CHARLOTTE — NBA media days follow the same tune: someone’s lost weight, someone’s added 15 pounds of muscle, players are excited, and once in awhile there are those who gained weight (and not in a good way). There are also times where something that looks like an innocuous quote turns out to reveal much more about the problems that happened last season.
Take this year’s Charlotte Hornets, who finished with 36 wins for the second straight year and unsurprisingly fired everyone down to the scouting and medical staff. The message was clear that a culture change was needed from top to bottom in the organization. In came president of basketball operations and general manager Mitch Kupchack, formerly of the Lakers, who subsequently hired head coach James Borrego from the Spurs.
Both Borrego and Kupchack agree on at least one thing when it comes to on-court changes for the Hornets, as there is a clear effort to pick up the pace this year in Charlotte. Now, turning up the pace is a typical NBA trope that is en vogue to say in September and by February one forgets it was ever uttered. However, details trickled out on Monday that the team will be something that hasn’t been seen in Charlotte in a long time.
“I’m not worried about the (new pace),” said guard Malik Monk. “We’ve been up there on the practice court scrimmaging with a 12-second shot clock just to get the pace up. But the whole culture and everything done changed, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Practicing with a 12-second shot clock isn’t something revolutionary, but for a team that employed a back to the basket center in Dwight Howard last season, this Hornets team is adapting to the modern NBA is a breath of fresh air to NBA fans in Charlotte.
However, while the Hornets under Clifford may have felt like a team that was dragging in the mud and slowing it down on every possession, the team ranked 9th in pace last season. While the pace number was higher than most would expect, they were near the bottom of the league in fast break points and assists per game, highlighting an issue with a lack of ball movement that often made the offense feel more stagnant than it maybe was.
If Borrego brings the Spurs style of play with him, one would expect those assist numbers to rise, even if their measured pace remains the same. Many players pointed out that one major difference will be that the new-look Hornets are going to use their pace to get into their sets quicker, especially late in games. Which could spell the end of the predictability of Kemba Walker pick-and-rolls in the fourth quarter, perhaps a welcome change for everyone that calls Spectrum Center home.
One of the biggest changes hinted at is a change in coaching philosophy under Borrego, a change to the rigid system that Steve Clifford used. Instead of running the same plays hoping for different results, players would be used as chess pieces and more improvisation is going to be used. If Clifford’s system was classical music, Borrego’s sounds like it’s going more like jazz allowing each player to make their own impression on the offense in their own way. A change that fourth-year player Frank Kaminsky, more than welcomes.
“I feel like that’s something that we didn’t do it the past,” said Kaminsky. “You were kind of in a role and it wasn’t really changed game to game. It wasn’t predicated on what the other team was doing so I felt like we stuck in our routine and our roles and our game plans last year and didn’t stray away from that and that’s good to an extent. But I think this coaching staff and the way they’re trying to change things is we’re going to be a more reactive team.”
A reactive offense in offense along with a heightened pace might be the key to a team that has underachieved in the last two seasons. But, if it fails the only music the city of Charlotte will be hearing will be the refrain of Kemba Walker trade rumors and who they’ll be drafting with a top five pick next June.