Coach Borrego strolled up to the podium at the Spectrum Center yesterday for Hornets media day with a smile on his face. Without Kemba Walker, there are a lot of unanswered questions about this team and what they will be this season. Borrego was relaxed and composed and ready to answer questions about this Hornets upcoming season as 2019 media day kicked off.
Now in his second year as Hornets head coach, James Borrego says he “knows what to expect” heading into camp this year. “After you’ve done it one year, you know what to expect. I feel much more comfortable right now as we head into camp, ready to roll, ready to learn again this season. I couldn’t be more excited with this group.”
With Kemba Walker departing for Boston, sending Terry Rozier to Charlotte, the Hornets are at the beginning of a new era, and media day featured many questions surrounding Kemba, Terry Rozier, and the team’s new identity, among other things.
At media day James Borrego refused to give an estimate on how many games the Hornets would win this year or give any hints on potential playoff aspirations. He explained to the media that his “4 Pillars” would be the determining factor in success for the Hornets this year.
Those “4 pillars” being: 1. Compete. 2. Player development. 3. Identity. 4. Habits. Competing being the most important.
Borrego continuously stated that he wants his team to compete in every single game, practice, and drill starting with training camp this week. He wants intra-team competitiveness to be a contagious and constant part of their culture.
Borrego instilling this competitiveness in his team is vital to any success the Hornets have this year. Most likely this team is not going to beat teams based on talent alone. They are going to need to be dialed in every night for a shot to win as many games as possible this year and most importantly establish a competitive culture where guys give it their all.
2. Player development
James Borrego was hired by the Hornets because of his player development background under Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. Player development is vital to this team’s success, especially with Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, P.J. Washington, Malik Monk, and plenty of other Hornets being this franchise’s centerpieces. The young guys are the future of this team, and their individual development as this year progresses is most definitely a top priority. Borrego said that the team “set a good example of that last year, and we are just going to continue that again.”
We saw Dwayne Bacon and Devonte’ Graham spend a lot of time in Greensboro with the Swarm last season, and yesterday they both had nothing but glowing things to say about their experiences in the G-League. Bacon, a second round pick (40th overall) in 2017, is said to be one of the team’s two leading scorers according to his head coach and credits his development in the G-League to his success. “I think most people look at it as a punishment. Like, ‘I’m not good enough to play in the NBA, so they’re going to send me down there.’ I didn’t look at it that way. I just thought it was another opportunity for me to work on my game.”
Player development starts with the team on an every day basis. Working on players’ weak spots, embracing their strengths, and working on how to utilize them to the max on a game-to-game basis. Miles Bridges didn’t spend time in the G-League, but he also improved as last year went on. He said his biggest improvement this summer was his ballhandling, not his three-point shot – on which he set a goal for himself to shoot 38 percent from three this season.
With Kemba Walker gone, player development becomes that much more important as they won’t have an All-Star carrying the brute of the load on a nightly basis. Borrego is going to need a concerted effort from each and every guy in his rotation, and that begins with player development on a daily basis. Borrego is going to continue to do that this year with Malik Monk – who will see an increased role and opportunity due to the absence of Kemba – and rookies P.J. Washington and Cody Martin along with the other core guys.
Coach Borrego spoke at lengths about the team’s identity – “Who we are on both ends of the floor.”
Borrego said defensive performance will directly result in playing time, and he is attempting to generate a culture with defense being a top priority. The identity that he wants his players to pride themselves in as players is their ability to be “two-way” guys. He wants Dwayne Bacon to solidify himself as the team’s top perimeter defender, wants Rozier to use his intensity and peskiness to disrupt opponents, and for Malik Monk to show improvement on that end of the floor so he can play the third year guard more per game.
The offensive identity of this team is going to be high-paced, putting pressure on the (opponent’s) defense. We saw a glimpse of this at the end of last year, and he wants to continue that same pace. Borrego expects the team to “play faster, more dynamically, guys running up and down the floor, putting more pressure on the defense, and we have the personnel and roster that can do that. And we are going to have to manufacture more offensive possessions through our transition offense.” Borrego doesn’t judge pace by a number you see in a box score. He judges it by tempo, putting pressure on the defense. He wants to take advantage of transition to create more possessions for his team.
“Fourth is Habits. Winning habits. That means don’t get tired of the ordinary. We are going to do the same thing over and over and over again, and that will define our season.” When Borrego says “winning habits,” he means being a professional and said 15-year veteran Marvin Williams was the perfect example of that.
Player development is not linear, and players will never progress in one direction. It’s a process. So during those times of failure, having winning habits is crucial to keeping that player going and positive. Not winning habits as in games, but winning habits as in the little things you do on a daily basis that eventually build up to a level where your mindset is one that’s bound for success. Having vets like Marvin Williams and Nic Batum on your team to show players how it’s done daily is what Borrego hopes every one of his players eventually becomes.
Establishing winning habits is crucial to any team in the Hornets situation. Chances are, the Hornets won’t win more than 40 games this year. That’s not the goal. Caesars had the Hornets tied with the Cavaliers to have the lowest projected win total for this year at 24 games. Borrego said he doesn’t care about wins and losses – that won’t define this team’s success. “If we hit these four pillars, we will be successful.”