Charlotte Hornets: How Has The Bench Performed?

Oct 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb (3) and center Frank Kaminsky III (44) grab a rebound against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb (3) and center Frank Kaminsky III (44) grab a rebound against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The biggest concern heading into the season for the Charlotte Hornets was their bench depth. How has their bench performed ten games into the season?

Despite middling expectations after a quiet summer, the Charlotte Hornets have started the season 7-3. They’ve managed to begin the season on a roll thanks to their fifth-ranked defense, continuity and Kemba Walker‘s ongoing evolution as a budding star in the league.

The primary starting unit has been tremendous. The lineup of Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller has logged 128 minutes together and has a net rating of plus-14.5.

That’s not surprising. That particular five-man group was plus-23.7 points per 100 possessions in 70 minutes last season before Kidd-Gilchrist’s shoulder injury caused him to miss the rest of the season. It’s clear they have chemistry.

They complement each other so well. Walker serves as the primary scorer, Batum’s play-making creates scoring opportunities for two players that rarely create their own shot in Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist, while Williams stretches the floor.

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It doesn’t hurt that no player in this five is below average defensively.

Something is just clicking for this group and it’s paying off on the scoreboard.  As the season moves forward that chemistry should only get better.

It isn’t groundbreaking information that Charlotte’s starters are playing well. That was expected. My biggest worry for this team as the season drew closer was the play of their bench.

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Jeremy Lin was a vital sixth man for the 2015-16 Hornets, and Al Jefferson had settled into a role as bench scorer. Losing both of them took away from the depth that made last year’s team so dangerous.

Ramon Sessions and Roy Hibbert were essentially brought in to replace those two on the roster. Other new additions include former Sacramento King Marco Belinelli, Treveon Graham, and former Philadelphia 76er Christian Wood.

They joined Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb, Aaron Harrison–holdovers from last season–and Brian Roberts, who re-signed with Charlotte this summer after a mid-season trade sent him to Portland in 2015-16.

Harrison, Wood, Graham (despite a spot start for an injured MKG) and Roberts don’t really factor into the rotation so they’ll be excluded from this exercise, as will Lamb, who has missed most of the season due to injury.

How has the rest of this group performed? The results are mixed. On an individual level, some of them are having respectable seasons.

Per Game Table
5Marco Belinelli3010025.0.4031.43.3.424.4941.0002.
6Frank Kaminsky238023.1.4621.44.4.314.532.6253.
8Ramon Sessions3010017.4.2880.
9Spencer Hawes2810016.6.4850.
10Roy Hibbert305215.0.6400.00.0.640.8893.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/16/2016.

Belinelli is doing exactly what the Hornets expected him to do; make three-pointers. He hasn’t done much else, but they knew what they were getting when they acquired him.

As long as Belinelli keeps shooting better than 40 percent (or only slightly less) from outside, Hornets fans should be content with his production.

Sessions is having the roughest season of the group. Nothing is going right for him. His field goal percentage is less than 30 percent, he can’t buy a made shot from outside and he’s never been known as a particularly stifling defender. He’s the weakest link in the chain right now.

Charlotte’s offensive rating is 14.4 points per 100 possessions better with Sessions on the bench, while their defensive rating is 7.7 points better without him. Ouch.

He’s a veteran with a track record of competent performance as a backup point guard, so I’d expect Steve Clifford to let him try and right the ship before giving Roberts or Harrison a chance to back up Kemba.

Kaminsky is becoming a key piece of the rotation offensively. His 11 points per game are the most for a Hornet coming off the bench.

Though he’d probably like his three-point percentage to creep up towards 35 percent, he’s been much better in the paint than from outside so far this season, and his defense continues to be a work in progress.

Hawes and Hibbert are adequate back-up big men. Hawes is streaky, but games when his awkward jumper is falling and his play-making is on full display pop up here and there.

Just ignore this.

Hibbert has been limited due to a knee injury, so he hasn’t yet gotten the chance to carve out his role on this team. He was impressive on opening night and looks to be a valuable rim protector on a second unit defense with some leakiness on the perimeter.

So far the bench hasn’t been quite as bad as I expected. Other than Sessions, you could make the case that every other bench piece is having a fine season.

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It’s still obvious that Clifford knows that the bench is the weakness that could keep this team from reaching its potential. Especially on the defensive end. Staggering rotations is commonplace in today’s NBA and Clifford knows that.

Rarely do the Hornets deploy a lineup without at least one starter. That starter is usually Kidd-Gilchrist. A lineup featuring him, Belinelli, Hawes, Sessions, and Kaminsky has played 42 minutes together this season and has a net rating of plus 1.4.

That’s not anything to write home about, but it will work. Their job is to tread water until it’s time for Kemba and Batum to come back in.

Ten games into the season it would appear that I was wrong about their bench being one of the worst in the NBA. I must have forgotten the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers existed. My bad.

It’s not unreasonable to think that the bench could be even better if a few things break in the right direction. The return of Lamb will help their scoring. Hibbert being fully healthy will help their defense. Sessions being better than awful will just help in general.

The bench isn’t the strength it was a year ago, but I no longer fear that it will sink their season.

Next: NBA Power Rankings Week 4

Sometimes being adequate is good enough.