The Charlotte Hornets have come a long way in the past few years, but who is to say that that will continue? The entire Eastern Conference seems to be rising as one right now, and the Hornets did not do very much in the offseason that would warrant them rising into the top 4 in the East. They are led by a top-10 point guard in the league in Kemba Walker, but in order to compete for a title, a team needs at least another star.

This team seems like they will be suck as a playoff team in seeds 5-8 for the next few years, and as a Bucks’ fan, I know how disastrous this can be. If the Hornets want to get into the NBA Championship talk anytime soon, they need to strike big in the draft or somehow become a top free agent destination. And both of those things seem unlikely at this point.

Without a major shakeup in their lineup, the Hornets will likely be heavily involved in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They will probably not finish in the top-4 of the conference and the biggest splash they could make this season would be to knock out of the top teams in the East prior to the Conference Finals.

Roster Breakdown

Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Roy Hibbert

As one of the top point guards in the league, Kemba Walker is clearly the focal point of this team. When called upon to take over a game, he has the ability to step up and make clutch shots even in the face of difficult defense. Despite not being the tallest guard in the league (he stands at only 6’1″), he possesses an excellent step back jumper that allows him to get his shot off against taller defenders. Along the same lines as his step back, his incredible quickness is also a vital part of his game, as it allows him to take advantage of most mismatches. At 26-years-old, Kemba is just now hitting his prime. After averaging 17 points per game for three straight seasons, Walker erupted for 20.9 ppg and 5.2 apg last season.

Nicolas Batum is one of those players that is consistently looked at as underrated. As a career 36% three-point shooter, he does an excellent job spreading the floor for Kemba to operate. Along with this, he just does so much for the Hornets. As a player who averages 14.9/6.1/5.8, he is willing to crash the glass and pass the rock as well as score the basketball. He is also known as a top-notch defender across the league, making him a great 3-and-D wing.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has had an up-and-down career, especially when it comes to injuries. He missed much of last season, but he is another double-digit scorer on the wing for Charlotte. He is known to have one of the ugliest jump shots in the league, but it looks like his funny little hitch is slowly starting to go away based on his offseason work. If MKG can start to knock down the mid-range jumper or the three-point shot with consistency, that would be a huge help for the team.

A steady stretch-4 for the Hornets, Marvin Williams is the ultimate team player. He does tons of good things on the floor, especially when it comes to shooting the ball. As the game has become more and more three-point-centric, his height and silky shot are very important. He shot over 40% from three last season and is an incredible locker room presence for this team.

Despite a hot start to his career, Roy Hibbert has tailed off in recent seasons, hence the fact that the Hornets will be his third team in three years. As the Hornets do not necessarily need another scorer in the lineup, Hibbert will likely be called upon to do his job as a rim-protector and finisher when needed. He is going to need to return to form as an elite shot blocker in order to help the Hornets win more games, but Charlotte seems like a good fit for him on paper.

Key Reserves: Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli, Frank Kaminsky

Ramon Sessions has bounced around a lot in his career, but he should do a nice job as the backup for Walker this season. Jeremy Lin was excellent last year, so if Sessions can come close or even match that production, he will have huge value to the team.

Belinelli is just another shooter for the roster. Despite having his worst shooting season from three last year (30.6%), he is a career 37.9% shooter from deep. If he can get that back on track, he will be another solid role player for a team that cannot rely on their starting lineup for 100% of their production.

As a 7-footer who can stretch the floor and knock down a somewhat consistent three-pointer (33.7%), Frank Kaminsky brings a lot of things to the Hornets. He will be entering his second season in the league and it is fair to say that he is far from reaching his ceiling. I am not saying he will ever be a star or a key starter, but this former Wisconsin Badger can easily become a high-level backup for Charlotte.

Strengths

Three-point shooting was huge for this team last season. They ranked 4th in the NBA in both 3PM and 3PA as well as 8th in 3P% at 36.2%. The league is continuing to shoot more threes and their production from deep is certainly something to note. With Walker, Batum, and Williams all returning, the team should still be in good shape from deep.

Another huge part of their game is their lack of turnovers. Charlotte were the best team in the league when it came to protecting the ball. Turnovers lead to lost possessions and since the Hornets rarely turned the ball over, they often finished games with far more possessions than their opponent.

They also shot nearly 80% from the free throw line as a team last year, which was good enough for 5th in the league. This percentage is very good for the team because it makes them very difficult to beat when they have the lead late in a game. Fouling to stop the clock is a great strategy, but it often works out in favor of the Hornets as they knock down their foul shots with such proficiency.

Weaknesses

On the defensive end of the floor, the Hornets did not create many turnovers. They ranked 21st in the league when it came to turning opponents over, which although leads to a clean looking game, does not help them win more games. The team has really solid defenders, but not many risky or playmaking defenders.

Also, despite their solid record of 48-34, they still ranked 18th in league in attendance. They finished with an outstanding home record of 30-11, but they would like to see that rise. And going off of that home record, they really struggled on the road, finishing 18-23. Getting both their home and road record over .500 would be key for them not only in the regular season, but when it comes to the playoffs as well.

The Hornets were one game away from beating the Miami Heat in the playoffs last season, and if they can improve on some of their weaknesses for this season, we might easily see them sneak into the second round.

2016-2017 Projection

The Hornets did not make any major splashes in the offseason, which leads most people to believe that the Hornets are not going to be any better this season than they were last. Along with this, the teams around them have certainly improved. The team was 6th in the Eastern Conference last season, but they will need to do a bit more this year in order to make the playoffs. With that being said, I feel that they will finish around the 50-win mark once again this season, and sneak into the playoffs as yet another 6 seed.

Their likely ceiling is the second round, but even there, the team’s impact on the rest of the Eastern Conference might be felt. They are a difficult team to get passed in any playoff series, so watch out for them to push one of those top teams to 6 or 7 games.

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports.

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