Recapping last night’s frustrating loss; plus, how Treveon Graham is stepping up in the rotation.
The Charlotte Hornets lost another close game last night, this time at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans. Charlotte trailed or led by one possession for much of the game, but come crunch time they couldn’t execute once again.
Dwight Howard, who continues to perform well of late, finished with a team high 22 points, and 16 rebounds. It marks the sixth straight game he’s totaled 15 or more rebounds.
He spoke with the media after the game, stressing that they cannot give up on the season:
"Guys are playing hard. We’ve just got to hold our head. You know, stay positive. The season's not over. We’ve just got to go out there and continue to fight and things will turn around." – @DwightHoward pic.twitter.com/JxjRbCmTQi
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) January 25, 2018
Howard has the right mindset. The Hornets are playing well, probably the best basketball since the start to the season in fact, but it is the same story over and over when it comes to close games. They are the worst team in the league in terms of winning close games, and there have been too many that have ended in a one or two possession loss.
And last night was so avoidable, but the Hornets went just 18-for-31 from the free throw line, and those misses extended beyond Howard. Twice a Hornets player was fouled attempting a 3-pointer, and in both cases the players made just 1-of-3. Given how important free throws have been for Charlotte this season, they can’t afford missing so many.
Treveon Graham “rising to the occasion”
Bench played has improved of late. Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb are leading the way, playing with more consistency on the offensive end. But Treveon Graham’s inclusion with the bench coincides with the rise in the play.
At The Hive’s Evan Dyal wrote a follow up piece on Graham earlier this week. Dyal made a case for Graham earlier in the season, and following Cody Zeller’s injury and Dwayne Bacon’s regression, Graham got his chance.
Graham is known for his defense, but Dyal points out how well he is shooting as an opportunistic scorer:
What this means is Graham only shoots when he is open, and if he is not shooting he is moving the ball. This has made Graham efficient in limited minutes, and it’s why he is third on the team in points per shot attempt according to Cleaningtheglass.com. Meaning he doesn’t shoot a lot, but when he does it’s a good shot, and it usually goes in.
Attempting just four shots a game, Graham is making 43.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3. It’s a low volume, but it fits when playing next to Kaminsky and Lamb, two players who need to shoot more in order to get into a rhythm. We’ve seen on a few occasions this where Graham won’t get touches in multiple offense possessions, only to pop up open from beyond the arc and knock down a crucial shot. It’s unlikely he will see an increased role offensive role this season, but it’s a building block for him. Assuming the Hornets re-sign him this summer, he could have a bigger role as he continues to improve his offensive game.
Why have the Hornets lost so many close games? Steve Clifford has an answer.
Gavin Schall from Locked on Nets schools us on NBA Draft pospects
Adam Silver on the future of NBA broadcasts
Steve Clifford reveals why he thinks the Hornets lose so many close games
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Buzzworthy: Walker snubbed from All-Star team
The 2018 All-Star reserves were named last night, but Hornets guard Kemba Walker was left out
Kemba Walker has played at an All-Star level, but won’t be representing the Charlotte Hornets at this year’s All-Star game. The selections for the 2018 All-Star reserves were named last night, and Walker didn’t make the list. For those curious, here are the Eastern Conference reserves:
— NBA (@NBA) January 24, 2018
I have no qualms about any of these — save for Kyle Lowry. I mean, come on. I understand the Hornets poor record was Walker’s undoing here, but Lowry has scaled his role back significantly last season. His shooting averages remain solid, but he’s averaging just 17 points per game, deferring to All-Star starter DeMar Derozan. More than anything, Lowry feels like the legacy pick. If the Hornets were closer to .500, Walker gets in, but Walker should get in regardless because as is painfully obvious this season, the Hornets struggle to play basketball when he isn’t on the floor. All-Stars represent players that are of high importance for their team (at least, that’s what I’m telling myself this very moment). Walker exemplifies that. Okay, maybe I’m being just a tad bit bias.
Batum happy with Clifford’s return
Since Steve Clifford returned last week, Nicolas Batum has played more aggressively. More shots are going up, and, overall, he looks more involved in the offense.
According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, it has a lot to do with the return of Steve Clifford:
That is no coincidence, Batum said Monday morning: Clifford is finding ways to get Batum, the Hornets’ best passer, more involved, particularly early in games. Sometimes that specifically means running plays featuring Batum. Other times, it just means leaning the offense more toward actions that have optimized Batum’s skill set in the past.
Batum is pleased. He says he feels in a rhythm, and he performed well in the heartbreaking loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday (which, yes, was partly his fault for turning the ball over late). Whatever your feelings about Batum, we can agree that he needs to play well, and be more involved in the offense. The ball movement increases as a result, which means better offense for the Hornets.
Clifford impressed with Kaminsky
Steve Clifford spoke well of Frank Kaminsky, stating he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career right now:
“He’s in rhythm and there is no hesitation right now. When he’s half-open, that ball is in the air. I don’t think there is anything more important for him than that. His exceptional trait, particularly for a man of his size, is to attack closeouts” when defenders over-commit to getting to him on jump shots.
Kaminsky is another polarizing figure with the Hornets. Consistency has been an issue, but as Bonnell points out, he’s scored at least 10 points in 10 of the past 13 games. That’s a mark of consistency, and it’s no wonder the bench is improving of late.
Buzzworthy: Michael Jordan addresses trade rumors surrounding Kemba Walker
Charlotte Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan addressed the rumors surrounding Kemba Walker
Michael Jordan addressed the rumors surrounding Kemba Walker, following an Adrian Wojnarowski report that detailed the Hornets attempts to engage teams for the All-Star guard.
Simply put, Jordan says the Hornets aren’t looking to trade him. Speaking via telephone with Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, Bonnell had this to say regarding MJ’s remarks:
Charlotte Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan said Monday night he’s not looking to trade point guard Kemba Walker, and would do so only if the return included a major All-Star, such as the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
Jordan acknowledges there have been discussions with other teams, and that the Hornets initiated some of them. He stresses, however, that they are not looking to trade Walker away, but remain open to all options:
“We bred him, we chose him, we groomed him to be a good player for us,” Jordan said of Walker, who the Hornets drafted ninth overall in 2011, to a great extent because Jordan saw traits in Walker that reminded him of his own playing career.
“I’m not looking to trade Kemba, but I would listen to opportunities.”
What opportunities would that be, exactly? Well, for an All-Star caliber player:
“It’s not like we are shopping him. We would not just give him up. I love Kemba Walker. I would not trade him for anything but an All-Star player.”
He also discusses the team’s disappointing season, stating that a lot of factors — Nicolas Batum’s injury, Steve Clifford’s health — have contributed to the poor season so far.
Jordan’s comments should ease those concerned Walker should be traded, but they don’t completely take it off the table. Getting an All-Star player in return is unlikely, but not impossible.
The comments do suggest Jordan isn’t of the mind of a complete rebuild, at least not yet. Trading Walker in return for an All-Star player wouldn’t quite add up if the team were looking to sell all their assets and start over.
Jordan’s comments raise a few questions over the Woj report. While I don’t doubt the information, it makes me wonder just when these engagements were made. The Hornets are playing better basketball of late, and are winners of 7 of the past 11 games. Prior to this stretch, however, they were a mess. If there was a time to make engagements, it was then, not now.
I also wonder just how significant the engagements were. Two teams — the Knicks and Mavericks — were later linked with Charlotte, but both reports indicate talks never went far. It could very well be that Charlotte was simply doing there due diligence by seeing just how interested either team was in Walker.