What’s the best starting lineup and rotation for the Charlotte Hornets?

By Chase Whitney

January 11, 2021

Photo: AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

With the stellar play of rookie LaMelo Ball and the improvement shown by Miles Bridges in the early going, Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego has not had an easy job mapping out the team’s rotations. The starting lineup hasn’t changed since Cody Zeller went down with a fractured hand, but with Ball seemingly a nightly triple-double threat off the bench, it’s getting a little harder to justify the lack of change.

Although there may not be a particular change that will make a difference in the overall performance of the team, that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. The first change that any fan may want to see is Ball in the starting lineup. 

Let’s see how that would look:

Starters: LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo

Rotation: Devonte’ Graham, Bridges, Caleb Martin, Cody Martin

This rotation is essentially what Borrego employs now, but with Ball starting the game instead of Graham. Though Graham is a better playmaker and defender than Rozier, he’s struggled shooting the ball to start the year, and being matched up with bench players rather than starters might help him get back to himself. Graham still retains his starter-level minutes, while Bridges plays around 28 minutes per night and the Martin twins play a combined 25 or so minutes. 

Ball’s pace of play and ability to grab a rebound and make a full-court outlet pass will alleviate the scoring issues the current starting five has. According to Cleaning The Glass, the Graham-Rozier-Hayward-Washington-Biyombo crew scores 88.3 points per 100 possessions and a negative 24.5 point differential, both among the worst of any starting lineup in the NBA.

Starters: Ball, Graham, Hayward, Bridges, Washington

Rotation: Rozier, Biyombo, Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels

The famous small-ball lineup. Even without a reliable jumper at the moment, Graham will eventually find his spots as an off-ball scorer and he almost always makes the right play when the ball is in his hands. Hayward’s role as the No. 1 option is unchanged, but now he has more shooting and defensive versatility around him. The Bridges-Washington frontcourt pairing has yielded extremely positive results so far; nearly every impact metric puts them in at least the 80th percentile in the league according to Cleaning The Glass, and they outscore their opponents at an alarming rate. Sure, there will be issues with rebounding and interior defense, but the name of the game is scoring. Outscore the opponent and all of your problems suddenly disappear.

Rozier did not take kindly to being a bench player in Boston, but it makes a ton of sense as a spot-up shooting sixth man-type role. He’d be a better playmaker against the second unit and wouldn’t be relied upon to be a defensive stopper on the perimeter as much as he is now.

Starters: Graham, Rozier, Ball, Hayward, Washington

Rotation: Bridges, Malik Monk, Biyombo, McDaniels

We’re getting really small and really fast with this rotation. The Graham-Rozier-Ball trio has only played 17 possessions together this year, but that lineup scores a ton of points and forces a lot of turnovers. That makes sense given the playmaking they have all over the court on both ends of the floor. Ball, Graham and Hayward can all initiate offense, Rozier doesn’t have to be responsible for anything but shooting, and Washington can morph into a Daniel Theis-like floor-spacing gadget center. Much like the previous rotation, defense and rebounding will be an issue, but scoring points definitely will not be.

Malik Monk makes his first appearance in the rotation here. With the Martin twins playing better as of late, there’s no chance for him to prove himself for more than five-to-eight minutes in garbage time once every two weeks. His athleticism, court vision and downhill aggressiveness are exactly what the second unit offense needs when it stagnates; the Martin twins are good role players, but Monk could provide an extra spark.

Starters: Ball, Rozier, Hayward, Bridges, Biyombo

Rotation: Graham, Washington, Monk, Nick Richards/Vernon Carey Jr.

After three somewhat realistic rotation scenarios, this one probably won’t happen, but that’s neither here nor there. Borrego has said that if he were to make changes to the starting lineup, it would likely not be “one” change, implying that another player would be moving up with Ball. Bridges is the logical conclusion, and since it’s unlikely that Borrego would demote Biyombo to the bench since he’s the team’s only veteran and “true center” right now, Graham and Washington make the move to the second unit.

This starting lineup has a negative 12.9 point differential through 95 possessions, so all signs point to it not being a successful pairing, but that’s fine for now. Graham-Monk-Washington is a formidable bench trio that would certainly be among the highest-scoring reserve lineups in the league. Instead of the Martin twins or McDaniels, Richards or Carey Jr. get a shot to prove themselves in this scenario. Until Zeller comes back, the tallest player in the rotation is McDaniels at 6’10”, but he’s a forward/wing that is too thin to play center, so Richards or Carey Jr. are the only opportunities for Borrego to get some size and length on the court.

Since Ball made history becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double, Borrego has to be thinking about making some changes to his lineup and rotation. He’s going to be the starter eventually, and there’s not much of a point in postponing the inevitable when he looks ready. It will be intriguing to see how it unfolds.

Check out the full 2020-21 Charlotte Hornets schedule.

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