One of the things Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford learned working for Jeff and Stan Van Gundy is transparency is power.
If you let players know what you expect and how you’ll use them, that’s enough. Clifford has never worried in this job about massaging egos, and the minutes distribution he employed Wednesday is something you’ll see more.
Specifically, rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon totaled a combined 20 minutes. Over the first 12 games, those two combined to average nearly 46 minutes.
Nurturing the young is not a top priority. Winning is, after the Hornets lost their fifth in a row, this time 115-107 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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Clifford said before the game he planned to use Nic Batum, back from six weeks out with a torn ligament in his left elbow, a maximum of 22 minutes. Instead, Batum played 32. He performed exceedingly well for a first game back, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, plus six assists and five rebounds.
To sum up Clifford’s message post-game, he’s determined to get the Hornets to definitive playing groups, lean on experience, and tighten up the mix of minutes going into a span when this team plays seven games in 11 days.
Monk, the 11th overall pick, totaled nine minutes. Bacon, the 40th pick, played 11, and that was primarily because he has a strong enough body to guard LeBron James (31 points, eight assists and six rebounds) when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist needed a rest.
Clifford’s post-game comments sounded like a policy statement. He played 10 guys Wednesday, and that is probably one more player in the rotation than is ideal. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams never entered the game.
“We played our better guys, our older players, more minutes, and we’re going to do that,” Clifford said. “We’ve got to get to (playing) groups, and we’ve got to play the guys who have been playing better.”
Translation: With Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist (22 points and six rebounds) back, Clifford won’t lean on the rookies. If they play, it will be because they’ve earned it, not by default and not out of obligation to where either was chosen.
“In the next six (games), we’ll play five of those against teams that were picked top 5 in either the East or the West,” Clifford said. “This isn’t the time for guys to grow up; either they’re ready to play or they’re not.”
Clifford wasn’t blasting Monk or Bacon: Monk has shown glimpses of offensive explosiveness, and has worked at playing point guard. Bacon has shown he’s rugged and unintimidated.
Rather, this was Clifford saying this team is supposed to win now, and 5-8 isn’t OK. He’s also right that the schedule is turning from charitable (four off days before this game) to brutal. That means practices will be mostly film study, to save the players’ legs for games. Not a great teaching vehicle for the inexperienced.
There are fans who will have a problem with this. They’ll call talk radio and say Monk must play. Clifford will respect fans’ right to disagree, but that won’t sway his conviction.
That’s how Jeff and Stan Van Gundy coach. That’s how Clifford coaches. It’s what they value. It’s who they are.