As we head into the latter part of the season, the Hornets’ destiny looks to almost be set in stone. They are 3-16 in their last 19 games. Tankathon gives the team the 11th most difficult schedule for the rest of the season. Additionally, 538 predicts the Hornets will finish tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the fourth-worst record in the NBA at 25-57. How might this affect their rotation for the remainder of the season?

A team in the Hornets’ position would be smart to shift their rotation to something similar to what Borrego has done over the past few games. Player development is the lifeblood of the organization, so using a large chunk of your minutes on veterans – who are not in your long-term plans – does not make sense. Nicolas Batum and Bismack Biyombo (expiring deal) have been out of the rotation lately, along with Dwayne Bacon. 

A more youth-centered rotation as of late

James Borrego has shifted towards a more youthful rotation, giving Cody Martin a boost in minutes, along with Willy Hernangomez – getting the spot in the rotation, replacing Bismack Biyombo. “Billy” had been out of the Hornets’ rotation for the entire season until a few weeks back. Borrego says he likes the Spaniard’s ability to score and roll to the rim – something the Hornets’ bigs (Biyombo specifically) have struggled with this season. It’s also an opportunity to give Billy a look into some meaningful NBA minutes and see how he responds.

This is exactly how the rotation has looked for the Hornets courtesy of RotoWire:

One important area from a coaching standpoint to focus on is trying to strike the balance between trying to win games and developing your young players. This is something James Borrego has been constantly trying to figure out throughout this season. 

Do you try and win games, or do you want to focus on player development? In a perfect world, you’d love to accomplish both simultaneously, but that’s not how development works. 

Borrego’s greatest challenge

“That’s my greatest challenge every game (trying to strike the balance between player development and winning games),” James Borrego explained last week. “The competitor in all of us is trying to win every game, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Yet there’s a bigger picture here in mind as well. That’s the balance I’m trying to strike.”

Winning is the ultimate goal, but as JB said, there’s a bigger picture in mind. In no world can players develop whilst sitting on the bench spectating the game. It’s one of the most difficult tasks to take on for an NBA head coach but one that’s necessary in the midst of a rebuild. Nevertheless, there has to be a balance between veterans and young talent on the floor. The vets serve as a confidant to these young guys to help them grow and build upon mistakes they’ve made. It’s a science but not one that’s easy to solve.

“I don’t think it’s a perfect science by any means. By no means am I doing it perfectly,” Borrego said. “Trying to get these guys better. Gets them reps, get them experience. There’s a bigger picture in mind, but to do that you still have to play the right way. Balancing playing the right way and playing with urgency, giving a collective effort amongst the group, is really important for us.”

Maintaining winning habits through stretches of consistent losing

One topic Borrego has explained throughout the season is how every player on the roster will have to earn every minute. “Just giving guys minutes is not how we are going to do this. We are going to make guys earn minutes and play the right way,” JB said. “One way to hold players accountable is playing time. We’ll always use that as a piece of our player development program. There’s nothing like playing, but when players aren’t producing where we need them to, there’s obviously some accountability that we hold them to.”

Ultimately, Borrego’s job is to ensure that his team is playing the right way – building winning habits per his four pillars – doing so throughout the game and season. He says it’s a “great challenge for me, every game we go into.” In order to build a team for the long run, building winning habits is essential if you want any chance to eventually getting to a point of consistent success. That starts at the bottom.

Players need to understand what keeps them on the floor and what winning basketball looks like. The Hornets are 3-16 since December 18th. There has not been an influx of wins. Borrego has been able to keep winning habits alive through losing droughts with “small victories” for every player. 

“I think not looking at the totality of wins and losses but with small victories with every guy,” JB said. “You’re really just giving each of them a couple of things to focus on through a five-game stretch. ‘The next five games I want to see X, Y, and Z.’ So giving them small goals and through that, you can see small victories. You can hold them accountable to certain measurables that we value.”

Game-to-game thoughts regarding the rotation

It’s no mystery that the Hornets’ rotation is “very fluid.” It changes game-to-game. As you saw in the chart above, most times the rotation shifts about every three to five games, in some cases regarding specific players. Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller, and Miles Bridges are all most certainly guaranteed north of 20 minutes per game. Marvin Williams would probably be the next up, only getting a few DNP-CD’s on the season. 

There’s much that goes into the changing of the rotation. The most significant shifts and question marks this year have been regarding the inconsistent playing time of Malik Monk and Cody Martin. Additionally, Dwayne Bacon and Cody Martin continuously rotate between who gets 15-22 minutes per game. Lately, it’s been Martin with Bake getting just seven total minutes the past few games. Nic Batum has slid in and taken up those minutes, but after Paris, it’s likely he primarily stays out of the rotation for the second half of the season barring injury. One would hope at some point that both Bacon and Cody Martin can get consistent playing time along with Monk. It’s just difficult due to the select minutes available on the wing.

James Borrego “constantly” gives thought to his game-to-game rotations.

“I’ll go back and I’ll watch the film. I feel like I could have done 15 or 20 different things [every game]. I go back and really evaluate and watch, and I critique myself as much as anybody. There are things I could do better, trying to strike that balance in a cleaner way. You just have to react and go with your gut, instinct, and your experience. You have your assistants to rely on as well, so far I think we’re trending in the right way.”

The possibility of Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels getting burn with Charlotte

As I wrote about last week, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels could potentially see playing time within the Hornets’ rotation as the season winds down. James Borrego said it is possible for that to occur, just not right now. 

“I would say [the rotation] is fluid right now, but I wouldn’t say [Jalen and Caleb playing] that’s impossible. There’s potential there, but I wouldn’t say we’re there right now,” Borrego explained last week. “The group we have out there right now is a very young group. Could those guys (Jalen and Caleb) be in the mix at some point? Absolutely. We’re just not there right now.”

It would make no sense whatsoever to not see Caleb Martin – who has been lighting the G-League on fire – and Jalen McDaniels get any NBA minutes. While the possibility of them not playing with the Hornets at all is rather unlikely, you’d assume that they would get called up as the season winds down. Practice time could also be quite beneficial for the two as well.

Caleb could be plugged in and have an immediate impact, especially scoring – as the Hornets rank near the bottom of the league in. Jalen, on the other hand, would have to adjust and need more time to get settled in. The Hornets are clogged up at the PF spot, but if JB deferred Marvin Williams’ minutes to McDaniels, then he could see some time on the floor.

I would highly expect both to be recalled by the Hornets for extended periods of time before the season’s end.