Kelly Oubre’s hot hand and the Hornets’ depth are key to team’s best start in 5 years

·5 min read

Terry Rozier soaked it in.

He felt at ease, comfortable in the place he could easily travel around without much need for a GPS. The crisp weather. Lake Erie. Echos of playful dog barking for their beloved Cleveland Browns.

Nothing quite gets a rise out of the Charlotte Hornets guard like being on the court against the Cavaliers. Leading into Friday’s season debut after missing Wednesday’s win over Indiana with a sprained left ankle, Rozier’s numbers in his previous three outings at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse since coming to the Hornets are downright gaudy. He averaged 35.7 points and swished 52% of his 3-pointers, giving him almost superhuman status.

“I’m playing in front of my kids, my family, my city,” Rozier said Friday. “I grew up coming into this arena, so it’s everything. I just go out there and give it everything I’ve got. It just humbles you, being in front of all your people. Being in the spot you grew up just humbles me. And it just lets me know I’m at a great spot and just got to keep going.”

In a rarity, Rozier was a mere mortal throughout the Hornets’ 123-112 victory and his final line indicates two key things.

Let’s start with the obvious: He wasn’t quite himself. An unusual lack of aggression was apparent early. “Scary Terry” mode didn’t get activated and he was a nonfactor in his 23 minutes, posting a modest 7 points on 1-of-5 shooting.

Still working himself back after injuring himself in practice two weeks ago, Rozier tweaked his ankle again in the fourth quarter and exited without returning. He’s listed as day-to-day.

“He’s going to be fine,” coach James Borrego said. “It’s going to take a minute to get his rhythm and find his legs again. He was out for a while. I don’t worry about Terry. He’s got great confidence. He’s a mentally tough kid. He’s going to bounce back. He’s going to be just fine. He’s just as happy as anybody for this win and we’ll take the next step (Saturday).”

Of course, there’s another way to view Rozier’s tough start to the season.

If Rozier wasn’t available or turned in an off night during his first two years with the Hornets, it’s very unlikely they would emerge victorious even once. Remember, he’s essentially served as their leading scorer since his arrival. So for the Hornets to string that pair of successful comebacks together in three days — once on the road — after dropping into double-digit deficit holes validates their much-improved depth.

The Hornets’ nightly success no longer hinges on strictly one individual. This assembled cast is about more than one or two guys.

“Exactly,” Kelly Oubre said. “We have a very versatile team. A group that you can throw any guy in any situation and I strongly believe that we will succeed. It’s the next-man-up mentality, but at the end of the day we are only as good as the next man. So we have to hold each other accountable.”

By doing whatever they can to take advantage of any extra minutes tossed in their direction.

“We are just resilient, man,” said Miles Bridges, who led them with 30 points. “Next guy up. Cody (Martin) took that role and Cody Martin did a great job. I feel like without Cody Martin today we wouldn’t have won the game. He had a clutch steal and an offensive rebound that really got us going. So if it wasn’t for Cody, we wouldn’t have won that game for sure.”

Same goes for that triumph over the Pacers. That result made it a bit easier for the ever-prideful Rozier to stomach not being on the court with his brothers.

“It was huge,” Rozier said. “It was huge. Whenever we get a win, I don’t care if it’s by a half point. I don’t care how we do it. It’s huge, man. That’s just something to add on to what we want to do. Opportunity is everything. If I’m out, if other guys are out, other guys got to be ready. We are kind of deep, so that’s to our advantage.”

Oubre’s signing is already paying dividends for the Hornets. He’s putting up 19.5 points per game and nailing 37.5% of his 3-pointers. In short, he’s been great and is a reason they are 2-0 to begin a season for the first time in a half decade.

“Well, he adds tremendous depth to our group,” Borrego said. “The reason we brought him in is because of his two-way ability. He has an ability to guard on the ball, off the ball, makes plays at the rim, defends at a high level and obviously score the ball. And he showed that in the first half. We went dry there a little offensively, and he was the one that got hot. He was the one who got us back in that game. So he is a versatile young man with length with size. He fits with that unit. We are able to switch a lot of things defensibly and he’s a big part of that.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting