It’s been a long time since the Charlotte Hornets were this prone to turnovers.
They committed 23 of them Friday in a 100-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, and that’s typical of this preseason. In starting out 0-3, they have now totaled 67 give-aways. In a situation where there is so little margin for error, mishandling the ball this much gives them no fighting chance.
It’s also quite a departure from recent history. In each of the last three seasons, the Hornets were among the five lowest-turnover teams in the NBA, each season averaging fewer than 13 per game.
There are reasons, of course, for the current decline in ball-handling: No team loses two point guards as accomplished as Kemba Walker and Tony Parker without taking a hit. Also, coach James Borrego’s commitment to playing young guys a lot this season will inevitably add to mental errors, which often reveal themselves as turnovers.
Even if this is explainable, it isn’t really excusable if it bleeds into the regular season to this extent. Charlotte doesn’t have the scoring it did last season, and its defense so far has been just as bad. Throwing away possessions puts stress on a team at both ends of the court the Hornets simply can’t afford.
“That is something we’re going to have to clean up on,” center Cody Zeller said. “That’s the (hardest) part for these young guys, playing against a solid NBA defense (such as the 76ers).
“You have to know (a basket) isn’t going to be there on the first drive. Swing-drive-kick, swing-drive-kick. It’s not always going to be the first shot or the first drive that will be (open). It’s going to be later in the shot clock.
“You’ve got to work down NBA defenses, and right now the biggest thing is (trying to) do too much. Make the simple play.”
Dwayne Bacon committed four turnovers and three other Hornets — Devonte Graham, Bismack Biyombo and Josh Perkins — each committed three.
Zeller can empathize from what he experienced early on in what is now a six-season NBA career. Even if a new guy played at an elite level of college basketball, what he sees as an NBA player is so different: Faster, stronger, longer players who are experienced enough to anticipate the other team’s offensive best, and take it away.
The learning curve is speeding up, then figuring out how to slow down. Hornets coach James Borrego often quotes UCLA legend John Wooden saying, “Be quick, but don’t rush.”
Right now that’s hard to execute, particularly against a Sixers’ team so long it starts a 6-foot-9 guy, Ben Simmons, at point guard.
“For these young guys, a lot is going on. In their heads, they feel like the game is going (so) quickly,” Zeller said. “Once you get back to making the simple play, the simple pass, it starts being a lot easier.”
For whatever else has been wrong with the Hornets in missing the playoffs three straight seasons, they haven’t typically beaten themselves with turnovers.
Borrego is playing a lot of improvised combinations right now that are unlikely to be used in the regular season. New starting point guard Terry Rozier is finding his way. The Hornets’ best secondary ballhandler, Nic Batum, is injured right now with a sore right Achilles (Batum said should be fine for the regular season).
So there are underlying reasons the turnovers are up. That doesn’t mean Borrego can live with them.
“This is a new group, playing with more pace, with multiple guys touching it,” Borrego said. “But we’re gonna have to clean up that area. We have to take care of the ball this season.”