Pre-Game

Gameday: Hornets @ Raptors, Oct. 22

Are we having fun yet?

The Kawhi Leonard era in Toronto was off to a great start the second Kawhi Leonard became a Raptor. Toss in a 3-0 start, a statement win against a Boston Celtics team many have pegged to win the East, and things are looking pretty good for the Drakes (shoutout Zach Lowe!).

While the Celtics have quickly become a nemesis for the Raps – let’s not forget what Kemba Walker tends to do when he’s in town:

The Hornets lost a heartbreaker at home to start the season but have rattled off two straight wins against the state of Florida, including a tough-fought victory against a Heat team that could make some noise this season.

I reached out to Andrew Waters (@andrew_waterss) from SB Nation’s “At the Hive” to help set up Monday’s tilt:

Cam:

The Hornets opened the season with a tough one-point home loss to the Bucks but bounced back with two wins against teams they *should* beat this season. It’s early, but are the expectations surrounding this squad different this year?

Andrew: 

The hype surrounding the Charlotte Hornets is drastically different than last year. This is because of the culture change that took place over the offseason. The team roughly has the same core guys on the roster, but they’ve embarked on a totally different play on both ends this season. By hiring former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego, the Hornets now have a system that fits well in the modern NBA. By having more emphasis on spacing, and allowing for more transition opportunities, it’s fair to say that the team has gone under a complete makeover for the better. That’s why there has been a sense of optimism and hope from the Hornets fanbase that we haven’t seen in a long time. 

Cam:

Kemba Walker is well known to Raptors fans, for all the wrong reasons. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league and yet fans and pundits are finally starting to take notice – is there a weakness to his game anymore?

Andrew:

When talking about Kemba Walker, there really isn’t much to his game that deems trouble. He has been the focal point of the Hornets offense for the past few seasons now and has strived in being the leader in team scoring. His three-point shot has dramatically increased since his rookie campaign as he became the teams’ all-time leader in three-pointers made this last season. He’s also competed in the three-point contest for the past two all-star games. He isn’t a one-trick pony either as he’s also been able to facilitate at a high level. His five assists per game rank him in the top two with Nicalous Batum on the team for the past few seasons. In essence, there really isn’t any glaring flaws in Walker’s game. His defense is respectable even with his 6’1″ frame. Of course, he was never tasked to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player as that job went to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Still, he hasn’t been an awful defender by any stretch of the means. He’s been an all-around player for a while now, and as a result, hasn’t shown any sense of gaping weakness in his game.

Cam:

As long as Kemba is healthy..the Hornets can put points on the board – but a 108.9 defensive rating last year (good for 17th) is going to have to improve if they want to take the next step. Who’s going to carry the weight on D this year?

Andrew:

If this were last year, then there would be an undisputed winner. That player used to be Michael Kid-Gilchrist, as his defensive versatility coming out of Kentucky has been evident throughout his stint in the pros. However, his placement out of the starting rotation puts a big question mark on that end of the floor. The man who replaced MKG in the starting five, Jeremy Lamb, has proven to be somewhat effective defensively, but nowhere near the talent of MKG’s. If I were to choose one of these starting players, it would have to be power forward Marvin Williams. Williams has impressed me a lot this season, albeit just three games, especially on the defensive end. He has the height at 6’9″ to guard all five positions, but has really come along to defend the frontcourt much better than the previous season. At times this year, he’s been tasked to play the five, a feat that was never used during the Steve Clifford era. Williams’ fourteen years in the league has taught him well in terms of defensive schematics. As a result, he’s become the Hornets orchestrator on the defense end, especially towards the youngsters Dwayne Bacon and Malik Monk. That’s why I believe Williams, although may not do it as well as MKG, should provide the most impact on the defensive end for the Hornets.

Cam:

Two Words – Malik.Monk. The second-year guard is having a strong start to the year  -but still isn’t being let loose just yet. How long until the training wheels come off?

Andrew:

I would say that by the start of November, Malik Monk will be able to fully showcase his talents to the team. Monk wasn’t liked that well by former head coach Steve Clifford because of his defensive liabilities in his rookie season. This caused him to only be unleashed for the Hornets offense during the team’s last twenty games or so. Luckily, James Borrego has talked a lot of optimism about Malik Monk so far; and so far, he’s proven to be capable of a sophomore jump. The Hornets last game in Miami was particularly intriguing. With Jeremy Lamb fouling out of the game late in the fourth, the Hornets were only up by a point. That’s when Borrego called in for Monk, who immediately made his contribution by scoring four straight points and grabbing a steal in the process. This play has been a consistent series so far, as he’s strived as a sixth man through the team’s three games. Of course, if there’s an injury to one of the Hornets’ frontcourt players, then Monk would undoubtedly fill into that role. But, I don’t believe that he as a starter would signify his full potential on the court. With the current roster, it makes more sense for Monk to come off the bench and provide that instant punch on offense. He should only need ten more minutes of action a night for his training wheels to fully come off for the Hornets.

Cam:

Who else should Raptors Fans keep an eye out for tonight?

Andrew: 

One notable player that Raptors fans should watch out for is Willy Hernagomez. The Spanish big man has made significant progress in the offseason not only on his physical physique but also his overall game. He provides the most versatile for the Hornets at center as his arsenal in the post and from deep keeps opposing bigs on their heels any time he has the ball on the perimeter. His rebounding numbers are also very impressive, especially on the offensive glass. I believe that the Raptors one true weakness lies within the center spot. Serge Ibaka isn’t a “true five”, and Jonas Valencunis hasn’t proven to be that much of a defensive stopper. That’s why it should be time for Borrego to put Hernangomez in there and see what he can do offensively. Don’t be surprised if he comes out firing from all three levels of the halfcourt. The combo of him and Monk off the bench could be a deadly combination Monday night.

Cam:

Give me a prediction for the score tonight!

Andrew: I see the Raptors coming away with the victory 114-102.

You can follow Andrew @andrew_waterss and check out his work at https://www.atthehive.com/

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