|The replacements: Charlotte Hornets' second team is first-rate|
|Mix of youth, experience boost bottom line|
|Published Sunday, November 4, 2018 12:20 pm|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Rookie forward Miles Bridges (0) is a key contributor to the Hornets' reconstituted bench. Bridges averages 8.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.|
This isn’t Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets bench.
It’s 10 games into the season, but the early returns indicate new coach James Borrego’s emphasis on energy has filtered to the second unit, which ranks as one of the NBA's most productive. For example, in Saturday’s 126-94 win against Cleveland, the Hornets led 59-52 at halftime, but pulled away in the third quarter when Borrego integrated backups with starters Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb.
“They were fantastic,” Borrego said. “They really extended the lead. We went back to a group of [Tony] Parker, Walker, Lamb, [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Willy [Hernangomez] – possibly Cody [Zeller] in there was well. But that group really energized us, got us going.”
That’s a critical ingredient in Charlotte’s 5-5 mark. Bench players as a group average 64.1 points per game, making them one of the NBA’s best. In the Cleveland game, they combined for 67 points. Granted, the Cavaliers aren’t very good, but the productivity is unmistakable.
“If you look at our group there, the line our bench had tonight was just really impressive,” Borrego said. “That bench group is really playing well together. Coming in with a lot of energy, moving the ball, sharing the ball, getting to the paint.”
A major bench addition has been free agent signee Tony Parker, who has brought energy, intelligence and scoring to the second unit. An added bonus is the mentoring he’s added with four championship rings from 17 seasons with San Antonio.
“It’s always good to have TP on the team,” said Malik Monk, who has flourished as a scorer off the bench with 13.4 points and 2.3 assists per game. “He’s been in the league 18 years, so he knows every spot on the court so he’s going to put you [where you need to be] and make sure we’re in a great spot to score or be on defense, so all the tanks goes to him.”
In the reconstituted Charlotte bench, former starters like Parker and Kidd-Gilchrist have benefited from second-team status, while younger players have taken to contributing athletic assets for significant stretches. Under Clifford, bench production was an issue, especially the previous two seasons as youngsters like Monk were restricted by Clifford’s defense-first attitude, a contradiction in the score-more NBA.
“We have great chemistry,” said backup forward Miles Bridges, Charlotte’s top rookie addition. “We try to lock down defensively with MKG and Malik in there. We’re really athletic. With TP running the point, he’s got a lot of experience, so it’s a good second unit.”
Bridges, who averages 8.0 points and 3.4 rebounds a game, is integral to the Hornets’ emphasis on making the second team a game-changing asset. When Borrego calls on him, Bridges knows his role: give Charlotte a jolt, whether it sparks a run or prevents one by the opposition.
“He wants to me to bring energy, get a lot of rebounds,” Bridges said, “just help clean people up on defense.”
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