Have the Charlotte Hornets fixed their defensive woes or is it just a stroke of good luck?

James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
James Borrego, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

The Charlotte Hornets have surpassed just about everyone’s expectations this season as they have become an offensive juggernaut that can beat any team on any given night. At 26-20 and just 3.5 games back from the number one seed, you could call this season a success up until this point. However, even as the team sits in a bright spot, there has been one glaring hole on this unit that’s held them back from being considered one of the NBA’s elite teams, and that’s defense.

Has Charlotte fixed their defensive problems or is this a stroke of good luck?

On the year, the Hornets rank 25th in team defensive rating, simply meaning they’re a bottom-five team in stopping opponents from putting the basketball in the hoop. Which is kind of important if you want to win a ball game.

This puts them among the worst teams in the league like the Houston Rockets (30), Sacramento Kings (27), and Orlando Magic (26). Also impossible to ignore the fact that all three of those teams beat the Hornets this season. The Portland Trailblazers (29) and Atlanta Hawks (28) are two teams who you would expect to rank a little higher but have been struggling a lot so far this season compared to their standards.

While ranking 25 on the season is quite bad, something has happened recently that’s very, VERY surprising. Over the last 10 games, the Hornets rank FOURTH in defensive rating (107.0), according to Statmuse. Not fourth-worst, fourth-best!

Now yes, 10 games is a small sample size, but it’s nice to see improvement in an area where it was much needed, and the best part about is that Charlotte hasn’t had to shake the roster up to address the situation.

What the Hornets are doing isn’t a perfect solution, head coach James Borrego has had to emphasize defense in practice and is forced to run a lot of zone defense (likely the most in the NBA) to make up for Charlotte’s defensive inefficiencies.

It appears most of the players are starting to buy into the idea of playing defense. Which is just a wild sentence to type out. You can see the effort pop up when they blitz opposing players in the paint. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are two of the most dominating big men in the league that the Hornets faced in this 10 game stretch. They both had great games against the Hornets, but you could tell the blitz technique forced them into making some tough decisions that Charlotte was ultimately able to take advantage of.

Charlotte ranks second in the NBA in pace, meaning they get the second most offensive possessions in the league. The more mistakes they can force their opponents to make, the better it is for them. This sounds obvious, but when placed alongside a good defensive rating, this should be a recipe for a win, and it has been.

Any sort of advantage that the Hornets can grab on the defensive end needs to be exploited until reinforcements are brought in that can help on that end of the court. Charlotte is near the top of the leaderboard in both deflections and loose balls recovered in January. They’re not going to be able to stop you in one and one, but creating chaotic situations and hustling to the ball is how this team wins games.

On the flip side, this could just be an extended run of good luck. Opponents are making just 44.6 percent of their field goals against the Hornets in their last 10 games. Could be good defense, could be other teams have a tough night. Either way, we will take it!

It will be interesting to monitor how long the Hornets can keep this up. This has to be an exhausting way of playing basketball, and a switch back to a traditional man-to-man defense probably won’t happen until a trade is made or free-agent reinforcements are brought in next season.

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For now, let’s enjoy the fact that the Hornets aren’t letting every team they come across score 115 points at will.