NBA Preview: Charlotte Hornets
With the third team in the Southeast Division, I will be discussing the Charlotte Hornets. Last season, many people were surprised at the amount of success the Hornets had, getting into a four way tie for third best record (which resulted in the sixth seed), then got their first ever playoff wins (yes, I know the then-Charlotte Hornets which are now the New Orleans Pelicans won playoff games, but that doesn't count since it's a completely different franchise). So now, the Hornets look to continue that momentum, despite a lot of critics still believing they aren't a capable playoff team.
ADDITIONS: SG Marco Belinelli (trade-Sacramento), C Roy Hibbert (Los Angeles Lakers), PG Ramon Sessions (Washington), PG Brian Roberts (Portland), F/C Christian Wood (Philadelphia)
SUBTRACTIONS: C Al Jefferson (Indiana), PG Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn), SG Courtney Lee (New York), SG Troy Daniels (Memphis), PG Jorge Gutierrez (Brooklyn), PF Tyler Hansborough (free agent)
RE-SIGNED: G/F Nicolas Batum, F Marvin Williams
PLAYER TO WATCH: The player I want to watch here, despite Roy Hibbert joining the roster, is SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. So far, the number two overall pick has either been injured or has been relatively disappointing, and I want to see what he is capable of. Should he perform how he is supposed to, he is the third member of Charlotte's big three (with Batum and Kemba Walker the others), but if he doesn't he will just be a defensive stopper. The seven regular season games he played last year suggest the former, as he scored 12.7 PPG, and with Kemba Walker capable of putting up 22-24 PPG, he doesn't need to score so much. Kidd-Gilchrist could form a dominant defensive wing duo with Batum, and signs point that way.
BIGGEST CONCERN: Who replaces Al Jefferson is likely the biggest concern, and/or who is the starter at the five. My three options are newcomer Roy Hibbert, who has fallen off of a cliff since being one of the best defensive centers with the Indiana Pacers, second year pro and Naismith Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller. Head coach Steve Clifford has a fascination with Cody Zeller's play style, and since he is the most offensively gifted at this point, he becomes the starter. After a mediocre year in LA, I don't trust Roy Hibbert yet, and Frank Kaminsky might not be ready. You got to go with Zeller if you're the Hornets, which spells danger with regard to post defense.
BIGGEST UNKNOWN: Who will the number two scorer be? Last season that was supposed to be Al Jefferson, but with his offensive prowess gone the Hornets need to figure out who will be the second scorer. The obvious candidates are Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist, and it likely will be one of them. The problem, however, is that neither of them are offensive minded players, and are either pass first and/or defensive players. G/F Jeremy Lamb could be a big scorer off the bench, but I'll still go with Batum here.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Cody Zeller, PF Marvin Williams, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SG Nicolas Batum, PG Kemba Walker
ROTATIONAL PIECES: G/F Jeremy Lamb, F/C Frank Kaminsky, C Roy Hibbert, PG Ramon Sessions, SG Marco Belinelli
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER: PG Brian Roberts, F/C Spencer Hawes, SG Aaron Harrison, F Christian Wood, G Andrew Andrews
PREDICTION: I like the roster, but I don't like them going anywhere too far. This is a low-seed playoff team, and will definitely be fighting the whole season just to make it there. Since Kemba Walker is the entire offense, they will struggle to score, and that will keep them from the success they believe they can receive. I'll go with 44 wins and likely somewhere in the 6-8 range when it comes to playoff seeding.