NBA Season Preview: Hornets hope Spurs pedigree rubs off

New coach James Borrego, who spent nearly a decade learning from San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, brings an aggressive style — and guard Tony Parker — with him to Charlotte

New coach James Borrego is hoping to instill the winning culture he was part of in San Antonio, and he has an on-the-floor ambassador in longtime Spurs point guard Tony Parker. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

The San Antonio Spurs have been the NBA’s model franchise for the past two decades, making the playoffs every year since 1998 with five league championships along the way. So when the Charlotte Hornets decided to make a change this summer, it’s no surprise that they went with a blueprint similar to that of the Spurs.

Starting with the hiring of their new coach.

James Borrego spent nine seasons as an assistant in San Antonio learning at the side of Gregg Popovich, the architect of the Spurs’ success and a future Hall of Famer.

One of the first things he did was bring veteran point guard Tony Parker along with him. He then installed an attacking, up-tempo system that puts an emphasis on spacing, ball movement and 3-point shooting to augment the talents of All-Star point guard Kemba Walker.

“The staff is completely different,” said veteran forward Marvin Williams. “They have different philosophies and visions of how the team should play. We’re trying to adapt to that now. They’re trying to feel us out, we’re trying to feel them out. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

In order to speed up the pace, Borrego has had his team practicing with a 12-second shot clock, half of what it will see once the regular season begins Wednesday against Milwaukee.

So far, the results have been positive, with three wins in the first four exhibition games and an offense averaging 112 points per game.

“J.B. wants to play fast. He wants (to look for a shot) in less than 10 seconds and a lot of 3s,” Parker said. “That came naturally (in San Antonio) because we moved the ball. Last year, this team was in the bottom in moving the ball. I think I can definitely help with that.”

Here’s a look at this year’s Hornets:


1 • Malik Monk
6-3, 200, Kentucky

Last season: The former Kentucky star struggled through a rookie season in which he averaged only 13 minutes per game under former coach Steve Clifford. He scored just 6.7 points per game and shot a spotty 36 percent from the floor, leading some to label the first round pick a draft bust.

What to expect in 2018-19: Monk will have the chance at a fresh start under the new coaching staff, which envisions him as a potential sixth man capable of injecting energy into the lineup off the bench.

3 • Jeremy Lamb
6-5, 185, UConn

Last season: Lamb is coming off his best season as a pro, in which he averaged 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. His average jumped to 15.6 points per game in the 18 games he started.

What to expect in 2018-19: Lamb, who is in his contract year, has the potential to thrive in Borrego’s system, which puts a heavier emphasis on the 3-point shot. He led the team with 15 points in its preseason opener against the Boston Celtics in Chapel Hill.

4 • Devonte Graham*
6-2, 185, Kansas

Last season: Graham was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks before being traded to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. The Raleigh native averaged six assists per game during the NBA’s summer league after helping the Jayhawks to the Final Four last season.

What to expect in 2018-19: Graham is being groomed as a point guard of the future and a possible replacement should Walker move on as a free agent after this season. He will likely spend some time, if not most of the season, with the Hornets’ G-League affiliate in Greensboro.

9 • Tony Parker
6-2, 185, France

Last season: The future Hall of Famer, who is third among active players with 6,829 career assists, signed as a free agent this summer after spending 17 seasons with the Spurs. He is coming off a season in which he posted career-lows of 7.7 points, 3.5 assists and 19.5 minutes per game.

What to expect in 2018-19: Parker is a low-risk addition to back up Walker at point guard, serve as a mentor to younger teammates and be an experienced leader with championship pedigree in the event the Hornets make it to the playoffs.

15 • Kemba Walker
6-1, 184, UConn

Last season: Now in his eighth season, Walker solidified his status as one of the NBA’s premier point guards in 2017-18 by leading the Hornets in both scoring (22.1 points per game) and assists (5.6) while surpassing Dell Curry as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

What to expect in 2018-19: Even though Walker’s stats are likely to decrease this season with the addition of new scoring options and the more balanced approach employed by new coach Borrego, he will continue to be the team’s unquestioned leader in the final season of his current contract.


0 • Miles Bridges*
6-7, 225, Michigan State

Last season: A first-team All-American as a sophomore at Michigan State, Bridges averaged 17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 45.7 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from 3-point range.

What to expect in 2018-19: The Hornets obtained Bridges in a draft night trade after he was picked 12th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. He is poised to make an immediate impact as either a small forward or power forward after averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor in four preseason games.

2 • Marvin Williams
6-9. 237, UNC

Last season: Now in his fifth season with the Hornets, the 32-year-old who helped North Carolina to the 2005 national championship shot a career-best 41.3 percent from 3-point range last season while providing a solid defensive presence at the other end of the court. He averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

What to expect in 2018-19: Williams will begin the season as one of the Hornets’ starting forwards, but he could potentially end up coming off the bench depending on the development of the team’s younger big men.

5 • Nic Batum
6-8, 200, France

Last season: Batum injured his elbow during the preseason and decided to play through it instead of undergoing season-ending surgery. It’s a decision that led him to post the worst numbers of his three-year tenure in Charlotte. He still averaged 11. 6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds, but that wasn’t enough of a payoff, considering his $22 million annual salary.

What to expect in 2018-19: Batum is healthy again. But considering the wealth of talent at the small forward position, he’s going to have to work to continue playing a major role.

7 • Dwayne Bacon
6-7, 221, Florida State

Last season: Bacon saw limited action during his rookie season, averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor in just under 14 minutes per game.

What to expect in 2018-19: Based on a solid preseason performance, in which he posted two double-figure scoring efforts in his first three games, Bacon is in line to see more significant minutes this year. How significant could depend on which forward position first round pick Miles Bridges settles into.

14 • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
6-7, 232, Kentucky

Last season: Kidd-Gilchrist started 74 games at small forward last season, but he was something of a disappointment based on pedestrian offensive numbers of 9.2 points, and 1.0 assists per game.

What to expect in 2018-19: Kidd-Gilchrist will continue to have a role under Borrego because of his defensive abilities. But with veterans such as Nic Batum and Dwayne Bacon, along with first-round draft pick Miles Bridges all vying for playing time at his position, Kidd-Gilchrist’s most likely role is that of a reserve power forward.

44 • Frank Kaminsky
7-0, 242, Wisconsin

Last season: The ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Kaminsky averaged just over 11 points per game coming off the bench while playing both power forward and center.

What to expect in 2018-19: Kaminsky is still trying to find his niche with the Hornets. Although his 42.9 shooting percentage last season was his career high, it’s still low for a stretch four while his 4.1 rebounding average over his first three NBA seasons is less than what’s needed from a low post presence.


8 • Bismack Biyombo
6-9, 255, Zaire

Last season: A former lottery pick who played his first four seasons with the Hornets, Biyombo averaged 5.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game for the Orlando Magic in 2017-18.

What to expect in 2018-19: Biyombo and his four-year, $68 million contract were brought back to Charlotte to provide insurance in case the injury-prone Zeller goes down again. Even if that doesn’t happen, the popular big man will have a role off the bench as an experienced defender and dependable rim protector.

40 • Cody Zeller
7-0, 240, Indiana

Last season: Limited to just 33 games because of two knee injuries and a role off the bench when he was healthy because of the addition of Dwight Howard, Zeller averaged just 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds.

What to expect in 2018-19: Zeller returns to the starting lineup after a solid preseason in which his skill around the basket and midrange game have given the Hornets’ offense a dimension they lacked a year ago. The biggest question is whether he can stay healthy after missing 94 games over the past four seasons.

41 • Willy Hernangomez
6-11, 240, Spain

Last season: Hernangomez was acquired in a February trade that sent two second-round draft choices and seldom-used forward Johnny O’Bryant to the Knicks. He averaged 6.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22 games with Charlotte.

What to expect in 2018-19: Hernangomez has averaged 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds this preseason, showing the form that helped him earn NBA All-Rookie team status in 2016-17. With his low post skill and ability to knock down 3-point shots, he has a chance to be a useful asset in Borrego’s new system.

* indicates rookie

Prime Numbers

2/17/19 — The date of the NBA All-Star Game to be played at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. The game was originally supposed to be played there in 2017, but it was moved to New Orleans because of North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” known as H.B. 2. The only previous All-Star Game to be held in Charlotte was 1991 at the Hornets’ former home, Charlotte Coliseum.

3 The number of playoff appearances the current incarnation of the Hornets/Bobcats have made in their 14-season history (2010, 2014, 2016).

11 — James Borrego is the 11th head coach in franchise history.

36 Number of wins the Hornets have achieved in each of the past two seasons.

9,907 — The number of career points scored by All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, the most ever in franchise history.