four returning players after a dramatic summer overhaul. Gone are the likes of Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland), Avery Bradley (Detroit), Jae Crowder (Cleveland), Amir Johnson (Philadelphia) and Kelly Olynyk (Miami) and in come Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and third-overall draft pick Jayson Tatum.

During Charlotte’s opening preseason contest last year against Dallas, all five starters saw between 22 and 24 minutes played. After the team’s Sunday morning practice, Clifford stated he plans to have the first string see a similar amount of action against Boston.

From an injury standpoint, both point guard Michael Carter-Williams (knees) and forward Treveon Graham (hamstring) will be unavailable for Charlotte on Monday night.

While the final outcome of Monday’s game is entirely inconsequential, the level of execution and chemistry the Hornets exhibit should be a valuable measuring stick for the team moving forward.