GREENSBORO, NC – The Fieldhouse was jammed packed full of elementary school children on this brisk Wednesday morning. The Swarm hosted the Westchester Knicks – the first game in Greensboro for the Swarm this season. Unfortunately the Swarm could not pull out the victory today, losing 116-109 to Westchester.
It was not an ideal homecoming game for the Charlotte Hornets’ G-League affiliate. They were thrown out of their offensive rhythm from the jump. The Swarm were forced to play at a leisurely pace, contrary to their preferred fast-paced style, similar to that of the Hornets. It was an adjustment that Greensboro could not overcome, never leading at single time throughout the game.
The home court advantage was not present to start the game, as you can imagine. The grade-school kids did not know exactly which team to cheer for, breaking out in thunderous roars after every made basket, disregarding which team it came from. Westchester started the game on an 11-2 run, so it felt like The Fieldhouse was jam packed full of Knicks’ fans. Thankfully, the cheers for the opposition eventually simmered.
The Swarm couldn’t recover after a slow start
The Knicks took control from the get-go. They started red hot as a team, making 10 of their first 13 shots, including 5-6 from three. The Swarm were unable to push the pace due to the successful shooting of the Knicks, trailing by double-digits early.
Knicks’ Andrew White III was merely unstoppable in the first half, going into the break with 27 points. He ended the game with 39 points, shooting a near-perfect 14 of 18 from the field, including 9-11 from deep. Joe Wolf knew White killed the Swarm tonight and used it as a learning lesson going forward. “We had him down as somebody we needed to take off the line but the urgency wasn’t there,” Wolf said after the loss. “It’s a learning lesson for us.”
The Swarm established their style of play through their first two games, playing at an extremely high pace, pushing the ball in transition. Due to the Knicks’ hot shooting in the first half – 58.1 percent shooting – the Swarm could not get out in transition and control the pace of the game.
Westchester led by as many as 20 points in the first half.
“We came out slow in the first half,” Jalen McDaniels said following his 19 points and 10 rebound performance.
The game never sped up, as the Knicks continued to dominate the speed of the game. Whenever the Swarm would go on a run in the second half, the Knicks would end it with a pair of momentum-killing threes or back-to-back buckets. They could never get into a steady rhythm on offense and did not respond well to playing at a lower pace.
Greensboro could not quite make the run necessary to overcome a 16-point deficit at halftime (66-50). They outscored Westchester by nine in the second half, but that wasn’t enough to overcome their first half struggles.
The Knicks’ half-court offense slowed the pace
The Westchester Knicks knew the Swarm play at their peak when they are out running, playing at a high pace. Greensboro typically takes advantage of their transition opportunities and executes, attacking the rim or converting on high-quality three-point attempts. To counter the Swarm’s strength, Westchester slowed the game down.
When the Swarm would push the pace and score quickly, the Knicks would get the ball, settle down, simmer, and go through multiple options of any given offensive play. This continuously ate away at the clock. Joe Wolf spoke on the Knicks’ traditional, low-paced offense after the game. “They did a nice job in their half-court sets, getting 12, 14, 16 seconds into the shot clock.”
Going through 10-15 seconds of a half-court set can result in defenders off-ball getting lost or confused, resulting in missed rotations and porous help defense. The Knicks took advantage of Swarm defenders sleeping off-ball, resulting in plenty of scoring opportunities off weak-side cuts and moves to the basket deep into the shot clock.
“They tried to make weak-side decisions, which they did today,” Wolf said postgame. “Our team defense needs to get better… And our weak-side gets in, we rotate better, and close out on the shooters.”
Robert Franks continues with his efficient scoring
Hornets’ two-way player Robert Franks has now eclipsed the 20-point mark in all three games this season. Today he scored 26 points on an efficient 11-18 shooting, bringing his season average to 27.3 points per game.
Scoring has not been an issue for the Washington State product as a rookie in the G-League. Franks has continued to prove that he can light it up from beyond the arc, making 12 three-pointers through three games at a 50 percent clip. He has been featured at the small-ball center position, where he has thrived as well on post-up opportunities and popping as the roll man.
Joe Wolf was impressed with Robert Franks’ performance today, despite having to play him more than he wished. “I thought he played well,” Wolf said. “I don’t want him to play too much extended time, but unfortunately I had to today.” Franks played 37 minutes today, a season-high.
Wolf finding the balance with fatigue and experience
Joe Wolf is focused on teaching winning habits with this Swarm team. Being in the G-League and teaching those habits to fatigued players becomes rather difficult. The G-League is the stepping-stone to the NBA. Many guys down in the G-League got by in college with their raw skill and athleticism. However, they need to learn winning habits to elevate their game to the NBA level. Wolf is in the process of grooming his players into the NBA talent they have the potential at becoming. That has to be accomplished through daily precision, balance, and focus on the goal.
Joe Wolf said that he “unfortunately” had to play Franks extended time today. His philosophy behind that is he doesn’t want guys “going through habits that are fatigued,” as he mentioned postgame. He added that Franks did a great job “when he was getting tired to bear down on the defensive end, where he did a nice job on pick-and-roll defense.”
Joe Wolf has a plethora of young talent on this Swarm team to oversee. James Borrego wants his two-way guys and assignment players getting 30 minutes per night in the G-League. Wolf is on the same page with Borrego. He wants to find that happy medium between getting live on-court experience while not fatiguing his players. The development of these players will be key as Wolf establishes winning habits while simultaneously not over-working his men on the court.