The Charlotte Hornets are who we thought they were. And that is not a bad thing. 

Was the Hornets’ start surprising? Yes. We have experienced exciting developments we did not expect. Devonte’ Graham has lit the league on fire. Malik Monk has gone through ups-and-downs this season–the highs were great, including his game-winner against the Pistons. P.J. Washington has arguably been the biggest surprise among rookies. Who would have thought that Terry Rozier would lead the NBA as the best catch-and-shoot three-point shooter? All were pleasant surprises in a year not-so-stocked full of memorable moments. 

Charlotte currently holds the NBA’s largest losing streak at 7 games. They lost their most previous game to the Orlando Magic on Monday by 23 points. With a 15-30 record heading into the team’s game in Paris Friday afternoon, the season does not get any easier for the Hornets. 

The Hornets Have Come Back To Reality – Did They Ever Really Leave?

With 37 games left to go in the 2019-20 campaign, FiveThirtyEight projects the Hornets to finish with the league’s 4th worst record, tied with the Atlanta Hawks at 25-57. You would think the Hornets could certainly finish the season with more than 10 wins but when you look at their remaining schedule, it tells you differently. Charlotte’s strength of schedule for the remainder of the season is 11th in the NBA, per Tankathon

With a difficult schedule to finish out the season, more losing streaks seem all the more likely. But, as P.J. Washington tweeted the other day, there “Aint no losing. Just learning.” That’s what this Hornets team will do. It’s not a time to stop watching their games or to give up hope. Come back to reality.

The Hornets came into the season projected to win 23.5 games, according to Caesar’s. If you’re currently frustrated with watching the Hornets play, take a step back and glance back on the expectations this team had entering this season. Every player on this team is in a newly-elevated role, getting put in new situations on the basketball court on a nightly basis. These young Hornets are in a major adjustment period. Losses are inevitable.

With more losses on the horizon, changes are likely to be made. The Hornets are a team in rebuild mode, focused on player development. This is a great opportunity for Charlotte to do several things. The rotation can be shaken up, the Hornets can tap into the talent pipeline and call up players from Greensboro, and the team can be active in the trade market to acquire future assets and young players. 

Borrego’s Rotation Continues To Shift

One thing James Borrego told the media at the beginning of the season was that no one was guaranteed minutes. Each player was going to have to earn every minute he spent on the floor. That trend has continued past the halfway mark this season. JB has received some scrutiny surrounding his decision to continue to give minutes to players such as Nicolas Batum over other young players. Having a healthy balance of veteran and young players is necessary, but not at the detriment of a young player’s development.

As previously mentioned, the Hornets’ season has gone in a direction many predicted. They will have one of the highest lottery odds for this June’s draft. With losses comes learning–and higher draft picks. Droughts without frequent wins can weigh on teams, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You have to run before you can fly. The scenarios the Hornets have experienced are vital to their long-term growth. There has been vast development from several players on the roster and that will continue. 

One specific question to ponder is when will the team shift towards a more youth-oriented rotation? There are only so many minutes available (240 to be exact). The Hornets’ current rotation is already dominated by players with less than five years of experience. They’re one of the three youngest teams in the NBA. 

So what do I mean when I say shift more towards youth? 

I mean so on a permanent basis. The regular rotation needs to be solidified with their young core. Obviously, the team’s centers are Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller, neither of whom is a long-term piece. You need to give one of Marvin or Batum minutes–not both. Giving both minutes takes time away from Monk, Bacon, Martin, and others. A veteran presence on the floor has its place and is necessary on a young team. There has to be a healthy balance. 

What The Hornets Do At The Trade Deadline Could Foretell Their Approach To The Rotation For The Rest Of The Season

As we sit just a few weeks away from the NBA trade deadline, many names have floated around surrounding the Hornets. As early as Thursday morning, the New York Knicks expressed interest in Malik Monk, per SNY’s Ian Begley. Marvin Williams is another asset that the Hornets could use to pry away draft picks from contenders. Bismack Boyombo could also potentially be moved due to his expiring contract and a need he could fill in a playoff team’s rotation. 

Whatever Mitch Kupchak and the Hornets’ front office decides to do at the deadline impacts the rotation for the rest of the season. If Marvin Williams–the most likely candidate–is moved, the transaction could open up more minutes for young guys. Cody Martin would surely be the first man to take those minutes, along with Malik Monk. Obviously, Borrego would be playing smaller, but you get the point. 

Trading Monk opens an entire pandora’s box of possibilities. Caleb Martin, who has been grinding down in the G-League with the Swarm, along with Jalen McDaniels or Kobi Simmons, could benefit from that sort of move. Bacon and Martin would get more playing time as well as a player in return in a Monk trade (Frank Ntilikina, for example). 

Whether it is Marvin, Monk, or Biyombo (unlikely), the trade deadline could point us in the direction of youth. Not that the Hornets would be tanking necessarily, but that they would be giving a higher volume of their minutes to developing players–more than they are doing currently. Charlotte wouldn’t be waiving the white flag per se, but, as many teams in their position would do, they’d focus on the future instead of the present. 

Cody Martin Needs To Be In The Hornets’ Regular Rotation

This should be a non-negotiable for the rest of the season. Cody Martin needs to be getting consistent minutes on a nightly basis. In the past nine games, Martin has received four DNP-CDs (did not play – coaches decision). Additionally, there have been two games where he’s played 0:17 and 2:17 – all garbage time minutes. 

James Borrego says real development is seen when guys see the floor around 30 minutes per night–whether that’s in Greensboro or in Charlotte. That’s why Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels have been in the G-League for the majority of the season. Dwayne Bacon mentioned that, during his rookie season, he spent the whole time on the Hornets’ bench watching. He wishes he could have been down with the Swarm in the G perfecting his craft. The minute he got G-League action, he didn’t want to go back up until he got consistent minutes.

This all goes to say that Cody Martin is not developing whilst sitting on the bench. The fact is, when Cody is in the game, his impact is evident. He is one of – maybe the only – positive defender on the Hornets. He doesn’t need to be in the G-League because he’s making an impact at the NBA level in various ways. Martin should be getting a minimum of 15 minutes per night. If not, he should go down to the G-League again to polish up his offensive game. I don’t believe this will be an ongoing issue. 

Cody Made An Instant Impact In Monday’s Game Against The Magic

Martin checked in and immediately flew into the lane and grabbed an offensive rebound. He was awarded only two offensive boards on the night, but it seemed like much more. He had an incredibly impressive block on Terrence Ross, a few deflections, and what was nearly a poster dunk. 

His instantaneous energy and passion is something the entire team feeds off. A young, struggling team desperately needs a spark plug off the bench–not to score, but to raise the level of intensity in the game. The Hornets have struggled to stay focused and active during games and Cody Martin’s presence would alleviate that instantly.

A grinder, a put it all on the line or a swiss army knife. That’s Cody Martin. The Hornets need that at least 15 minutes per night.

Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels, And Kobi Simmons Will Almost Certainly Get An Opportunity To Get Meaningful NBA Minutes Before The Season’s End

If you have not followed up with the Swarm this season then you are missing out. Do not worry, I will brief you on life at Greensboro. The “lifeblood” Hornets’ organization is player development. As previously mentioned, Borrego prefers that his young players get reps in the G-League for 30 minutes a night rather than sitting on the bench and watching from up top. These three are all benefitting from their time down in the G-League.

Hornets’ rookies Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels have shown drastic improvement since training camp. Caleb Martin has transformed his jump shot, in addition to working on the little things that will translate to the next level–pocket passes to shooters, drop-backs to guys in transition, playmaking in the pick-and-roll, sprinting to corners, and numerous other subtleties   he’s explained to The Painted Lines. Jalen McDaniels has gained 10-15 pounds of muscle, is shooting over 40 percent from three, and has progressed as an interior defender and offensive decision-maker. Both are averaging north of 20 points per game. 

Hornets’ two-way player Kobi Simmons is also having quite the season with the Swarm. He is averaging 17.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. James Borrego lauded Kobi during training camp, saying he thought Simmons was the fastest player in camp. JB also loved his ability to put pressure on the rim and run in transition. With the Swarm, he’s done all of the above. If he continues on this current trajectory, there’s a good shot he will be on Charlotte’s permanent roster next season. 

These Three Will Eventually Get Their NBA Minutes This Season

The aforementioned statistics back the claim that the Hornets will likely be a bottom-five team in the league by mid-April. With the 11th toughest schedule and only 10 projected wins left, the Hornets will turn to a younger rotation. Lower-end lottery teams often do this as the season winds down. The games are less meaningful, therefore you can just focus on developing young talent. It’s not tanking, it’s player development. 

It’s only a matter of time before Simmons, Martin, and McDaniels are rewarded for their hard work in the G-League. We saw Caleb Martin already contribute at the NBA level in preseason, where he averaged 9.6 PPG. Kobi Simmons also had his moments in the preseason. Jalen McDaniels will be interesting to monitor. Seeing how he reacts to the strength and physicality will be his most significant obstacle to overcome. With his improved jumper and ability to slide by his defender en route to the rim, McDaniels should have his opportunities to score. 

James Borrego and the front office will want to measure their players’ progression since preseason, and they will do so in live-action. It is highly unlikely that they all sit in Greensboro for the remainder of the year without NBA action. That serves no purpose. They have shown that they can excel in the G-League. Consistent practices and day-to-day routines will serve them well.

Soon, Simmons, Martin, and McDaniels will get opportunities to showcase their skills for the Hornets and the fruits of their labors will be displayed.