Hawks vs. Hornets Game Preview

Ben Ladner

After playing one of the toughest opening 20 games in the NBA, the Hawks’ schedule – in theory ought to slow down in the month of December. No opponent is easy and no win is guaranteed in the NBA, but there is a difference between playing Conference Finals contenders and middling teams; so far Atlanta has seen more of the former than the latter.

The Charlotte Hornets have thus far played their way into the middling category, if that. Like the Hawks, Charlotte has been one of the worst teams in the NBA, and even its 9-15 record may overstate the actual quality of this team. According to Cleaning the Glass’ data, only the Lakers have outperformed their point differential to a greater degree than the Hornets. The Hornets are quite dangerous from beyond the arc. They shoot the seventh-highest 3-point percentage in the NBA and have six rotation players shooting 35 percent or better on at least three attempts per game – including Devonte’ Graham, who ranks second in the NBA in made 3-pointers.

Game Time: Sunday, December 8, 2019, 5:00 p.m. ET

Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC

TV: FOX Sports Southeast

Streaming: NBA League Pass, FOX Sports Go

Yet despite an efficient shot profile and a high team shooting percentage, Charlotte still has a bottom-11 offense because of its high turnover rate and inability to consistently get to the foul line. Graham and Terry Rozier – the team’s starting backcourt – are two of the most contact-averse guards in the NBA, and none of Charlotte’s other perimeter players get to the line with much frequency. Defensively, the Hornets trail only the Hawks and Wizards in points allowed per possession. James Borrego’s team allows the second-highest opponent effective field goal percentage in the NBA and, like Atlanta, has struggled on the defensive glass. They do force turnovers at a top-10 rate, which could be especially effective against Atlanta, who coughs the ball up on over 17 percent of their possessions.

Graham, a second-round pick in 2018 by the Hawks, has been one of the most surprising individual stories in the NBA this season, averaging over 19 points and nearly eight assists per game on 42.1 percent 3-point shooting. Even in a strong Eastern Conference guard field, Graham could find himself in All-Star discussions if he sustains this level of play for the duration of the season. After signing a 3-year, $57 million contract over the offseason and starting the year slowly, Terry Rozier has emerged as a dynamic secondary option next to Graham. Cody Zeller clears a way for both guards with clever, punishing screens while rookie P.J. Washington has started his career auspiciously as an athletic, floor-spacing power forward.

“They’ve basically moved their starters from last year to the bench and implemented a new starting lineup,” Lloyd Pierce said. “They’ve got some energy with their young guys, and they’ve got some leadership and maturity with the older guys.” Charlotte’s bench hasn’t quite matched the starters’ output, however. Marvin Williams provides reliable shooting and heady defense, but absent any real punch from Nicolas Batum, Malik Monk, or Dwayne Bacon, those skills don’t mean as much. Williams also left Friday’s game with an apparent knee injury and did not return, which could leave his status for Sunday in doubt.

For Atlanta, De’Andre Hunter is doubtful to play with a dislocated finger while Allen Crabbe is questionable after undergoing a knee procedure earlier in the week. Kevin Huerter should get more time than the 15 minutes he played on Wednesday, but the exact limit of his time remains to be seen.  

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