Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets can’t bench the bench, but something must change, and soon

There’s a pattern that when the Charlotte Hornets' bench, including Michael Carter-Williams (10), comes in, the team’s performance takes a tumble.
There’s a pattern that when the Charlotte Hornets' bench, including Michael Carter-Williams (10), comes in, the team’s performance takes a tumble. AP

Appealing as this option might sound, it’s not an option for the Charlotte Hornets to play exclusively starters all 48 minutes of an NBA game.

It would feel appropriate to bench this bench. The Houston Rockets went on a 25-0 run Wednesday night when acting coach Stephen Silas turned to his second unit. Friday the contrast wasn’t quite as stark in a 104-98 home loss to the Miami Heat, but the result was the same.

The “plus-minus” statistic measures how a team fares in the minutes an individual player is on the court. That measure can be dubious at times, particularly in a small sample.

However, Friday’s box score was telling in that fashion. All five Hornets starters were in the plus column. All six reserves who played were in the minus column.

This isn’t a new problem. The reserves were the Hornets’ biggest weakness last season, when they went 36-46 and missed the playoffs. Atop the agenda for last summer was addressing that fault.

Trading for Dwight Howard was a big step, in that it made previous starting center Cody Zeller this team’s sixth man. But Zeller is out for at least six weeks following knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

It was encouraging that Jeremy Lamb had a strong summer and his best sustained performance came early this season. The Hornets drafted Kentucky guard Malik Monk 11th in June and used what little salary-cap space they had to sign point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

It’s simply not working. Five minutes with no starters on the floor can by itself send the Hornets to defeat.

Monk has potential that infatuates, but his defense is so suspect. He picked up two immediate fouls in the Rockets game. He committed three fouls in 10 minutes Friday. His defense makes it problematic to get him on the court long enough to establish any shooting rhythm.

KaminskyV.jpg
Charlotte Hornets big man Frank Kaminsky (44) was drafted for his shooting, but Friday against the Miami Heat he shot 3-of-11 from the field. Chuck Burton AP

Frank Kaminsky was drafted for his shooting, and Friday he shot 3-of-11 from the field. Lamb hit two 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Carter-Williams offers some defense, but he’s often a non-factor offensively; Friday he took one shot in 15 minutes.

Silas is in a tough spot filling in for Steve Clifford, who missed his sixth game with an undisclosed medical issue. Silas said following morning shootaround that he needs to try to keep at least one starter on the floor with reserves as much as possible.

That will generally fall on either Kemba Walker or Nic Batum, this team’s two best playmakers. Silas had one or the other out there most of the time early in the second and fourth quarters, when the subs must play. But that has to happen even more often going forward for a 10-18 season to have any chance of being salvaged.

“That’s something I think about quite a bit, and again tonight you see the plus-minus difference,” Silas said. “Tonight, I had Nic on the floor with the second group quite a bit, and he was able to facilitate a little bit better.

“That’s something I’m still going to have to tinker with because you’re right, there is a stark difference between the starters and the reserves.”

This is a grueling 82-game season, and you can’t run your starters into the ground.

But right now, this team has run aground, and if the bench problem isn’t mitigated, the season will be lost.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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