The Charlotte Hornets are doing better than expected this season. Nicolas Batum is doing much better than last season, Kemba Walker has improved, Marvin Williams is solid and Cody Zeller has done a good job of stepping up to take the place of Al Jefferson. But this team’s success, like for most teams in the league, wouldn’t be possible without a good bench unit, led by Jeremy Lin.
Whether he’s good enough to start isn’t the question. Whether he should be the point guard in certain situations instead of Walker isn’t the issue here as well. The Hornets need Lin as their point guard coming off the bench because it makes up the whole point of their second unit, which has changed recently because of Zeller getting more minutes in place of Jefferson, Clifford having more faith in Frank Kaminsky and Lin getting the kind of minutes he deserves.
The Hornets are averaging 40.4 bench points per game, fourth best in the NBA. Jeremy Lamb scored 12 per game, with Lin following him with 10.7 a night. For both players this is a season about proving that they’re more than what they seem to many according to recent years. The narrative regarding Lamb is that Scott Brooks never game him the kind of minutes he deserved and needed, and now, as a much more free-to-play scorer off the bench, he’s showing his shooting ability and crowd-pleasing ability as well.
Lin has a similar narrative; we’ve been pushing it for quite some time. It might be slightly different for him, because Lamb isn’t a player who seems to be getting his minutes changed all the time, which has helped him be a lot more consistent, only five times this season scoring less than 10 points. Lin, the real driving force of this unit, that also includes Spencer Hawes, Kaminsky and until recently Zeller, has seen a different kind of approach from Steve Clifford, who tends to bench him for mistakes, “special treatment” other players on this team don’t receive.
But Clifford, in four of the last five games, has shown he’s willing to change. This whole season is about change for a very defensive minded coach who might have been close with some very offense-oriented HC’s in the past, but it took him time to understand that the basketball from last season and 2014, that’s based on Walker isolations and posting up Jefferson, isn’t going to work in the long run. More movement, more spacing, more passing? It’s like a whole new world for Clifford, but fact is, everyone in the league except for a “chosen” few are moving in that direction.
Against the Orlando Magic? The Hornets website talks about the matchup between Batum and fellow Frenchman Evan Fournier, but the two Jeremys, Lamb and Lin, are averaging 22.7 points per game together, more than any other bench pairing in the Eastern conference. While Batum is important, the minutes Lin and Lamb are together on the floor make more of a difference, usually positively, on how the Hornets get to end their night.