CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets find themselves in the difficult situation of facing a six-game road trip with a rash of injuries limiting key players and a lack of reserve depth to pick up the slack.
The combination of players and skills on Charlotte’s roster has always been awkward. It has worked well under optimal circumstances but now that injuries have made the situation less than ideal, the team’s deficiencies are more pronounced.
Center Cody Zeller is due to miss significant time with a broken hand and guard Jeremy Lamb is dealing with a strained hamstring. Also, Malik Monk left Wednesday’s 122-84 blowout loss to Dallas with a sprained ankle after stepping on a referee’s foot.
The injuries could not come at a much worse time as the Hornets embark on a six game west coast road trip against the Nuggets, Suns, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Kings, and Spurs. Those teams have a combined record 116-108 on the season. If you take out the Phoenix Suns 9-30 record, the remaining teams are 107-78.
Charlotte will have to endure without their best big man and possibly their second and third best scorers.
Many of the Hornets’ best lineups are undersized and at times the lack of size is too much to overcome. During their only losing streak of three games or more this season against the Jazz, Pelicans, and Timberwolves, Charlotte gave up 20 points and 17 rebounds to Rudy Gobert; 36 and 19 to Anthony Davis; and 35 and 12 to Karl Anthony Towns.
I understand that these are three All-NBA caliber centers, but except for Towns, who averages 12 rebounds per game, they all scored and rebounded well above their averages against the Hornets.
Cody Zeller was having a solid season before breaking his hand but he still often struggled to guard athletic big men.
None of the Hornets’ big men, aside from possibly Zeller, significantly impact the game on both ends of the floor. That is to say no one player deters other teams from scoring on defense and forces teams to use energy or resources to guard him on offense. Sometimes NBA games and seasons are wars of attrition, so getting opponents in foul trouble and making them tired or frustrated are ways to help your team.
Again, Zeller has had some very good offensive games and competes hard on defense, so his efforts should not be discounted. With Zeller out however, Willy Hernangomez, Frank Kaminsky, and Bismack Biyombo do not instill fear in opponents.
Hernangomez is very talented and crafty offensively like fellow Spaniards Marc and Pau Gasol but he is not as big as either and not very explosive or athletic.
Kaminsky is a streaky shooter with decent length and below average athletic ability. He has played well at times in limited minutes, but not well enough to make teams account for his presence on the court.
Biyombo was selected seventh in the 2011 NBA Draft, one spot before Kemba Walker, and he still has trouble catching interior passes and shooting outside of five feet. He adds an element of athleticism and energy defensively, but on a team that already lacks scoring depth, playing him extensive minutes can be more detrimental than his defense is worth.
Charlotte needs one of these players to contribute more significantly in order to remain competitive.
A trade is an obvious way to improve the roster sooner than later, but I would expect Mitch Kupchak and the front office to be more active next season when Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo will have expiring contracts that other teams may be more eager to accept in any deal.
The Charlotte Hornets have exceeded expectations for much of the season. They are currently seventh in the Eastern Conference and have a top 10 offense thanks in large part to Kemba Walker.
Kemba is The Little Engine That Could personified, and deserves all of the credit he receives and then some, but Charlotte only has one 30 point game by a player other than Kemba this season. Jeremy Lamb scored 31 points against the Nets on December 26th.
Charlotte will have to overcome size and scoring concerns on the road, against Western Conference teams playing well, in order to keep their overachieving season afloat.
It is a tough task that I’m interested to see play out.
The Hornets average only 10 turnovers per game, which leads the league, and coach Borrego continues to reiterate that this team has a very slim margin for error.
It appears now that the margin is even slimmer than previously thought.