I’m going to preface with this: the Hornets have not been fully healthy yet – at least until the previous two games. James Borrego has not been able to entirely figure out his team’s rotation to the full extent so far. We are also only 14 games into the season. Injuries don’t help the cause.

Nicolas Batum injured the third finger on his left hand in the second half of their first game. He missed the next 11 games. Batum is going to be an important part of the team’s rotation. His veteran presence is all the more so important on a young team. We have seen in the past two games what impact he has on the floor in short spurts. 

Dwayne Bacon missed two games last week with a sprained right knee. He was active Saturday against the Knicks, getting a DNP-CD (did not play coaches’ decision). He played the second half against the Raptors Monday night, checking into the game after Borrego waived the white flag as the Hornets trailed by almost thirty. My best guess is that Borrego knew the team was on the backend of a back-to-back and knew the team would already struggle and throwing Bacon back out in a close game was not ideal. His play-style is harder to plug back in than that of Batum. Bacon may not have been 100 percent healthy either on Saturday, so Borrego was probably just trying to ease “Bake” back into the rotation.

Borrego is still testing out different lineups and rotations to see what works best. He has stated he is going to use trial and error to see what is most effective.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the swing of things. 

Ideal starting lineup

The Hornets have thrown out two different starting lineups this season. Due to the ascension of Devonte’ Graham and the early struggles of Dwayne Bacon, Coach Borrego switched things up last week. 

Devonte’ Graham slid into the starting lineup due to Bacon’s knee injury last week. Good timing for Bake’s injury because the change was inevitably on the rise. Devonte’ has been the team’s best player this season. He is averaging 18.3 PTS, 7.0 AST, 3.4 REB on 41.5 percent from three. His 54.5 percent eFG% (effective field goal percentage) ranks in the 82nd percentile amongst guards. 

The starting lineup as it currently stands is Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and Cody Zeller. This is the ideal starting lineup and will be for the foreseeable future. 

When Bacon was starting, the team typically got off to horrendous starts in the first and third quarters. Spreading the floor was a reoccurring issue along with cold stretches offensively. This attributed to the team’s horrendous 82 points per 100 possessions with that lineup. They were also outscored by 29.1 points per 100 possessions. That needed to change, and it did. 

With Graham replacing Bacon in the starting lineup, he provides much-needed shooting to the lineup. This lets Terry slide over to the 2, to more of an off-ball role where he seems to be more comfortable and more efficient.

Graham is this team’s ideal ball-handler and playmaker. We have seen he is much more comfortable as a playmaker in the pick-and-roll than Rozier is. That’s not a knock on Rozier; he is just more of a score-first guard. Devonte’ is more of the traditional point guard with natural playmaking instincts, threading the ball in tight windows on a nightly basis.

Starting Rozier and Devonte’ 

The question has continuously arisen surrounding the fit of Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham in the starting lineup. Is this effective and/or sustainable? The answer to both is yes. And here’s why (the statistics back it up).

A Devonte’ and Terry backcourt is a seamless fit in James Borrego’s offense. He wants multiple playmakers on the floor that can move the ball around, push the pace, attack the rim, and shoot the three. That fits right into Devonte’ and Terry’s wheelhouse. They both like to play fast, can play both guard spots, and have the flexibility to score with or without the ball.

Prior to Monday night’s game against the Raptors, the pair have had an outstanding previous four games, where they saw an increased time on the floor together.

  • Devonte’ Graham:
    •  21.3 PPG, 2.5 REB, 6.5 AST, 40.8 FG%, 41.3 3P%, 80 FT%. 
  • Terry Rozier: 
    • 20.3 PPG, 3.8 REB, 3.5 AST, 2.3 STL, 48.5 FG%, 39.3 3P%, 100 FT%.

Lineups that feature Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier thrive offensively. They score 116.9 points per 100 possessions (96th percentile), and their effective field goal percentage (eFG%) is 55.3 percent (89th percentile). The two play well off of each other and do so at a high level.

Devonte’ Graham gets a good chunk of his threes (55 percent) off assists from teammates (his game-winner against NYK). When he is not shooting off pick-and-rolls, he is often featured as the runner through a series of screens around the floor to get open looks. We see the same from Rozier as he works off the ball playing the 2 as he did in high school and at Louisville. Even with Boston, Terry would often come off the bench with Marcus Smart, and Smart oftentimes was the primary distributor with that second unit. Terry has expressed throughout the past two weeks to the media that he is comfortable at the two and says he enjoys playing on the floor with Devonte’.

Lineups that feature one of Terry and Devonte’ are not so efficient offensively. Lineups with Devonte’ Graham on and Terry Rozier off score 106.1 points per 100 possessions (32nd percentile). They have an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 52.9 percent (63rd percentile). Lineups with Terry Rozier on and Graham off are even worse. They have an 18.8 point differential compared to lineups consisting of Rozier and Graham, scoring 95.6 points per 100 possessions (3rd percentile) and have an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 50.0 percent (23rd percentile).

Rozier is the greater beneficiary of having Graham on the floor with him more than Devonte’ having Terry. This shines light on the fact that Terry likely is not a true point guard – not a knock. Before Monday night’s game against Toronto, the two had a terrific previous four games where they saw an increase of time on the floor together.

Obviously, the Hornets take a hit defensively with Graham and Rozier sharing the floor together due to the size disadvantage. Opponents benefit from that, but they make up for it offensively as the numbers show.

The Hornets’ bench rotation

As James Borrego has echoed throughout training camp, preseason, and through the season’s first 14 games, playing time is not guaranteed. It does not matter what your salary is, how long you have been with the team, or your experience in the league.

As the season has progressed, we have seen a variety of Hornets’ role players step up and provide valuable minutes. From Malik Monk’s rise to the consistent veteran play of Marvin Williams, along with Bismack Biyombo, Nic Batum, and Cody Martin, plenty of Hornets have contributed off the bench this season. The rotation for the bench has not been solidified yet and likely won’t stay consistent until James Borrego figures out what works. We are still in the beginning stages of the season, and Batum just returned, and Dwayne Bacon was just converted to a bench role.

Ideally, this team’s bench rotation will include the following players in descending order based on playing time. Malik Monk, Nicolas Batum, Dwayne Bacon, Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo, Cody Martin. 

With a young team, rotations often are not all that consistent as players go through the peaks and valleys of their early careers, especially with this Hornets team where guys have stepped into new roles. Playtime will stagger and shift with this team as it consists of several streaky scorers.

Minutes distribution

As for minutes distribution for the bench, I would expect it to stay in the following range, at least for the foreseeable future:

  • Malik Monk: 20-25 minutes per game
  • Nicolas Batum: 20-22 minutes per game
  • Dwayne Bacon: 18-22 minutes per game
  • Marvin Williams: 15-20 minutes per game
  • Bismack Biyombo: 10-15 minutes per game
  • Cody Martin: 8-12 minutes per game

Malik Monk is now the first to replace one of Rozier or Graham (depending on foul trouble – Rozier). This is due to his newfound progression as playmaker. He has solidified himself as the team’s first guard off the bench due to his progression as a primary playmaker and ball-handler. Borrego has coined him as one of the team’s best decision-makers. Monk’s scoring has seen drastic improvements, specifically from a shot-selection standpoint. He is shooting over 47 percent this year. He failed to eclipse 40 percent shooting during his first two seasons. As his play continues, so will his playing time. As it currently stands, Monk will get more playing time than Bacon. He has earned it.

Batum, now healthy, will come in and play the 4 upon substitution. Having a veteran off the bench to be the team’s steady hand is invaluable. On offense he makes the right pass, while also being in the right place at the right time on the floor. In Borrego’s offense, playmakers will always find time on the floor. That’s what the Frenchmen has been for most of his career. He won’t average five assists per game but will always make the extra pass or set a screen at the right time. Having a steady vet on the floor is a necessity for a young team, so Batum will always see around 20 minutes per night. 

Dwayne Bacon is being eased back into the team’s rotation after missing time with a knee injury. He has struggled to start the season scoring the ball, averaging 9.5 points on 34.8 percent shooting. Bacon started the season slow whereas Graham and Monk showed drastic improvement.  He will need to earn back his minutes after a slow, inefficient start. I do not expect him to return to the team’s starting lineup. Coming off the bench has worked for Devonte’ Graham, and Dwayne hopes it can do the same for him. He can be brought in for instant offense in the third quarter, playing the 2 or 3. There is always a need for an isolation scorer off the bench, and Bake can provide that. Based on if Terry and/or Monk are having an off night, Bacon will could see more time on the court.

Marvin Williams and Bismack Biyombo both provide a unique skill set for the Hornets. They have accepted their roles as vets on this team. Their playing time has been rather inconsistent this season, and it will continue to be that way. Marvin can bring defensive energy and shooting – as we saw in the Pistons game last Friday – that is always useful. Those nights he can see around 20 minutes per game. Other nights expect 10-12. Biyombo has been an instant energy guy off the bench. When Cody Zeller is struggling with fouls or getting beat on the boards, Biyombo gets his number called. Biz comes in and provides instant energy and impact off the bench, blocking shots, grabbing offensive rebounds, and drawing fouls.

Cody Martin is the big question mark. You have seen in games against Golden State for example, that he can come in and turn the game around in a matter of just four minutes. I expect him to be sent down to Greensboro at some point as Batum and Bacon are back. The rise of Monk helps the cause as well. The value Martin brings as a defender cannot be overlooked. He played for the majority of the second half and closed the games out in wins against the Pistons and Pacers during the past few weeks. As Borrego says, Martin will be played based off need – defensive need. Most nights he will play around 10 minutes, but you will see him play 20 minutes in games like that against Indiana and Detroit.