The Charlotte Hornets coaching problem

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets talks to Dwayne Bacon
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets talks to Dwayne Bacon /

At 24-33, the Charlotte Hornets have had a disappointing season so far. Why haven’t they been better? Here’s why it might be the coaching.

The Charlotte Hornets‘ bizarre and disappointing season continues on. Buzz City started off the season projected to win 46 games. Now, they’re expected to only win 37. What caused this massive drop-off?

Sure, there were early season injuries, and that absolutely played a part. Those injuries mean that lineups don’t get enough time to gel in games, not to mention the lost player production. But every team in the NBA suffers injuries. Why have they affected Charlotte so much?

Maybe the roster isn’t constructed as well as it could be. Maybe the players just aren’t as good as we thought. Maybe, maybe, maybe. There are lots of possibilities, all of which contribute, at least in some small way, to the Hornets disappointing season. But one thing is for certain: Steve Clifford shares in some of that blame.

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It’s time to take a long, hard look at our coaching staff. It’s no secret we’re among the worst teams in the league in close games. Our .387 clutch win percentage is good for 25th in the NBA, worse than the likes of Sacramento, Phoenix, and Chicago. We consistently have trouble inbounding the ball, and the coach’s favorite backup point guard might be the worst shooter in all of history.

Charlotte’s three most played lineups this season are the normal starting five, the normal starting five with Lamb in for Batum, and the bench lineup of MCW, Lamb, Graham, Kaminsky, and O’Bryant. The first two lineups post net ratings of 4.0 and 12.3, respectively (as an aside, this stat continues to support my desire to start Jeremy Lamb, but that’s none of my business). The third most played lineup reps a -5.7 net rating.

Obviously, some of the blame should fall on those bench players for not working well together. But why is it Charlotte’s third most played lineup? If a unit fails to produce, it shouldn’t see the floor, let alone continue to rack up minutes. Steve Clifford seems to be allergic to staggering his starters, and it hurts this team.

It wouldn’t be fair to Clifford to only analyze his faults though. His calling card is defense, so maybe the concrete rotations are just a side effect of his coaching, which allows us to lock opponents up.

Except our defense isn’t even that great. Charlotte is 18th in the league in opponents points per game, and just barely cracks the top half of the league in defensive rating. We hemorrhage three-point attempts, tied with the Timberwolves and Knicks for the sixth most allowed threes per game. The Queen City team is tied with the Nuggets for the third worst opposing three-point percentage. It’s not a player problem, it’s a scheme one.

Clifford isn’t an insane talent developer, either. Kemba Walker is the only player under the tutelage of him to expand his game. Other players, while still young, don’t seem to develop. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still an excellent defender and hustle player, the same as he was when he was a rookie. Cody Zeller has mostly tread water and not added any new facets to his game.

Frank Kaminsky is still the same player from his tenure at Wisconsin. Even Jeremy Lamb, who has impressed this year, has mostly improved as a result of more playing time, as his shooting splits and per 36 numbers are in line with his previous seasons.

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Calling for Clifford’s job might be a bit rash now, but it’s clear his seat is hot. If things don’t change soon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Charlotte in the market for a new head coach sometime soon. Our rotations are terrible. We’re not good at defending the three in a league that has fallen in love with it. We don’t develop talent. The Hornets 24-33 record might be surprising based on preseason predictions. But with the coaching problem we have, maybe it shouldn’t come as such a shock after all.