Hornets Starting Hairston AND Williams CausesMore Problems than it Solves
Postedon October 26, 2015 by JLintel
Thelatest news from Charlotte Observer is that Cliff may go with the surprisingstarting unit of Walker, Batum (SG), PJ Hairston (SF), Al Jefferson and he’s still undecided betweenZeller or Williams for the PF position. To me, if he goes with Williams overZeller for PF, that’s making a big mistake even WORSE. The starting lineup ofWalker/Batum/Hairston/Williams/Jefferson has too many players playing out ofposition and it doesn’t leave enough time for our stacked Power Forwardposition.
BeforeI delve deeper into why I think starting Hairston AND Williams is a mistake, Iwant to say that overall I think Cliff is a solid coach. To me, he’s the bestcoach Lin has had (and I’m including D’Antoni, who I’ve never been really highon). I know some Lin fans hesitate to question Cliff’s coaching, since he’streated Lin so well so they don’t want to “rock the boat”. But since Cliff isclearly struggling with the decision of who to start and likely questioninghimself, I don’t see questioning Cliff’s starting lineup as “rocking the boat”or any sign of disrespect towards Cliff. I think even after Cliff makes hisdecision, he’s going to continue to question whether or not he made the rightdecision.
So me questioning Cliff’s startinglineup is simply a way of exercising critical thinking as an observer of thegame and bringing up issues that Cliff maybe wrestling with. It’s not at allabout disrespecting coach Cliff. Just because I like Cliff, it doesn’t mean I’mgoing to blindly agree with everything he does. I’m someone who enjoysanalyzing things, so naturally, I’m going to analyze and think critically aboutkey decisions that are made by the coach, regardless of whether or not Isupport the coach overall. I want to be clear in stating that Jeremy Lin madethe right decision when he decided to join the Hornets, so me questioningCliff’s starting lineup doesn’t mean I’m questioning whether or not Hornets isthe right team for Lin. Now that this caveat is out of the way, let’s get tosome reasons why I think starting Hairston AND Williams is a big mistake.
If Cliff goes with Williams over Zeller, he has TWO guys in the starting lineupplaying out of position: Batum and Williams. Also, we three three really goodPower Forwards fighting for time off the bench: Zeller, Kaminsky andHansborough. I think we need at least one true PF in the starting lineup, justbecause of the sheer strength the Hornets have in that position. Why wouldn’tyou make sure you maximize your PF spot, since you’ve got a lot of talent inthat position? It’s just insane to me that Cliff may even think not to have atrue PF in the starting position, because he’s got so many of them he can putin that position. Why have Williams play out of position? This is made evenmore insane when you think about the fact that we lost MKG, who’s a SmallForward and need a solid Small Forward, which is what Batum is! To me, theobvious silver lining to MKG going down is that Batum (a big key for theHornets) gets to go back to playing his natural position. So, instead ofletting Batum go back to his natural position, you’re going to replace MKG withPJ Hairston and force Williams to play PF? To me, that’s a jumbled mess. Ithink its a big mistake to have one of your big key players (Batum) pay out ofposition.
Cliff’s reason for starting Hairston isthat he thinks Hairston can be a defensive stopper. I think this is where Cliffhas really confused himself. He’s still trying to hold onto last season’sHornets strategy, rather than completely embracing the new look Hornetsoffense. This season’s Hornets isn’t going to win on defense, they’re going towin on their offense. Their defense just needs to be adequate. Missing MKG thisseason is totally different from missing MKG last season, so why get hung up ontrying to find an MKG replacement by putting Hairston in there as a very poorman’s MKG? I think this is where Cliff is getting too cute and over thinkingthings. Being too smart for his own good by trying to piece everything togetherlike a puzzle.
With this insane lineup, of Walker/Batum/Hairston/Williams/Jefferson, you havea lot of talent on the bench and you have a lot of guys potentially playing outof position. With this lineup, I don’t even know what happens to the secondunit. Does Lamb play SG or SF? Does Lin play SG or PG? If PG, then what happensto Brian Robberts? Is Kaminsky going to get much playing time? And Hansborough,who has been great in the preseason as a rebounding machine and somewhat of arim protector, is not going to see the floor, which is unfortunate. With thisunit, the only easy substitution is Hawes coming in for Jefferson. Everythingelse is a jumbled mess, since you got a lot of guys playing out of position.Why create so much havoc, simply because you want a poor man’s defensivestopper to replace missing MKG, which is probably the LEAST important issue forTHIS new look Hornets team to solve?
I think coach is way over-thinkingthings. In my view, the rotation is very simple:
Second Unit: Roberts/Lamb/Williams/Kaminsky/Hawes
Third string: Troy Daniels, Aaron Harrison, PJ Hairston, Tyler Hansborough
Another way you can look at the rotation is thus:
In this scenario, you only have ONEplayer who’s playing out of position: Jeremy Lin. And this player has shownthat he can play shooting guard very well. To me, it’s more important to haveyour guys play in their natural position than probably anything else. Evensuperstars, like Carmelo Anthony, suffer when they’re forced to play out ofposition. I think playing out of position is probably the most detrimentalthing to a player’s game. With Cliff’s projected starting unit, he’s got somany guys playing out of position, which is a huge mistake to me.
Hopefully, Coach Cliff will realize his mistake sooner rather than later. Butit looks like no matter what Cliff seems to be adamant about Lin coming off thebench, which is a big mistake and a shame. As much respect as Cliff has forLin’s game, he STILL doesn’t see Lin as the best player on the team. Because ifhe did, then Lin would be starting. In every example not involving Jeremy Lin,the best player on the team starts no matter what! So the fact that Cliffappears to be adamant about not starting Lin tells me that Cliff doesn’t seeLin as clearly the best player on the team.
Cliff is not starting Lin, because helikes Lin with Hawes, Lamb and Zeller. But Lin can play with anyone–especiallynow that Lin has a deadly jumper–so to me I think you want the unit ofWalker/Lin/Batum on the floor as much as possible. So you should start thatunit, not just close with that unit. There’s no question to me that Cliff willclose games with Walker/Lin/Batum. With Lin coming off the bench, I expect himto get around 28 minutes, which is a HUGE mistake. Lin should be getting 34+minutes for Hornets to maximize their potential. There is still a chance Linmay be able to break the 30 minute mark. If so, then one could argue that mayeven be better than Lin actually starting, IF it means Lin will be the primaryball handler when he’s on the floor. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
No matter what happens to Lin, though, I think this crazy starting unit withHairston and Williams is a big mistake overall for causing too many guys toplay out of position and not fully utilizing the position where the Hornetshave the most talent: Power Forward. This crazy starting lineup is also goingto suffer against good teams, since it’s not powerful enough offensively tomake up for its defensive liability. With the starting lineup ofWalker/Lin/Batum/Zeller or Kaminsky/Jefferson, your offense is going tooverwhelm and more than make up for your defensive liabilities. By the way, Ithink this lineup is just as good or at least not much worse defensively as thecrazy lineup that Cliff appears to be going with for defensive reasons. Again,I think Cliff has himself all turned around, because he’s too fixated onfilling the whole that MKG left (trying to fit all the “old” pieces together,rather than embracing a completely new set of puzzle pieces if that makes anysense).
With this weak starting unit, Hornetsare likely going to have to fight from behind against good times. This unit isalso going to struggle against big lineups. If I were Ciff, I would considerstarting Hansborough whenever Hornets go up against really big lineups, sinceHansborough is the only one on the team that comes close to being a rimprotector and a rebounding machine. But Cliff appears to be very low onHansborough, probably because Cliff likes to play four out and Hansboroughcan’t shoot. I think most of the time, that strategy is good, but against someteams, I think you can sacrifice spacing for rim protection and rebounding.
Again, I want to stress that I think Cliff is a fine coach overall. I justthink he’s overthinking things and trying to be too cute and creative byplaying too much with the lineups and asking too many players to play out ofposition. Hopefully, he’s open-minded enough to change course if it looks likethis lineup causes more problems than it solves for the Hornets. From what I’veobserved of Cliff so far, he does seem to be pretty open-minded and willing tochange course. But it will likely take him time since he’s going to want tokeep the starting lineup the same for a while. If Cliff goes with the startinglineup of Hairston AND Williams for more than, say, 30 games, then I am nolonger optimistic about the Hornets winning 45+ game and be seeded at number 5in the East. I think with that crazy starting lineup for 30+ games, they’llbarely make the playoffs at the 8th spot. I just hope he realizes his mistakesooner, rather than later and changes course after 10 games. We’ll see.
Regardless of what Cliff does, if Lindoesn’t manage to break the 30 minute mark, which is a very difficult featcoming off the bench, then the Hornets are not going to maximize theirpotential. With Lin playing 34+ minutes a game, I see the Hornets getting the4th seed in the East. This ONLY happens if Lin starts. As a result, I’m lessoptimistic about Hornets’s chances of making a lot of noise in the playoffs nowthat I know Cliff wants Lin coming off the bench. Sure, they’ll make theplayoffs, but they’ll likely be in the 6th to 8th spot. IF Lin comes off thebench with 30+ minutes, then they’ll be in the 5th spot. But, of course,Hornets making the playoffs is already exceeding people’s expectations of them,so this is the problem that we face. No matter what the Hornets do, they’llexceed very low expectations, so looking back no one will see that NOT startingLin and NOT playing Lin 34+ minutes was a big mistake. They’ll think they madethe right decision to have Lin be a spark off the bench.