Perley’s Press Pass: Veterans Will Be Key to Defensive Resurgence

By Sam Perley

Head Coach James Borrego has been adamant since well before the start of Training Camp about where his Hornets need to improve the most this season – it’s on the defensive end. And with such a young roster and some big goals, he’ll be counting on a handful of experienced veterans to lead the charge on that side of the floor. 

For reference, the Hornets finished 23rd in the NBA in defense last season (112.0 points allowed per 100 possessions), a bit of a drop from 2017-18, when they finished 17th (109.0). The Milwaukee Bucks were first in the league in defense last season (104.9), the Denver Nuggets were 10th (108.1) and the Brooklyn Nets were 15th (108.1).

“Our focus right now is on the rim and the paint. Plain and simple.” said Borrego following Thursday’s practice. “We do not want to give up points at the rim and in the paint. We have the ability with our size and our athleticism to do that. We’ve been focusing on that area and transition defense, as well. Get back, set our defense, protect the paint.  

“Our goal is always to be a top-10 defense. It’ll always be our goal there, but right now, we have to take care and maximize the best defense we can be. Where that puts us this season, I don’t know. I think the best teams in this league are either top 10 offensively or defensively. I think we have a team that can push through the top 10 defensively this season.” 

Charlotte ranked 16th in the NBA in paint points allowed per game last season (49.0) and 12th in fast-break points allowed (13.3). The latter figure is probably more a reflection of the team surrendering a league-low 11.7 turnovers per game though, which likely limited transition opportunities for opposing squads.

Newcomer Terry Rozier registered an impressive individual defensive rating of 105.9 last season, a mark of 101.6 in 2017-18 and a Celtics-leading 102.7 the year before. Borrego is expecting the Louisville product’s area of expertise to rub off on the young Hornets core. 

“Effort,” said Rozier, when asked about what makes a great NBA defender. “Not giving up on plays. Always helping your teammates. A guy that’s talking out there. The guys out there making the most impactful plays are the ones using their minds, instead of speed. You can be the fastest guy out there, but if you don’t have technique, you can get beat by anybody.”

Bismack Biyombo has made his living as a rebound-grabbing, shot-blocking big man throughout his first eight NBA seasons. But rim protection is about more than just swatting the opposition’s attempts – it’s about altering and timing them as well. 

“I don’t think defense is always about blocking shots,” the Congolese native said. “It’s about being at the right place at the right time, positioning guys in the right place. Once we understand what we need to do at every position, that’ll make the defensive job easier. We have to follow the scheme, we have to know what we’re doing. For us, it’s about paying attention to details.”

Nic Batum recently won another bronze medal with the French National Team at the FIBA World Cup. Despite being the fifth-leading scorer, Batum led the team in minutes (29.9) and was second in blocks (1.1), largely because of his defensive presence and leadership. He and Borrego have already been discussing taking on a similar role this season with the Hornets.

“It was a new [French] team for us and I was the old guy for the first time,” Batum said on Media Day. “Coach [Vincent Collet] named me captain of the team. Technically, I was the big brother and mentoring. I liked my role, especially on the defensive end and offense as well. I surprised myself this summer. I was way more vocal than I used to be on the court. I think that’s something I can do this year for this team.”

Charlotte went 27-38 last season when allowing over 100 points, 15-34 when giving up more than 110 points and 1-21 when surrendering at least 120 points. With three of the team’s top five leading scorers from last season now gone, the Hornets can’t afford to be engaging in too many wild shootouts with three-point-crazy teams like Houston, Milwaukee or Atlanta. 

Yes, watching a team play great defense isn’t always the most exciting thing in an NBA world that loves its thunderous dunks, long-range baskets and ankle-breaking crossovers. But winning basketball games certainly is exciting – especially for a young team like the Hornets – and making strides on defense will be the reason they do so this season. 

Notes: Guard Malik Monk (sore right toe) and guard Joe Chealey (sprained right ankle) both missed Thursday morning’s practice… Guard Cody Martin (sprained right ankle) participated in a majority of practice after sitting out the last two days. 


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