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Hornets open training camp with emphasis on improving defense
Coach Borrego eyes simplified approach
Published Monday, September 30, 2019 8:59 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Hornets center Bismack Biyombo, right, concedes the players and coach James Borrego had a mutual learning curve last season, which resulted in a 39-43 record.

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The Charlotte Hornets are simplifying their approach to defense.

Second-year head coach James Borrego heads into the first day of camp Tuesday in Chapel Hill demanding an amped up defense from his young squad. The Hornets, who went 39-43 last season and failed to make the playoffs, open the regular season at home on Oct. 23 against Chicago.

“We were further ahead offensively than defensively last year the way the roster was built,” Borrego said. “We were fifth in offense in the Eastern Conference.

We gotta take another step in that area, but I think to start this season, [our roster] is more defensively driven.”
Borrego pointed to point guard Terry Rozier to “lead that charge” as a very physical defender.

Charlotte acquired Rozier in a sign-and-trade deal for three-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker over the summer. Walker went to Boston, the team that drafted Rozier 16th overall in 2015. Rozier’s best season was 2017-18, when he played 80 games, averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 assists and shot 38.1% from three-point range. Rozier who, waited in the shadow of players like Kyrie Irving, has 19 playoff starts and 50 postseason appearances to his credit. The Hornets have not been to the playoffs since 2015-16, and never advanced to the second round since coming back to Charlotte.

“He will drive our defense,” Borrego said. “He will drive our competitive spirit on a night to night basis. When you put a point guard out there who is going to hound the point guard of our opposing team for us every night that sets the tone for us defensively. I recognize that this is going to be the first time he starts on a regular basis. We’re going to have to work through that and grow and help him develop in that area, but as far as competing every single night, and being a two-way player, I’m extremely excited about that.”

Borrego also noted the demands of the modern game as it pertains to guarding the perimeter.

“You have to have one or two guys on ball with length, size and athleticism to stop the ball,” Borrego said.

For center Cody Zeller, the faster tempo suits his style of play. However, the veteran center has struggled with injury. He has played 82 games over the last two seasons, averaging 6.8 rebounds and 10.1 points per game last year.

“Shot-blockers are one thing in this league, but I think there’s different ways to build a good defense,” Zeller said. “Especially early on in my career, we had top 10 defenses with Al Jefferson at center, me at center, [and] Josh McRoberts, who wasn’t a big top shot-blocker. With a good team defense, good pick and roll coverages, I don’t think that you necessarily need a shot blocker at the rim. It always helps, obviously, but I think it will be kind of a group effort. We have athletic bigs, even myself. I can move my feet in a pick and roll. I use more body positioning. I’m a good team defender. I’m not one who is going to go out and block five shots a game.”

Centers Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez played 54 games and 58 games respectively last season. Biyombo, who is in his second stint as a Hornet, was part of the organization during its defense-first days under former coach Steve Clifford. The veteran big noted that while Borrego’s desire to simplify the defense is necessary, he experienced a bit of a learning curve.

“You have to understand that JB, yes he’s been around the league [as an assistant with San Antonio], but also, it was the first year for him—new players, new personnel,” Biyombo said. “You have to adjust to that. You have to learn what you have. As we went through the season, we all kind of faced the ups and downs where he was trying to adjust, still playing with the match ups and see who fits with who and who can play better with who. Yes, we were two games out of the playoffs, and when you finish the season and you look back, it was a lot for him to learn as a coach and for us as players, but you have to understand it from the point of view of a new coach just like a new player.”  


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