Dec 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford coaches on the sidelines against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Charlotte 110-94. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The Charlotte Hornets endured a rough five-game road trip where they went 1-4 but there were a few positives out of the team’s struggles.
In the Charlotte Hornets first extended road trip of the season, they struggled to find a rhythm away from home. Their inconsistencies led to a 1-4 record over the five games. The teams’ poor play resulted in some major questions arising going forward.
While plenty of negatives started to surround the promising Charlotte team, there were also a few positives that came out of the tough road trip. Despite the poor record, a few individuals stepped up. The 1-4 record could be cause for concern but this one arguably the Hornets’ toughest stretch of games this season as they had to play five games in eight days.
The clear cut takeaways from the road trip were the Hornets’ struggles but beyond that, Marco Belinelli was a bright spot. Kemba Walker also reminded us why he is the star of the show but high-level opponents continue to give Charlotte fits. Scoring may be a problem going forward.
Dec 10, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) is fouled by Charlotte Hornets guard Marco Belinelli (21) during the fourth quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
4. Hornets Struggle Against High-Level Opponents
Four of the five teams that the Hornets faced off against were playoff teams from last season. All of these opponents could meet Charlotte at some point in the postseason if each squads’ trend continues for the remainder of the year. Their inability to defeat the top competition or above average teams is a downfall that could haunt them this season.
This trip was a big test of the team’s ability to compete against the best in the Eastern Conference and it’s safe to say that they failed in that field. While Atlanta and Washington are on the outside looking in terms of the playoff picture at the moment, they are both teams that could compete for a playoff spot. As for the defending Champions, that game didn’t reveal that much that we didn’t already know.
The biggest disappointments were the defeats to the Wizards and the Pacers. Those are two teams that Charlotte could have and should have beaten. The Hornets can’t continue to lose games to teams that are close to their level. The loss to Boston didn’t mean much because the team was without Kemba Walker.
This road trip might have been an anomaly but it was also eye opening in the fact that the Hornets might not be the team we thought they were. Only time will tell if Charlotte can comepte with the best.
Dec 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Marco Belinelli (21) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) in the second quarter of their game at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
3. Marco Belinelli is a Reliable Scorer
One good outcome of the road trip was the emergence of Marco Belinelli. The Italian scored in double figures in all five games and was a key figure off the bench in every outing. Not only did he provide a spark with the second unit but Coach Clifford also used him to close games ahead of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
During the trip, Marco averaged 15 points per game while shooting 51.8% from the field. Not only was he scoring at a high level but he was also efficient in doing so. The Italy international also shot the ball well from deep at a high clip of 52.1%. The breakout performance was the best stretch of games that he has put together so far this season.
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If Belinelli can continue to be a scoring threat with the second unit, it makes the Hornets that much more dangerous. Charlotte lacks reliable scorers so a consistent figure off the bench that could get double figures each night would be huge for them. Marco is also helping fill the role that Jeremy Lin left behind from last year.
It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up going forward but at the very least, Belinelli is enjoying a career season with the team. He seems to be a good fit for the system and he is gaining more and more trust from Steve Clifford.
Dec 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum (5) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha (25) in the first quarter at Philips Arena. The Hornets won 107-99. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
2. Scoring Consistency is a Major Problem
The Hornets weren’t able to find any sort of scoring consistency as a team or as individuals during the road trip. They scored over 100 in three of the five games but never two games in a row. Charlotte also had four different leading scorers in the five games.
Not even Kemba Walker could find a scoring rhythm over the course of the five games as he posted a season-low 12 points against the Pacers. The team is paying Nicolas Batum to be their second scoring option but that hasn’t yet come to fruition this year. His inconsistent shooting is only the forefront of Charlotte’s scoring woes.
Not Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Cody Zeller are legit 20+ point scoring threats every night and only Jeremy Lamb and Belinelli have the ability to do so off the bench. Scoring was always going to be an issue with this Hornets’ team and while they haven’t been too vulnerable this season, the road trip highlighted their inconsistent scoring.
Charlotte usually relies on 20+ a night from Kemba and a balanced scoring effort from everyone else but that strategy could haunt going forward like it did during the road trip. The Hornets’ scoring issues aren’t as bad as some other teams but it is definitely not ideal. There is still a lot for them to work on but for the time being, their balanced scoring will have to do.
Dec 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) practices before their game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
1. Kemba is the Star of the Show
The five-game road trip made it even more clear that Kemba is Charlotte’s star. He is their best player, their best scorer, and the engine that keeps the team going. It was evident during his one-game absence that without the point guard on the floor, the Hornets would struggle mightily.
While Walker didn’t play his best ball, once he returned to the team after a one-game absence, his star power was on full display. He recorded his third double-double of the season in the Hornets’ win over Atlanta with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He also had an admirable performance against Kyrie Irving and the Cavs when he scored 24 points.
After the Hornets’ loss to Boston without Kemba, their inability to score in crucial moments, especially down the stretch of a close game was evident without Walker on the court. When he came back, the starting point guard helped lead his team past the Hawks in a close game that came down to the final possessions.
If we ever needed a reason to appreciate Kemba Walker more, this road trip did just that. With a scare to his left knee against Cleveland, an injury to the Charlotte Hornets’ star would be absolutely devastating and that became more clear after he missed just one game.