The Charlotte Hornets are 4-1, which was tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference through Saturday’s games. That’s a small sample in an 82-game season, but it indicates progress. Five thoughts on the fast start:
Kidd-Gilchrist makes a difference
There has always been a sense the Hornets play better when small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is healthy and available. It was somewhat intuitive, but that didn’t make it less valid.
Here’s something quantifiable: He’s the best rebounding small forward in the NBA. He’s averaging 9.2 boards per game in those first five games, and that is exceptional for his position.
Can he sustain those numbers? Probably not, but at seven rebounds per game, he’d still be rare among players at his position. Guys 6-foot-7 aren’t supposed to dominate on the boards, but he has so far.
On a team that highly values possessions (low-turnover, low-foul), defensive-rebounding percentage is important to coach Steve Clifford’s formula. The Hornets are fourth in the NBA in this category and that counts for a lot.
Equipped to switch
The NBA is evolving away from the classic formula of two big men, two wing players and a point guard. Look at the Milwaukee Bucks, for instance, who starts 6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo at the point.
The counter-measure to this is mid-sized players who can guard a wide variety of scorers. That allows a team to switch defensively, which cuts down on the need for complicated defensive rotations.
In Kidd-Gilchrist, Nic Batum and Marvin Williams, the Hornets have those players who are equipped and comfortable with those defensive switches. So, even with rim-protector Roy Hibbert out for most of the start with a sore knee, they have played stretches of great defense.
Stick to the script
The talent on this team isn’t overwhelming. As Clifford said before Friday’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets, there are things they can’t do that a team with a 25-points-every-game scorer can.
But they are very compliant to the plan. An excellent example: Clifford thinks NBA teams with a small margin for error must excel at avoiding fouls and turnovers. Through five games, the Hornets committed the fewest turnovers in the league and the fourth-fewest fouls.
Think of this in a football sense, where time of possession is a kept statistic. The longer the Hornets possess the ball, even if they don’t score off every possession, the less opponents possess the ball. It matters.
Road to success
They are undefeated on the road at 3-0. Granted, the Bucks and Nets might not be the toughest of opponents, but keep in mind that winning in Miami has been one of the toughest challenges for the Hornets the past few seasons.
If they keep up this defensive efficiency (fifth in the NBA at .947 points per possession) I can see them winning 15 to 20 road games.
Play for each other
The word "chemistry" is overused in sports, in part because it’s so hard to define. Any time a team plays well, you can chalk it up to good chemistry and it’s hard to debate otherwise.
But this is different. The Hornets play in an unselfish way that is good for the group. There’s a reason for that. Kemba Walker, Williams, Kidd-Gilchrist and Batum have all played on bad NBA teams and they are sick of it. They set the agenda for the room.
Jeremy Lin talked about this Friday: How the way the Hornets functioned last season is how every basketball team should play.
It won’t win a title this season because they don’t have that kind of talent. But it makes them competitive and entertaining.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell