“This is not a quick fix. We’re in this for the long haul.”
That’s how Charlotte Hornets’ coach James Borrego summed up the situation after the sort of preseason performance that would imply calamity: The rebuilding Hornets were dreadful, particularly on defense, in falling behind the Miami Heat by as much as 33 points in a 108-94 loss.
It’s the preseason. just the second of five practice games. Looking dreadful now has no tangible consequence. It’s an opportunity to review and correct. But lord, there is a lot to review and correct.
Some really basic stuff defensively was bumbled: The Hornets gave up 52 points in the lane, and allowed 15-of-37 shooting from 3-point range, They allowed the Heat to convert 21 turnovers into 25 points.
That suggests there was nothing about the Hornets defense that progressed, despite defense dominating nearly a week of training camp practice in Chapel Hill.
But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The Hornets installed the basics of a revised defense over the last 10 days, and what they were doing was pretty vanilla. Borrego simplified what was an over-complicated scheme from last season. Now, protecting the rim is the clear priority, even if that somewhat compromises defending the 3-point line.
Borrego wasn’t so bothered by the Heat’s 15 3s as by some of the wide-open looks allowed. What was more troubling was the confusion — a lack of communication, Borrego called it — that led to some Miami layups and a couple of freebie backdoor plays.
Veteran power forward Marvin Williams told teammates post-game not to panic; that it’s only two games in with a roster that includes some significant new parts. This was the first time this preseason the Hornets tried switching defensively, and they got a little exposed (there’s a premium on communication in all switching). Also, the transition defense was a bit confused on how to cross-match on the run when it’s impossible to get to your own man defensively in the fast break.
“This can all be worked out in the next two week,” Williams said of the time left before the regular-season opener against the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 23.
Some additional thoughts on Wednesday’s game:
Point guard Terry Rozier, the most important newcomer on this roster, has probably been the most solid Hornet during the two preseason games. After totaling nine points and nine assists in Boston, he scored 18 points Wednesday on 7-of-12 shooting.
Rozier’s nickname in Boston was “Scary Terry,” but perhaps here it should be “Patient Terry.” That’s the word Williams used to describe his approach to point guard, and I agree.
From afar when he played for the Celtics, I saw Rozier’s best offensive skill as bursting off the dribble, daring the defender to keep up with him. He’s that, but he’s also a ballhandler with varied speeds and the ability to stop-and-start as a dribbler. That’s valuable, particularly on a team that will struggle to find ways to score late in shot clocks.
Rozier has neither tried to do too much nor too little so far. That’s a promising sign.
The Hornets sat guard-forward Nic Batum in the second half with a sore right Achilles tendon. Borrego didn’t know the severity of the injury post-game.
I get the frustration from a large segment of Hornets fans about Batum’s production, relative to his $120 million contract. I also know this team needs Batum’s defense and ball-movement. If Batum’s injury lingers into the regular season, that will stress this team on the perimeter.
It will give opportunity to Malik Monk, who played Wednesday (10 points in 18 minutes), after missing time with a sore toe. It’s an old story with Monk; his minutes are related to how well he guards, and that’s been suspect both his prior seasons.
Rookie lottery-pick PJ Washington again played well (13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, all in the second half) after making 6-of-7 for 16 points in Boston.
If Washington is in the rotation from the start of the regular season, that is likely going to trim playing time from either Williams or center Willy Hernangomez. My guess is Hernangomez would fall to the fringe of the rotation and Williams would play as much center as power forward, making Williams and Washington the first two big men off the bench behind starters Miles Bridges and Cody Zeller.
If you’re going to make defense a priority, Williams should play. If you’re going to play Washington, then 15-year veteran Williams is the best teammate to shepherd him at both ends of the court.