The Charlotte Hornets capped off their 2019 preseason Wednesday night hosting the Detroit Pistons in a game that featured unexpected headlines. The Hornets fell short, losing 116-110 in a game that went right down to the wire.
This was the Hornets’ fifth and final preseason game, and head coach James Borrego wanted to keep his team’s rotations similar to what they had been all preseason. Terry Rozier missed the game as a precautionary measure with left knee tendinitis, so Devonte’ Graham stepped in his place as the starting point guard. Borrego kept his familiar rotation in for the first three quarters before letting his key rotation players rest the majority of the fourth quarter.
Both teams were short handed – saving players who were not 100 percent healthy for the regular season, which starts in less than a week. Terry Rozier and Nicolas Batum were notable players out for the Hornets, as the Pistons were missing Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and Luke Kennard. It was a great opportunity for both teams to allow some of their supporting casts to get an elevated opportunity in an exhibition game to showcase their talents.
The Hornets played with urgency on defense, forcing Detroit to commit 21 turnovers, scoring 25 points off of them. The elevated play on the defensive end helped Charlotte get into transition and push the ball – as they prefer – where they shot 51.2 percent as a team, assisting on 24 of their 41 field goals on the night. The ball movement continued to improve as it has throughout the preseason, demonstrating the team’s comfort with each other’s game. Chemistry takes time but the Hornets’ has improved even just in five preseason games.
Borrego knows how crucial every extra minute of gametime on the floor is for his new team, especially with his players in new roles. He used this final preseason game to get his young players comfortable in new situations – especially with Terry Rozier being out. Borrego talked postgame about several players sharing the repsonsibility of being ball handlers after such a ball dominant guy like Kemba Walker left (33.3 percent usage rate last season). “I want them to embrace it and take on this challenge. It’s new for them… The ball’s going to be in their hands more than ever and with that comes responsibility.”
In the absence of Terry Rozier, the combined efforts of Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk were two that stuck out tonight. The team also got help from the likes of Kobi Simmons and rookies Caleb Martin and P.J. Washington, who all scored at least 12 points. All leaving superb impressions in their final preseason game.
Malik Monk stepped right in for Terry Rozier
Malik Monk definitely took advantage of the opportunity as he scored 18 points, grabbed three rebounds, and added seven assists with zero turnovers. Monk had never had a game in his career where he had five or more assists without a single turnover.
Monk said he has always been able to create shots for others as a playmaker but hasn’t been able to showcase it so far in his career. “I’ve been doing that. I just haven’t had my chance yet… I’m just capitalizing on the opportunity.” It would make sense that he has not had the opportunity to prove he can be a playmaker when Kemba was handling the ball the majority of the time Monk was on the floor. He got to prove it last night and will get to continue to do so this season.
Malik’s head coach was delighted with his performance Wednesday. “That was a very mature performance by Malik Monk. He’s grown. It looks to me like he has figured this thing out. Playing with his teammates, playing the right way.”
Monk made very good decisions and that’s what Borrego is looking for. He had been spotty his first two seasons, making sloppy, careless plays on offense but he has showed development in that area to start the year. “The consistency of doing that over and over and making the right plays,” is what Borrego said he hopes Monk continues to do. He will see the ball in his hands more this year and Wednesday he proved he could run a team with minimal errors and high efficiency.
“He (Monk) took what the defense gave him – played within himself and didn’t try to hit the homerun on every single play,” said Borrego, refferring to Monks shot selection tonight. Malik did not force things on offense tonight as he has often did in his first two years. He shot 6-10 from the field, made two of his five threes and got to the line where he made all four of his free throws.
Borrego was also impressed with the way he moved the ball, the way he found his teammates and how Monk put consistent pressure on the rim. He said the added 23 pounds he gained this offseason helped with attacking the rim more. “I was settling a lot in the other two games but this game I attacked and it worked out for me.”
Kobi Simmons leaves a steller final preseason impression
Kobi Simmons got his first extended run with the Hornets’ rotation players Wednesday night. He is fighting for one of the two Hornets remaining roster spots and he had his chance to exhibit how he can play alongside this team’s main contributors.
Terry Rozier – who sat out of tonight’s game, knowing Kobi would get valuable minutes – told Simmons before the game that he had nothing to lose and to just go out there and play hard and that’s what his approach has been this preseason.
“I try to bring energy, the passion for the game I have, and just coming out with a chip on my shoudler. Go out there and bring energy and make a statement with everybody watching that I can be that guy coming off the bench to turn some things around and make some things shift in the game.”
Borrego has praised Kobi these past few weeks and did so again Wednesday. “He played with a nice spirit tonight… I thought he was a big part of that comeback. He played with urgency and pace. He picked up full-court defensively.”
Borrego wants guys that can defend, push the ball, make plays for others, and put pressure on the rim and Kobi can do all of those things. Borrego said Kobi has, “got a gear to him that you don’t see on many rosters. He gets from end-to-end as quick as anybody.”
James Borrego likes to run lineups with multiple point guards and playmakers – as we have seen with lineups that include Rozier, Monk, and Graham on the floor simultaneously. The Hornets currently have two point guards on the roster so Kobi Simmons hopes his performance Wenesday can help put him on that 15-man roster as the third point guard.
P.J. continues to surpass expectations
Hornets rookie P.J. Washington has scored double figures in all five of the Hornets preseason games this year. Wednesday night he had another solid offensive performance scoring 12 points, adding 5 rebounds and 4 assists while making two three-pointers.
The thought was P.J. would start the league in Greensboro playing for the Swarm but he will now likely start the season as a main contributor and will see valuable minutes early in his NBA career.
When asked how his first preseason went P.J. said, “It’s quick. I think I played well. The biggest thing for me is just trying to learn all of the sets and the different rotations. Not neccesarily scoring but just learning the basic offense and where I need to be on the defensive end.” He is confident in his game and ready to head into the regular season with his teammates.
Caleb Martin’s energy
Caleb Martin has done everything in his power to prove he should make the Hornets’ 15-man roster. He put together another solid game tonight scoring 12 points, grabbing two rebounds, and blocking a shot.
A lot of what Caleb brings to his team does not appear in the box score. Borrego has stated continuously that Caleb Martin’s energy he brings on both ends of the floor is something that is incredibly valuable. For example, he blocked a Christian Wood dunk attempt tonight that led to a fast break where P.J. Washington converted a put-back dunk over Andre Drummond.
Martin’s energy and grit he plays with is the driving force behind many impactful plays and is a contagious quality that Borrego wants his team to play with. Caleb attempted to posterize Langston Galloway in the second half that left his entire bench jumping around in excitement.
Caleb Martin hopes he proved enought his preseason to earn a regular season roster spot on the Hornets. The undrafted rookie would be joining his twin brother, Cody, on the Hornets roster.
Devonte’ Graham continued his confident shooting
Hornets head coach James Borrego told the media last week that he is challenging Devonte’ Graham to be more agressive offensively in the preseason and continue that throughout the regular season. He wants his point guards to push the ball up the court, play at a high pace, and create good shots for themselves and others.
Monday Graham scored 18 points on 6-10 shooting and Wednesday against Detroit he scored 13 points on 6-8 shooting and added three rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He continued to look confident shooting his jumper – especially off the pick-and-roll, including back-to-back mid-range jumpers running off high screens.
Borrego has noticed the improvement in Graham’s game from his rookie year. “He’s had a great summer. He shoots the ball with a lot of confidence – we need him to. He may go through stretches where it’s not dropping and I want him to keep shooting it… I believe in his shot and he has to make shots for us – he understands that.”
James Borrego has solidified Graham as the team’s backup point guard and expects year two to be a huge step in Devonte’s career. “He’s got to run the ship for us. That second unit is going to be a very important unit for us and he knows his role.”