By Shawn Dennis
Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets has been getting the most media coverage since he first bought the team in 2010. This is in large part due to the fact that the man who said he’d beat the owner in a game of 1v1 has a son that’s on the roster (LaMelo Ball.) Perhaps MJ giving the injury-ridden Gordon Hayward a max deal worth $128 million over four years might have something to do with it as well.
The Hornets are currently 12th in the East and share the same record as the Toronto Raptors, 7-11. Their roster is quite interchangeable in the sense that there’s numerous players who have the ability to start and get more minutes that head coach James Borrego has been trying to assess in a way that makes sense for what he believes the team’s needs are. The main question here is should the rookie guard LaMelo Ball be coming off the bench or inserted into the starting roster?
Before we answer that question, let’s delve into the Hornets roster and get insight as to what Borrego thinks will give his team the best chances of winning. As of right now, the Hornets starting lineup consists of Devonte Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, and Cody Zeller. Now, aside from Gordon Hayward, there can be an argument made that any of these four players could be switched into a role off the bench. Especially with who gets the center spot and who’s facilitating the ball at point guard.
Graham has been scoring an average of about 14 points per game on 34 minutes a game, while shooting a dismal 34% from the field. Cody Zeller is coming off a hand injury and has recently been put back into the starting rotation, which I believe is a bad move by Borrego. Zeller has never been the guy who can either go out and guard an elite or even an average big nor can he put up anything crazy on the stat sheet with his career high in points being 28 back in 2019. Bismack Biyombo deserves the starting position, but I don’t think he’s the answer to Charlotte’s lack of defense in the front court. Aside from Dwight Howard, who played one decent season with the Hornets in the 2018 season, Charlotte hasn’t had an elite center since Al Jefferson, who never really showed his full abilities because of injuries.
MJ should be seeking some sort of package deal to send off one of their guards and one or both of their centers, but it’s doubtful he’ll do much if anything about it. In any case, MJ should be communicating more with Borrego about who is and isn’t getting the minutes they deserve for at least two players, Miles Bridges and Ball.
Borrego puts blame on Ball’s lack of caring for the ball as the reason for him not being in the starting lineup. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer asked Borrego of this recurring question to which Borrego answered:
“If you’re turning the ball over five times in 16 minutes, that ain’t gonna cut it for me. If you’re doing that on the offensive end, you better be bringing something defensively.”
I have several problems with this statement and I wholeheartedly disagree with the coach that has a 75-113 record in Charlotte. The only way that LaMelo is going to improve with handling the ball is by giving him more minutes and not having him sit on the bench and watch. It would be one thing if the Hornets were a top 5 team in the East and were clear playoff contenders, but that is far from the reality of this franchise that’s made the playoffs twice in the last ten seasons. Borrego is setting the bar way too high for a 19-year-old kid who’s played an average of 24 minutes and still managed to become the only player on the roster to get a triple double, not to mention being the youngest ever to do so.
Now, I do agree that Borrego is right in the sense that Ball should be more decisive with his playmaking, but what rookie point guard has been perfect with their decisions passing the ball through less than 15 NBA games? Did Chris Paul not average 2.5 turnovers a game in his rookie year?
Maybe LaMelo is saying things behind the scenes that’s preventing him from getting more minutes, but if that’s not an issue, Borrego has to insert him into the starting lineup sooner rather than later if Graham keeps his averages basically the same and they continue to be below .500.
A starting lineup that I would love to see in Charlotte is Ball, Rozier, Hayward, Washington and Biyombo. Graham and Bridges can be the first off the bench, and if Ball is consistently turning it over and playing lackadaisical defense, then take him out of the game. Until then, Borrego has to realize for the sake of his job and the team’s future that his way out of the below .500 club is giving Ball the ball.
The hype for NBA basketball has never been this high around a city that hasn’t known what it’s like to win since Cam Newton brought the Panthers to a Super Bowl. If MJ wants his ratings up and to have a solid fan base like fellow NCAA teams in North Carolina with the Duke Blue Devils and UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels, LaMelo Ball is his answer. Between his highlight reel and dad, the Ball family knows how to bring publicity.