Analyzing the Charlotte Hornets’ worst stretch of the season

For a team on the rebuild, it’s no surprise that the Charlotte Hornets would have a bad stretch or two. Two bad stretches were, in fact, what made sure they would once again fail to see the playoffs.

Few expected this Charlotte Hornets team to be contending for a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference. Some possibly expected them to at least compete for the final two spots in the East, and they very nearly did until a stint of games during the middle of the season saw them win just five games.

What doomed them to that unfortunate fate? Was it simply their schedule? Terrible play? Did things just not going their way? Or, was it a mix of all of those and more? In a game as complicated as basketball, it’s usually down to a myriad of reasons and their demise was no different. Let’s take a trip back to late December when times were much simpler.

December 18th, 2019. Most people’s worries were centered around finishing their Christmas shopping. That seems like an eternity ago, doesn’t it? In any case, the Charlotte Hornets were suiting up to battle the Cleveland Cavaliers, sporting a record of 13-17, and were very much in the mix for the playoffs. Yes, it was early, but at that point, they were only two games behind their pace from a season ago.

One bad stretch does not a season make, but two can ultimately ruin your season. The Charlotte Hornets know that firsthand.

The Hornets would lose that game by just two points, dropping them to 13-18. At that time, they were within a game and a half of the last playoff spot in the East, with the Orlando Magic just ahead of them. It’s probably not that hard to assume that this was the start of something that would more or less bury their season.

Charlotte then went 5-19 over the next two months, the worst in the league during the stretch. They would win their two games right before the All-Star break, but by then, their fate had been sealed.

Over those 24 games, Charlotte was dead last in the league in points per game, field goal percentage, next to last in three-point field goal percentage, and dead last in +/- by a decent margin.

They were also near the bottom of the league in overall rebounds, defensive rebounds, free-throws attempted, and free-throw percentage. So, it would seem their offense was the issue during this horrid stretch.

Well, their defense wasn’t that spectacular, either. They gave up the fourth-highest field goal percentage, had the third-worst defensive rating, and allowed the second-highest two-point field-goal percentage. Oddly enough, they allowed just the ninth-most points in the NBA throughout that span.

Yes, it’s not that surprising to see a team like Charlotte struggle. If you paid attention the entire season, you probably remember that it was the Hornets’ perimeter defense that was often their undoing during the beginning of the year. That very much was the case as they allowed the second-highest percentage in the NBA from deep.

They stepped up their defense past the arc, though, and through the even-numbered months of December and February, Charlotte held teams to the second-lowest percentage in the entire league. November and January were not so good… in fact, they were downright terrible, at or near the bottom of the league.

Their main source of frustration is one we’ve harped on before, and sure enough, when digging through the stats, that pesky interior defense was at the bottom of the NBA in every single month of the season. That could partially be why Head Coach James Borrego made some lineup changes—most notably, inserting Bismack Boyombo into the starting five in place of Cody Zeller.

At least he tried something, but unfortunately, the protection in the paint did not get much better. To paint a broader picture, of those 24 games the team played between December 18th and February 12th, 12 of them were against teams with .500 records or better.

The Hornets won just one of those games. It was against the Dallas Mavericks in overtime. Their perimeter defense just so happened to save them in that game, as they allowed the Mavs to shoot just 30% from distance. I would like to say they learned something from that win, but after that thriller, they lost eight-straight, their longest streak since losing 10 in a row in 2014-2015.

On a positive note, the team played well just before the season was put on hold in mid-March. Yes, they went 2-4 in that stretch, but with three of those losses being by a mere 11 points combined and with victories over two tough playoff teams, perhaps they figured something out.

Over that six-game span, they gave up the seventh-fewest points and were in the top-20 in terms of opponent field-goal percentage. They might have discovered a lineup or a scheme that worked, but even before that, it was far too late,

If you’re an optimist, that’s a tiny silver lining in the thunderstorm that was this NBA season. Perhaps with the right moves in the next few months and the coaching staff further figuring out how to play to this team’s strengths, losing skids like this won’t be as commonplace next year.