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Buzz Words | Hornets Regular Season Notebook: Day 128

Post-All-Star Break Begins, Parker Returns to Practice, Biyombo Elected NBPA VP
by Sam Perley

Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout the 2018-19 NBA Regular 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 | Thursday, Feb. 20, 9:12 AM

The Eastern Conference’s Mad Dash to the Playoffs

  • According to Hoopshype.com, Charlotte has the NBA’s second-toughest schedule the rest of the season (.541) and toughest in the East. Only Oklahoma City’s is more challenging (.572).
  • Seven of the team’s next eight games are at home. The Hornets are 9-2 at Spectrum Center since Dec. 15.
  • The Hornets currently sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. Seven of their next 12 games are against either Brooklyn (6th), Miami (T-8th) or Washington (11th).
  • Charlotte’s head-to-head season series with fellow playoff-contending teams (all best of four): Brooklyn (1-1), Miami (2-0), Detroit (3-0), Orlando (2-1) and Washington (0-1).

Defensive Improvements Needed for Postseason Push

  • Charlotte entered the All-Star Break ranked 14th in the NBA in offensive rating (110.2) and 21st in defensive rating (110.9).
  • Over their last five games (1-4), the Hornets are 24th amongst all teams in both offensive (106.4) and defensive (117.1) rating and 27th in net rating (-10.7).
  • Charlotte currently sits first in the NBA in lowest turnover percentage (12.4%), fourth in made free throw differential (+2.3) and ninth in opposing offensive rebounds per game (9.9).

Parker Feeling Better, Ready for Stretch Run

  • Tony Parker missed the team’s final four-and-half games heading into the All-Star Break with back soreness, likely contributing to the 1-4 stretch.
  • The Hornets are just 1-9 this season without Parker in the lineup, although all these games have been on the road and a handful on the tail end of back-to-backs.
  • “I feel a lot better and ready to go,” said Parker after Wednesday’s practice. Coach Borrego added, “We’ve really missed him in a tremendous way... He looks good. He did every bit of practice… I think we’re trending the right way with him physically and we’re going to need him.”

Biyombo Named a NBPA Vice President

  • Over All-Star Weekend, Bismack Biyombo was named a Vice President for the National Basketball Players Association’s Executive Committee.
  • Most recently the Hornets’ player representative, Biyombo will serve a three-year term and now work in closer proximity with the NBA and Players’ Union.
  • Additional incoming Executive Committee VP’s include Malcolm Brogdan (Milwaukee) and Jaylen Brown (Boston). Andre Iguodala (Golden State) was elected First VP of the NBPA after previously serving on the Executive Committee since 2013.

Defense Trending Upward, Zeller’s Recovery, Williams’ 3-PT Shooting and More

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Thursday, Jan. 24, 11:33 AM

Defense Improving Since Six-Game Western Conference Road Trip

  • Weeks from now, Charlotte’s win in San Antonio on Jan. 14 could be viewed as a ‘turning-point’ game of sorts, although the real turning point might have been in Portland three nights earlier. A 127-96 blowout loss to the Blazers was riddled with low energy and a lack of physicality, perhaps serving as a major wake-up call for the team’s defense.
  • Since then, the Hornets have posted a defensive rating of 108.6, which is the ninth-best mark in the league between Jan. 13-23 (6 GP). Over their previous five games from Jan. 2-11, the Hornets were third to last in the NBA in defensive rating (121.6).
  • “I think it’s just an overall disruption. We’ve gotten more pressure on the ball. More physical getting through screens,” said Coach Borrego on Jan. 18. “I think the offenses are just feeling us more. They’re not able to run their stuff as clean as they’re used to.”

    Cody Zeller’s Ongoing Recovery from Hand Surgery

  • After breaking his right hand on Dec. 31 and then having surgery four days later, Cody Zeller is now halfway through the high end of a projected 4-6 week recovery timetable.
  • “I’m able to do a little bit of stuff on the court – obviously left-handed stuff,” said Zeller on Jan. 17. “My knee, my rib, everything else is healing up well. Trying to kind of take this off time to my advantage… I’ll probably be in better shape when I return even before I got hurt.”
  • This is the third straight season Zeller has had a lengthy absence because of an injury. Thankfully, this most recent ailment doesn’t involve a lower extremity like a knee or ankle, which would impact his conditioning.
  • Zeller currently ranks third in the NBA behind Rudy Gobert and Tristan Thompson in screen assists per game (5.3) and second behind Gobert in points off screen assists per game (12.2).

    After Slow Start, Williams Heating Up From 3-Point Range

  • Marvin Williams started his 14th NBA season shooting an uncustomary 20.5 percent from three-point range over his first 10 outings. Since then, he’s shot 42.6 percent on long-range attempts.
  • The vet has knocked down multiple three-pointers in 12 of his last 13 outings, a stretch that includes a 42.1 percent conversion rate from distance.
  • Williams currently ranks fourth amongst qualified NBA PF in total three-point makes (92) and tied for fourth in three-point percentage (38.7 percent) this season. He shot a career-high 41.3 percent from distance last year.

    Trade Deadline Now Two Weeks Away

  • The NBA Trade Deadline is now two weeks away as teams have until 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 7 to get their deals into the league office. Last year, the Hornets acquired Willy Hernangómez from the New York Knicks in exchange for Johnny O’Bryant and two future second-round picks.
  • While it remains to be seen if or when the Hornets do indeed make a deal, they have a slew of future picks to utilize, if necessary. As of now, they currently own all of their future first-round picks, although none of their second-round picks from 2019-21. They do have incoming second-round picks from Oklahoma City and Washington/Denver this summer, Brooklyn/New York and Cleveland next summer and Brooklyn and the L.A Clippers in 2021 (six total from 2019-21).

    Borrego, Parker Return to Familiar Grounds in San Antonio

    By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Monday, Jan. 14, 9:12 AM

    The final stop on the Hornets’ season-long six-game road trip is in San Antonio, where current Head Coach James Borrego and point guard Tony Parker spent a combined 27 NBA seasons working/playing for the Spurs. It’s the first time the two have returned to the city since joining the Hornets last summer, making this appearance a soon-to-be memorable homecoming.

    “I haven’t thought too much about it yet,” said Borrego prior to the team’s game in Sacramento on Saturday night. “I think Tony’s going to be great. I think they’ll receive him well. I’m looking forward to it for him. I expect a warm reception, but I haven’t given it much thought. Tony’s been a major pillar there for many, many years and I know they’ll appreciate having him back.”

    Borrego got his start in the NBA with the Spurs as an assistant video coordinator beginning in 2003. He worked his way up to the role of assistant coach and was part of two title-winning teams before departing for New Orleans (2010-12) and then Orlando (2012-15). He returned to San Antonio in 2015, where he spent the last three seasons before the Hornets hired him.

    Borrego has made a handful of trips back to San Antonio while working for other teams, although never as a head coach. Oddly enough, Borrego’s final game as an assistant in Orlando before he became the team’s interim head coach was in San Antonio on Feb. 4, 2015. It’ll be a different dynamic this time around though, as he’s come full circle after over 15 years in the league.

    As for Parker, he was drafted 28th overall by the Spurs in the 2001 NBA Draft and two seasons later, won the first of his four championship rings. The Frenchman eventually won the 2007 Finals MVP, making him the first international player trained outside the United States to garner this award. He sits fourth on the franchise’s all-time scoring leaderboard (18,943 points), first in assists (6,829) and fifth in steals (1,032).

    “It’ll really look weird won’t it?” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich rhetorically asked when broached about seeing Parker in a different uniform in an interview on ESPN.com. “We talk frequently and he’s always going to be part of my thoughts. He’s a special young man. I always felt like a second daddy to him over the years and he’s been like a son in all kinds of ways. He’s a friend for life and somebody I’ll always care about.”

    Plans for Parker’s return are still to be determined, but the night will likely include a tribute video and perhaps visits from former Spurs teammates like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginóbili. Of the San Antonio Spurs’ famous ‘Big Three’, Parker is the only one to every play for a different franchise.

    For a player as decorated, adored and respected as Parker is in San Antonio, his return will certainly be understandably emotional for all parties involved. He’ll always be remembered as a Spur and whenever he does decide to hang it up, his #9 will swiftly be retired by his former organization.

    Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstances though is the Hornets do have a game to play against a Spurs team that has been rolling in recent weeks. Picking up a badly-needed road victory would not only be a great way to end a long, tough trip, but would likely be especially satisfying for Coach James Borrego and Tony Parker.

    Analyzing the Hornets’ 6-Game, 11-Day Western Conference Road Trip

    By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Thursday, Jan. 3, 11:12 AM

    One of the lengthiest road trips in recent years for the Charlotte Hornets officially gets underway on Saturday afternoon as the team kicks off a grueling six-game, eleven-day journey out west beginning with the Denver Nuggets. Having already played more home games than any other team in the league through the start of 2019, this upcoming trek will be extremely important for the squad, potentially even season-defining.

    • After Saturday’s game in Denver, the Hornets take on Phoenix the following evening and the L.A. Clippers two days later. That stretch is followed by another back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against Portland and Sacramento and then wraps up in San Antonio on Monday night.
    • Through Jan. 2, these six opponents hold a combined 61-43 record at home this season (.586) and are all above .500 overall with the exception of the Suns (9-30). Excluding Phoenix, the other five teams are 56-28 at home (.667).
    • The Hornets haven’t had a six-game road trip entirely in the Western Conference since Jan. 25 – Feb. 3, 2010. Charlotte went 3-3 against Denver (L), Phoenix (W), Golden State (W), Sacramento (W), Portland (L) and the Los Angeles Lakers (L).
    • Charlotte currently owns a 4-11 road record. Through Jan. 2, every other Eastern Conference team except for Cleveland and Washington has at least five road wins this season.
    • Two of these upcoming visiting arenas have been unfriendly confines for the Hornets in recent years. Charlotte hasn’t emerged victorious at Portland’s Moda Center since March 28, 2008 (10 straight losses) or at San Antonio’s AT&T Center since Nov. 15, 2006 (11 straight losses). The Hornets have also dropped eight-straight road games to the L.A. Clippers at the Staples Center, dating back to their most recent win on Feb. 28, 2009.
    • The Hornets have won three of their last five games in Denver, two of their last four games in Phoenix and three straight games in Sacramento.
    • The final leg against the Spurs will be a homecoming for Hornets Head Coach James Borrego and point guard Tony Parker. Borrego spent 10 years in San Antonio as an assistant, while Parker won four titles and an NBA Finals MVP during his 17-year tenure with the Spurs.
    • Cody Zeller will very likely be out for the duration of this trip and more after suffering a fractured right hand in Sunday’s home win over the Orlando Magic. This marks the first major, multi-week injury for any Hornet player this season.
    • As of Jan. 3, starting shooting guard Jeremy Lamb is still day to day with a right hamstring strain. It is still unknown when or if he will rejoin the Hornets on this road trip. In a corresponding move, two-way rookie J.P. Macura was recalled from the Greensboro Swarm and finished with four points in his NBA debut on Wednesday night.
    • According to NBA.com, the Hornets will play a league-high 10 road games this month with another three-game trip against Indiana, Memphis and Milwaukee from Jan. 20-25. They’ll also play in Boston on Jan. 30.

    Borrego Building Culture of Readiness, Flexibility in Charlotte

    By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Thursday, December 20, 3:34 p.m.

    Wednesday’s home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers was just the latest example of Hornets Head Coach James Borrego being open to constantly adjusting and shuffling his rotations on a nightly basis. In this instance, he shifted to a nine-man rotation (usually 10) for the final two-and-half quarters and used Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams at the center position. This is one of just a handful of recent observations as this season rounds the two-month mark.

    • With the rotation fluctuating here and there, it’s forced nearly half the Hornets roster to be prepared for varying roles at a moment’s notice. Borrego spoke after practice on Thursday about the expectations he has regarding this dynamic.
    • “The system I’m out of [in San Antonio], all 15 guys are ready. Any given night a Patty Mills could come in the game and save us. A Dāvis Bertāns,” said Borrego, referencing two Spurs players. “I want our guys to have that faith and trust in me that if they stay ready, their number could be called at any time.”
    • Decisions on who plays and who doesn’t play can also be based on the opposing team. Facing bigger, more physical teams (like Detroit, Oklahoma City, Denver, etc.) might mean playing Bismack Biyombo over Frank Kaminsky. And vice versa, a team that struggles to defend the perimeter might see more Malik Monk and less Tony Parker.
    • Charlotte wraps up its longest homestand of the season on Friday against Detroit, a team its already beaten twice this year. With much of their schedule backloaded with away games, there’s an increasing emphasis on winning at Spectrum Center.
    • Borrego has continued to prioritize consistent defense, something that wasn’t present in the team’s losses to the Knicks and Lakers on Dec. 14-15. Charlotte is currently 16th in the NBA in defensive rating (109.0) and now eighth in offensive rating (111.2). Ideally, you want to be top-10 in both areas.
    • Too often, the Hornets’ defensive lapses have become a direct byproduct of any offensive struggles that arise. Borrego said that because offense is so challenging to guard in today’s league, it can take a lot out of players on the other end.
    • “[Basketball] is one of those cyclical games,” said Borrego. “Your offense affects your defense and your defense affects your offense. The way we’re asking our guys to defend, it takes an extreme amount of effort to get stops, defensively… It’s my job to keep them fresh and keep them moving.”
    • The Hornets have continued to play fast this season, sitting 13th in the NBA in pace through Dec. 19 (101.15 possessions per 48 minutes). Faster pace doesn’t necessarily correlate to more wins though. It’s about being efficient and making the most of each possession.

    Past, Present and Future for the Hornets After One Month of the 2018-19 Season

    By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Thursday, November 15, 1:40 p.m.

    The Charlotte Hornets are a few days away from hitting the one-month checkpoint of the season and the identity of this team continues to come into form with more and more games mounting. It’s been a mixed bag of results so far as the squad gears up for a home-friendly schedule the next few weeks.

    • Like all teams trying to get over the hump, consistency (particularly on defense) has been a work in progress for the Hornets. Some nights, they look unbeatable on both ends of the floor and other nights (like Tuesday’s game in Cleveland in particular), nothing seems to be clicking.
    • “Any good team, there’s consistency,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego after Thursday’s practice. “We got to be more consistent as a team. When we win a game, we got to back it up and win a second one, a third one. That’s what good teams do... Maybe we relax, maybe our opponents take us a little more seriously [after a win]. Through all that, we have to become a more consistent team from game in to game out.”
    • The inability to win close games continues to be a challenge for the Hornets as they are just 1-5 in contests decided by four points or fewer. That’s an encouraging number in the sense that the team is a few plays away from being 10-4 instead of 7-7. But as the saying goes, you are what your record says you are.
    • Following Tuesday’s season-low seven-point outing in Cleveland, Kemba Walker is still ranked tied for sixth in the league in scoring (26.4 PPG) and second in total three-point field goals (52). Walker is also averaging a career-high 6.3 APG, which is 17th in the NBA.
    • Amongst the nine Charlotte players averaging at least 15.0 minutes per game this season, Tony Parker leads the team in offensive rating (113.4) while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is first in defensive rating (102.6).
    • The Hornets are third in the league in bench scoring (48.7 PPG), although average the seventh-fewest points per game amongst starters (65.9 PPG).
    • A reoccurring topic all summer and through training camp was the Hornets increasing pace this season. The team is averaging 100.71 possessions per 48 minutes, the 17th-fastest mark in the league. Atlanta is first in this category (107.00), while Memphis is last (96.31).
    • The Hornets are giving up 13.8 second-chance points per game, 12th most in the league. Last season, they allowed the fewest per outing (10.7), after surrendering the third fewest in 2016-17 (11.4). However, the team is tied for the fifth-most second-chance points scored per game (15.4), after finishing 10th last year (13.1).
    • While the Hornets sit first in the league in turnovers per game (11.9), that number is almost nullified by the NBA’s third-worst giveaway differential (-2.9).
    • The upcoming three-game homestand features matchups with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. Charlotte is currently riding eight and seven-game losing streaks against the first two, respectively, and split the season series with the Pacers last year.
    • “We need to take it one game at time,” said Kemba Walker on Thursday, when asked about the upcoming home stretch. “That’s all we can do. Right now, we’re just focused on Saturday against Philadelphia. We’ll look forward to the other games after the outcome on Saturday.”
    • At home, Charlotte is first in the league in offensive rating (117.1), second in net rating (12.0) and 10th in defensive rating (105.1). Their next three opponents are a combined 11-15 on the road this season through Nov. 14.

    Although Still Early in the Season, 2018-19 Hornets Starting to Take Shape

    By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Monday, October 29, 2:01 p.m.

    Coming off a tough 105-103 loss in Philadelphia two nights ago, the Charlotte Hornets begin a four-game homestand starting Tuesday evening against the Miami Heat. The team is just seven games into its schedule, but there are already a handful of trends and observations to keep an eye on moving forward.

    • It’s difficult to make heads or tails of the Hornets offensive and defensive ratings with the team having played in three blowouts and four games decided by three points or less. Charlotte currently ranks T-9th in the NBA in net rating (+5.3 points per 100 possessions) with the next closest sub-.500 team posting a mark of 0.1.
    • To nobody’s surprise, Kemba Walker has been the team’s best offensive player this season. Through Oct. 28, Walker is ranked third in the NBA in scoring (31.7 PPG) and second in three-point makes (32).
    • A true secondary scorer as yet to emerge on the Hornets roster though. Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller have all shown flashes, but nobody sticks out as an overwhelming frontrunner in this category.
    • Taking his rookie status into account, Bridges has looked exceptional for the Hornets. He and reigning first overall pick, DeAndre Ayton, of the Phoenix Suns are the only first year-players averaging at least 9.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 1.0 APG while shooting 60.0 percent or better from the field.
    • As a team, Charlotte is ranked sixth in the NBA in three-point attempts (35.4 PG) and 12th in three-point percentage (36.7 percent). Last year, the Hornets ranked 21st with 27.2 such shots per outing. Head Coach James Borrego wanted to shoot more threes this season and so far, the Hornets definitely are.
    • The team is indeed playing faster this season compared to last (100.79 – 98.74) possessions per 48 minutes), although the Hornets are 22nd in the NBA in this category compared to an 11th place finish last year.
    • Coach Borrego is still mixing and matching his rotations a bit, particularly at the center position. Cody Zeller is the starter at the five, but Bismack Biyombo has gotten some increased minutes lately due in part to his physicality, defensive skillset and rim protection.
    • That being said, the Hornets rank second in the league right now with 7.6 blocks per outing, trailing only the Milwaukee Bucks (7.7). Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have each accounted for 12 swats apiece, with Biyombo (7) and Batum (6) right behind the pair.
    • In what hopefully continues to be an on-going trend, the Hornets have had zero major injuries. Not only is this important with regards to on-court production, but it’s allowed increased repetition for playing groups and combinations as the squad continues to get its bearings this season.
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