The Charlotte Hornets are budging from their current approach: Kemba Walker is the point guard at all times, while Jeremy Lin is the backup point guard and usually a crunch time shooting guard. That may be the state of things right now, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for the team.
The Hornets, after an 0-3 start, are looking good most of the time, winning 12 of their next 17 games, and can take the top spot in the Southeast division if they beat the Miami Heat, coming off a home loss to the Washington Wizards. Doing well (12-8) or at least better than last season suggests Steve Clifford is doing a great job, right? Things could be better, but it takes risks that Clifford and probably no one on this team is willing to take.
There’s something of a puff piece (but an interesting read nonetheless) on the Hornets by Adi Joseph of Sporting News which is pretty much about complimenting everyone: Steve Clifford for being flexible, the two Jeremy L’s for playing together, Kemba Walker for playing better thanks to players who space the floor. But the most interesting point he’s making is something that the Hornets, and pretty much anyone who watches their games knows by now: Jeremy Lin is a better point guard than Walker, but will probably never get to really show it, or to be more accurate, given the true, full opportunity to prove it to any non-believer.
Lin splits his time on the floor between the two guard positions. Different statistic sites have different numbers for it, but it’s around 47% at points guard when he’s with the second unit, and 53% when he’s playing at shooting guard, and that’s when he sharing the floor with Walker and pretty much wasting away on the corner, helping spread the floor for a selfish point guard. Obviously Walker loves playing next to Lin and/or Nicolas Batum. It spaces up the floor for him to do what he’s always done, only with defenses finding it more difficult to focus just on him.
But the most important bit in this article has to do with the numbers Lin has when he plays at point guard. Against second units or not, it’s impressive and very telling of how much better Lin is at the position. He’s averaging 20.2 points and 6.1 assists per 36 minutes when at the point guard position, while only 13 points and 3.1 assists as the shooting guard next to Walker. And Kemba, who is a point guard 100% of the time? 18.5 points and 5 assists per 36 minutes. The Hornets are outscoring opponents by 14.8 points per 48 minutes when Lin is on the floor as a point guard. Walker? His current net rating is +0.5 per 100 possessions, but the team is 11.5 points per 100 possessions better when he isn’t playing.
This isn’t just about Walker. It’s about the Hornets starting lineup or stronger lineups not being the best selections by Clifford. It’s about something that’s been known in Charlotte for a while: Lin playing at point guard is the best thing for this team. Walker can be on the floor, he just doesn’t need to be touching the ball all the time. He might be shooting better this season than before, but the Hornets might be better with Lamb next to Lin in the backcourt. Clifford won’t try it in crunch time and the record so far allows him to keep this hidden. He’s probably hoping he doesn’t ever have to try it.