It has been a while since things were like this.
As they sprint into the second half of their season, the Charlotte Hornets find themselves in a situation that hasn’t transpired under the team’s current front-office structure. When they last were six games about the .500 mark, Mitch Kupchak wasn’t the general manager and coach James Borrego was still on Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio. Yes, the 2015-16 season feels like light years ago.
Now, altering the franchise’s landscape and lifting it to new paths is at the forefront of their minds. That’s why no one seems overly content with the early results so far of a season that’s already turning out to be one of the best in over a half decade. The Hornets are all walking progress reports, analyzing their collective growth on a daily basis.
Sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, having the league’s second-ranked scoring offense coupled with their slowly improving 25th-ranked defensive efficiency often leads to spectacular plays on opposite ends of the court. One of those isn’t necessarily a good thing, though. There’s a parallel.
“When we go dry offensively and we stop trusting the pass, it leads to poor transition defense,” Borrego said. “So they have an effect on each other. When we are taking good shots, passing the ball, moving the ball, it tends to lead to a defense that is trusting each other and committed to each other. And at times that can get out of balance.
“But I’m seeing more consistency on both ends of the floor to me right now, which is a winning formula when you are on both ends of the floor. And when we are out of balance, that’s my job to correct it. That’s what I’m watching right now. When we are out of balance, when we are not taking good shots, it’s my job to make that correction to move it, share it because that’s going to lead to better defense going the other way.”
So in a sense, Borrego is kind of like a teacher marking up a test or a quiz, going over the proper revisions to attempt to ensure long-term success for their pupil. Speaking of exams, with the season just past the midway point The Observer asked the main players in the Hornets’ rotation for a self-evaluation.
Self-evaluation: Battling with injuries, coming back trying to work myself in. I just always feel like I could play better. I’m probably my biggest critic, and I just feel like I can give more and I know I will.
How to achieve a better final grade: (Not) dealing with injury and giving more effort out there. Just being that guy to go get back to that. I want to definitely get a lot more rebounds, getting back to how I was grabbing rebounds. That’s how I usually played all my life. So I just want to get back to that. Just being more aggressive, just being that dog that Charlotte needs.
Self-evaluation: I just think that I haven’t shot the ball as well as I’ve wanted. I don’t think I’ve shot it poorly, but I probably could shoot it a little bit better. But I feel like I’m doing other things well.
How to achieve a better final grade: I think playmaking a little bit more, getting in the paint, finding others, finding stuff for myself. So a little more playmaking.
Self-evaluation: I could do a better job on defense. I want to be a two-way player, and I feel like I’ve only showcased my offense the first half. So I just want to be better on the defensive end.
How to achieve a better final grade: Just staying locked in and being more physical on the glass. Just going back to my roots when I first got here.
Self-evaluation: I feel like me and the team is all connected. We’ve still got work to do, you know?
How to achieve a better final grade: Lock in on defense, get these wins. Just lock in mentally. All around just locking in for real.
Self-evaluation: I’m just going to look forward to the second half of the season, just looking forward to building on what we’ve done and making sure it’s better after another 41 games.
How to achieve a better final grade: Just going out and playing aggressive and not overthinking things. Sometimes there’s a lot of coaching coming into a new situation and you’ve just got to go play.
Self-evaluation: I have a lot more in the tank. I could be better, and I’m trying to stay humble with it. At the end of the day I want to be great, and if I give myself an ‘A’ that’s just saying I’ve done my best, and I haven’t done my best. We are going to keep growing and keep getting better.
How to achieve a better final grade: (Showing) that you can’t put me in a box, that I’m a real-deal player in this league. I’m still working, I’m still grinding trying to make a name for myself here. But y’all will remember my name at the end of this year.
Self-evaluation: There are some areas I want to improve on and some areas I need to improve on for me to get a higher grade, and I feel like I am capable of doing so.
How to achieve a better final grade: I think it’s more consistency. Being able to knock down shots, being able to be in the right positions each and every night and doing it every night no matter who we are playing. Being able to finish better at the rim, getting my percentages up around there. And I’d say just keep rebounding and more blocked shots. Just have an aggressive mentality and worry about the next shot and just keep taking them, no matter if they are going in or not and just always have confidence.
Self-evaluation: I know how much more I have to give. Things change, rotations change, minutes change, lineups change. So it’s about adjusting sometimes. We’ve all went through it. … I went through sickness with having COVID. Our whole team has at some point. But it’s just about adjusting and understanding that I’m not always going to score the same amount of points. And for me that’s how it’s always been. I think that I’ve never approached it and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to average this much and do this and do that.’ For me the approach was, No. 1, improve in the aspects that I know I want to and what I’ve been working on through the summer, and win. And as long as we are doing those things I don’t really think about anything else.
How to achieve a better final grade: Win games that we are supposed to and finding ways to help our team mature late-game, which I feel like we’ve been progressing in the right direction with that and not taken steps back in that area. Sometimes you can still lose and not feel like you are taking a step back. Sometimes it is what it is. Those games that we have control over, we need to stay in control of those games and not lose focus. And that’s collectively, including myself. Just overall making sure our team is going the right direction as a whole and going into the second unit with what we are able to accomplish, just taking that on with maturity and just kind of progressing in the right direction.
Self-evaluation: I feel like I’ve just been making the most of my time on the court when I get in there. Just doing the things I have to do. Say coming in, you have 15 points in 10 minutes or something like that. Then I would say that’s overachieving (what) you are supposed to do. So games, like those, I would say I’ve had a few of those. But you’ve always got to work towards something.
How to achieve a better final grade: I’d say more consistent. Just being more consistent, honestly, and just giving more. Getting (doubt) out of there, like not getting down on yourself when you are maybe missing a few shots a couple of games. You have to (know) it’s a long season. You are supposed to miss. You can’t make every shot. Just being more positive, too. Keeping a more positive mindset.
Self-evaluation: Just could have been a little bit better, finishing around the rim, getting guys going, knowing what Coach kind of wants us to do. It’s an adjustment any time you come from one team to another. As far as talking to the guys, encouraging and understanding what Coach was saying, I would like to give myself a high grade when it comes because I think it’s bigger than that. I could play better. But as far as encouraging and talking to the guys, whenever Coach breaks the huddle down, I always joke around with him like, ‘Coach, whenever you need me I’ll be ready.’ And so whenever he’s called on me, be ready to roll. And I think I’ve done an OK job on that.
How to achieve a better final grade: When Coach does call on me — I was mad at myself in the Orlando game missing a wide-open 3 in the corner, missing layups, just missing different things that if I’m in the game I feel like changing the impact, flow of the game, making those easy shots, getting guys involved. So just overall. I heard Reggie Miller say it’s a game of imperfection, you are constantly wanting perfection. So for me it’s constantly trying to get better. And I guess that’s why I’ve been in it so long.
Self-evaluation: I feel like the time I’ve had on the court while PJ (Washington) and Mase (Plumlee) were out, I think that I could have done a little bit more. I’m not going to play perfect basketball but you know how everybody wants more from themselves.
How to achieve a better final grade: Just knowing my mistakes from the last couple of games that I played. Me and the coaching staff got into the gym, watched film and I think I’ve learned from my mistakes. While I was playing, you could actually see I was getting better and better within each game and it was taking a little bit of time for me. But I was adjusting to the game pretty well.