Last season, the Charlotte Hornets finished 36-46, good for 10th place in the underwhelming East. They had some injuries, but they also had healthy seasons from Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard, two of the best 50 players in the NBA. That’s no small shakes! There are 30 teams in the league, and there are 450 roster spots (15 per team); having two of the top 50 players, in that situation, should get you into the playoffs.
And yet, the Hornets stank. Charlotte ended with one more win last season than the Lakers, and the Lakers A) didn’t have even one top 50 player, and B) weren’t trying to make the playoffs like Charlotte was, and C) played in the tougher conference. The Hornets don’t really have an excuse.
So, what was the problem?
Well, despite having Dwight Howard, technically one of the best defensive players ever (he won Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row, though that was a decade ago), and Kid Christ, who is supposed to be a defensive stopper (he can’t score; he didn’t even attempt a three-pointer last year, AND HE’S A SMALL FORWARD), the Hornets couldn’t stop a blind baby with no arms from scoring on them.
Charlotte gave up 108 points per game last season, tied with the New York Knickerbockers, a team not well known for their defense last season (aside from Frank Ntili, the French Resistance). Only the Nets, Bulls, Cavs, Hawks and Magic gave up more points than Charlotte in the East; only one of those teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had LeBron James, so they were the only team that made the playoffs from that group. Everyone else, predictably, sucked. In the West, only the Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, Pelicans, and Suns gave up more points per game, and only the New Orleans Pelicans had Anthony Davis on their team, and so they were the only team that made the playoffs from that group.
It also doesn’t help that Charlotte likes to lose late. Their defense fails them and their shooting fails them (looking at you, late-game Kemba missed layups!). NBA.com has Clutch statistics, basically numbers for when games are in the last few minutes, and the score is within 5 points. Charlotte ranks poorly in every single one of them: bottom 10 in win percentage, bottom 10 in points, TOP 10 in field goal attempts but, haha!, second WORST in field goal percentage. Top 10 in “clutch” three point attempts, second worst in clutch three point percentage. THIS IS A PROBLEM.
Some of this must have had to do with the roster construction. The Hornets most-used players last year were Kemba, Dwight, Uncle Marvin Williams, Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Kid Christ, and Frank Kaminsky. NBA.com has a stat called Defensive Win-Shares, basically a number that tries to represent a player’s overall defensive impact while on the court. The Hornet with the best average DWS per game was Kemba, at 0.097. That’s good for 89th in the NBA last year. Rudy Gobert was #1 overall at 0.190, followed by Embiid at 0.183. There wasn’t a single Charlotte Hornet in the top 50, not even Dwight. Dwight’s DWS was actually outside the top 100.
The defense doesn’t work, and the scoring needs lots help late in games. That’s usually when your best player lifts you up: either your stud big man takes it inside and punishes the other team for sending them to the foul line (Dwight’s free throw percentage remains, how you say, atrocious at sub-60%), or your awesome outside gunslingers either sink dagger threes or drive into the lane and try for a layup. In Charlotte’s case, they just didn’t have the personnel.
Enter Malik Monk. Or, at least he was suppose to enter.
Monk was Charlotte’s 1st round draft pick in 2017. He was considered one of, if not the, best shooters in the draft. He was projected as a top 10 pick, he was the SEC Player of the Year, AND he shot nearly 40% from three point range in college.
Now, Monk was one of the youngest players in the draft, and the Hornets already had Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Kid Christ. Woulda made all the sense in the world for Charlotte to decide to let Monk get reps in the G League, at least at the beginning of the season, especially since Monk was injured through the Summer League, and missed games.
Guess how many goddamn games Malik Monk played in the G League last year for the Greensboro Swarm. Then guess how many goddamn games Monk played in the NBA last year for the Charlotte Hornets. THEN GUESS HOW MANY GODDAMN MINUTES HE AVERAGED IN THOSE GODDAMN NBA GAMES!
One game played in the G League. He started. He scored 25 points in 41 minutes. That’s so good that he should be sitting on a bench somewhere!
Monk played in 63 NBA games last season. He started none of them. NONE. Kid Christ CANNOT SHOOT THREES, Batum is mediocre, and Monk still can’t get a start?
Monk averaged 13.6 minutes per game in those 63 games, and he averaged 6.7 points per game.
Sooooo, he doesn’t start, he plays barely a quarter of the entire game, and he’s 19 years old, and he could use the reps, and he could, y’know, be practicing by playing G League games, buuuuuut...we’d rather keep this kid on the bench.
What’s the point of that? To wet his toes rather than hone his skills? Monk’s rookie season is one of the MOST lost seasons I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Charlotte completely wasted him. Monk only played one year of college, he could use more practice, more games! My God, he even missed Summer League after getting drafted due to an injury, but Charlotte refused to play him in the G League? They needed him! They needed a player exactly like him! They drafted exactly what they needed, and they didn’t play him nearly enough. Alas.
Here’s Charlotte’s depth chart this year:
PG - Kemba Walker, Tony Parker, Devonte Graham
SG - Nic Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Mad Malik Monk
SF - Kid Christ, Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon
PF - Uncle Marv, Frank the Tank
C - Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, Willy Hernangomez
AGAIN, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a perimeter player who refuses to shoot from the perimeter, and I am NOT exaggerating. MKG did not attempt a three-pointer last season. Not a single goddamn one. He started 74 games for the Hornets, he averaged 25 minutes per game, and he didn’t shoot a single three, he didn’t even try. You know who else didn’t attempt a three last year? Alex Lin. Red flag. (Kid Christ averaged 9 points per game last year; that’s a red flag, anyway.)
I’ve always loved and supported MKG, and hoped that his outside shot would develop (obligatory And, he’s only 25!) but damn, man, get real! At least TRY a three-pointer! Besides, if Miles Bridges, the 12th pick in this year’s draft, a native of Flint, Michigan (hell yeah), who’s already looking good/AMAZING!/(stay calm, don’t tell anyone, then draft him as soon as you can in fantasy) then MKG probably won’t start for long. Except...didn’t we think that last year?
Anyway, the Hornets have played one game so far this season. They lost, at home, but by only 1 point and it was to the Bucks. Malik Monk played more than Kid Christ, as well as Batum and Lamb. Monk scored 18 points, second most on the team, on 44% shooting, and he hit 50% on his 8 three-point attempts. He went 4 of 8 from deep. (Kemba went 7 of 13 from outside. He also missed a late layup, shocker!, and then Batum missed a three that could have won the game. That’s just vintage Charlotte being Hornets.)
Last year, Charlotte lost 22 games by 5 points or fewer. That’s two more shots per game, preferably from outside, or some made free throws, and those losses could’ve been wins. If they’d won even a third of those games, they would have made the playoffs.
Not playing the Monk last year was maddening: he was drafted to score by a team that needed help from outside. And, then they didn’t play him.
It’s only one game, but the new regime in Charlotte looks like they might be doing the smart thing, and actually playing their scorers. Perhaps, it was a passing madness, last year’s refusal to play Monk. Perhaps, given a chance to actually, y’know, play basketball, this first round draft pick will deliver on his potential. If the Monk is available in your league (he’s only 12% owned on ESPN), as either a buy-low trade or on the waiver wire, then you should pick him up. You won’t be mad, I promise. (Unless, the Hornets don’t play him. Again.)