Ten impressions of the Charlotte Hornets’ performances in China, from somewhere over Alaska:
1 Regardless of whether he becomes a starter or a reserve, mostly a point guard or frequently a shooting guard, Jeremy Lin looks like a good pickup over the offseason.
He won’t always go off, as he did with the Hornets’ first 10 points in Wednesday’s 113-71 blowout of the Los Angeles Clippers. But he’s both a scorer and a playmaker. He drew the defense in the second half to feed center Al Jefferson so open there was no one within 5 feet of him when Jefferson flipped the ball into the basket.
2 Cody Zeller looks more and more like the starter at power forward, partially because of circumstance.
He played OK Wednesday (six points, three rebounds and four assists) compared with his 16-point, 10-rebound first game in China. But in a crowd of power forwards, he’s the most logical starter in part because of the loss of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (shoulder).
It appears Marvin Williams (who’s having a terrific preseason) will play as much at small forward as at power forward. So in a dead heat between Zeller and Williams for best option at power forward, the logical step is bringing Williams off the bench at both positions.
3 Amazing what making 3-pointers will do. The Hornets hit 14 of 25 attempts from the arc Wednesday to beat the Clippers by 42 points.
Will they shoot like that every night? Of course not. But adding Lin, Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes improves what was the worst 3-point team in the NBA. I asked Clippers coach Doc Rivers about the Hornets’ ball movement. He said teams that make 3s always have better ball movement because defenses can’t crowd the lane.
4 At 4-0 they’re feeling optimistic. When I asked Lin if he was surprised how quickly the offense has come together, he noted the unselfishness: No one seems to care who scores the points so long as it happens.
This seems to be a good group. They believe they’re fast-tracking toward strong team chemistry.
5 Nicolas Batum’s statistics sneak up on you because he’s more an all-around player than a specialist in any one skill. He didn’t shoot particularly well Wednesday (3 of 8 from the field, 1 of 4 from the 3-point line), but he finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He got to the foul line seven times and made each shot.
If coach Steve Clifford chooses to go with Kemba Walker, Lin and Batum as starters, that will be three ball handlers who can get the Hornets into their offense as soon as possible. That improves pace of play and productivity.
6 Lamb’s best fit is likely as the first reserve off the bench. He’ll get his chance for minutes that eluded him in three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But he’s more suited to play those minutes primarily against the other team’s reserves.
7 Jefferson is receptive to trying something a little different offensively. He’s obviously one of the two or three best low-block scorers in the NBA. But the Hornets’ offense was looking a little stale last season when that was the only way they used his scoring skills.
Clifford is encouraging more side pick-and-rolls, particularly between Jefferson and Batum. That can open up things, particularly Jefferson’s mid-range baseline jump shot, so the offense won’t look so predictable.
8 For now, rookie lottery pick Frank Kaminsky waits his turn in the frontcourt, but I think he’ll be a factor in the rotation by midseason.
There are so many options right now – Zeller, Williams, Hawes and Tyler Hansbrough – that Kaminsky picks up a few minutes in the second half. But that doesn’t seem to be hurting his self-confidence: Wednesday he pulled up and nailed a 3-pointer.
Last season, rookie Noah Vonleh, after one season at Indiana, looked overwhelmed picking up the skills and strategy to play in a regular-season NBA game. I don’t see Kaminsky, who played all four seasons in Wisconsin before turning pro, as similar.
9 Brian Roberts is having a really good preseason. That might not matter much, as he appears destined to be the third-string point guard. But point guard is the position where knowing you can trust the third-string guy is pretty important.
10 Troy Daniels and P.J. Hairston could get left behind if their injuries don’t heal soon enough to get playing time this preseason. The depth this preseason means a different level of competition from Clifford’s previous two training camps.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell