In the last thirteen games of this shorter season James Borrego displayed a good amount of changes in the rotation that allowed him to organize his offense in a different way. All Hornets fans still have in mind JB’s words about a fast paced team, shooting a lot of threes, and play a modern brand of basketball. Nothing of that has happened during his first two years as Charlotte head coach and this is widely related to the personnel he had to deal with.
NBA coaches have to change their style looking at where the team is good or bad, and that’s what Borrego did in the first two years. Things are changing in Charlotte, bad contracts are expiring and the front office is starting to build a team that is suited to JB’s play style through free agency and draft.
This year we saw the rotation being shaken with Kemba Walker’s departure and with the roster being built by mostly young players. As the season progressed players that had a big role in recent years like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Nic Batum were no more playing or left the team. That allowed JB to try out different things like having different solutions at the Center position or playing multiple skilled forwards that can handle the ball.
Borrego offensive mindset lean towards to what teams like Dallas or Milwaukee try to do, but to arrive at that level you need unique players with a good amount of talent in the roster and, you know, the Hornets just aren’t there. The thing with these ideas is that JB tried to push a bit more in the last games of the year, and we will try to understand what can be traslated in the future.
Offensive principles on the floor
Before we start it is important to underline that because of the lack of a true modern center it is not proper to talk about a 5 out offense, especially when PJ Washington is not out there playing the small ball center. For the majority of the time Zeller, Biyombo and Hernangomez were on the court and no one of them is capable of stretching the floor. JB tried to solve this problem while using them for high screens or giving them the ball for DHOs or give and go situations with the ball handler, but that was not enough for the offense to be good.
In the clip we can easily see how Borrego tried to solve that problem. Zeller is at the top of the arc with the ball and the Hornets go for a delay action as on both sides of the floor the play can be run. All the player aside from the center are on the perimeter. Here Rozier fakes the pick and Graham does a great job moving the ball.
The heavy use of schemes like the delay action and the chicago action allowed Borrego to achieve spacing even without a true center to build a 5 out offense. It is much more proper to look at our offensive scheme as a 4 out, that still guaranteed the team to operate in some directions.
The first thing that impressed me with the new lineups and the overall organization of the offense is Devonte’ Graham percentage at the rim. During the year Te’ had a rough time at going and finishing at the basket, but as the season progressed teams tried to run him out of the 3pt line giving him the chance to be a better finisher. If we add this to the willingness of playing small and open the court we can explain how his percentages at the rim went from an awful 34.6% to a much better 41.7%. Numbers are still low but you gotta considered that he is undersized and that attacking the rim isn’t his bread and butter.
As we can see from the clip, the spacing was great during the stretch even with the problem of not having a consisten stretch 5. After a ghost screen by Miles, Devonte’ is able to go downhill and display his floater game, which improved too in addition to his rim finishing. Overall his 2P% went from a 39.7% to a good 46.4% during that stretch.
2P% is going to be the key for Devonte’ heading into the next season as we’ve seen the great impact he can have while shooting 3’s. Teams are adapting to his game and he need to be consistent in other areas in order to help the Hornets succeed, but he will need to be helped with great spacing and different schemes.
Another element that Borrego wanted to improve is giving Miles the space to get downhill easily and more often. Bridges started to have the ball in his hands in a lot more situations in his sophomore year and he showed a lot of problems at attacking the basket continuously. The main source of his problems is related to his inability to handle the ball, especially in traffic. That didn’t let him to show his explosiveness as he was forced to settle for contested runners or jump hooks.
In order to help him Borrego tried different situation with either him or PJ driving to the basket after some movement to clear the space and allow them to finish with less problems. In this action we have Zeller at the top of the key directing traffic and clearing the dunker spot, he plays the DHO with Bridges who just need to beat his man while the other players are on the perimeter giving him the right space. This also shows how much is important to have a 5 who can properly handle and pass the ball.
Another example of action used by Borrego is displayed in the next clip. Bridges has the ball at the top of the arc, Rozier and Biyombo cut in order to move the defense while Cody Martin goes for the ghost screen to bait the switch. Siakam focuses on Martin for one second and loses Bridges who has the space to finish with his runner.
The same principles were applied for PJ Washington. He has better handles and he is better overall at getting to the rim than Bridges, but they were treated the same way. As we can see in the next clip, after a ghost screen, PJ is able to go one on one with his defender and easily reach the basket.
Washington displayed good things during his rookie season, that’s why Borrego tried to exploit his versatility in order to discover new options. Using him as a small ball 5 was one of the keys for getting more spacing and to open new possibilities for the offense. Having a player as a 5 that has his characteristic can open a lot of scenarios for a team, this should be the key for the future moves roster wise. However no one is sure that he can handle that position for a ton of minutes in the future.
The next clip shows us one good option that a team can run with a stretch 5. We can see that 3 players are on the perimeter on the weak side, spacing the floor. PJ and Cody Martin play a side pick and roll in which the #25 pops out and, after the drive, he is in the corner hitting the three pointer.
With the departure of Marvin Williams, PJ was able to shift to the small ball 5 much more than the first part of the season. Add this to a heavier use of forwards like Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels and you have 5 players on the floor who can drive and space the floor. The possibility to attack the closeouts allowed offense to create better looks and to move the defense.
The next video is everything we would like to see for our offense going forward. 5 players that can handle the ball, shoot it and pass it. In this particular case we have three drives with a great ball movement in order to pursuit the best shot available.
The last offensive key opened by a good spacing is offensive rebounding. With Miles, PJ, McDaniels, and the Martin twins ready to attack the board it is easy to threath the other team, especially if this long forwards can get to the right spot running from the perimeter. Here you can see 5 players on the 3 point line, PJ included, with McDaniels and Bridges reaching the interior without problems as the shot goes in the air.
Transition to the future
The Hornets were not great on offense the whole year because an overall lack of talent in the roster. For the majority of the year Devonte’ Graham almost carried the whole offensive load alone but going on with the season opponents decided to change the way they defended the Hornets. This forced Borrego to try out different things, but he really needs the right personnel to pursue his ideas.
The roster costruction should follow the principles we underlined up here like pursuing skilled and versatile players with the ability to handle, pass and shoot the ball. Also, in order to play a proper 5 out offense you would need a stretch big that does what Lopez and Porzingis do for the Bucks and the Mavs. Easier said than done, but this should be the goal going forward while looking at both free agents or college players.
JB is a young coach which still does make a huge amount of mistakes, but he displayed some good ideas talking about offensive schemes, allowing him to have better suited players will surely make his job a lot more easier.