Eastern Conference – No. 13 Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker will have to have a bounce-back season if the Charlotte Hornets wants to make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference. (Photo credit to a.espncdn.com)
Kemba Walker will have to have a bounce-back season if the Charlotte Hornets wants to make a playoff run in the Eastern Conference. (Photo credit to a.espncdn.com)

After making the playoffs in 2014, the Charlotte Hornets took a big step backwards in 2015. The Hornets managed only 33 wins, despite having a top-10 defense in the league.While I might be selling the Hornets short, I could end up being right. While they haven’t been shy in free agency – Jeremy Lin, Tyler Hansbrough, and trading for Nicolas Batum and Spencer Hawes – they didn’t add a star player. What they have is a group of mediocre to a-little-above-average players.

The Hornets held opponents to 44 percent shooting from the field (8th in the league), seventh in blocks with 7.7 per game, and they turned the ball over a league-low 11.9 times per game. Those are some pretty good numbers, but it didn’t matter because their offense so inefficient. They ranked 30th in the league in three-point percentage, 28th in assists (20.2), and 29th in field goal percentage (42 percent). Most importantly, the Hornets ranked 28th in points per game (94.2).

They drafted Frank Kaminsky to play the power forward spot next to Al Jefferson. While Kaminsky might add a little more offense to the team, he also makes the Hornets’ frontline weaker because he isn’t a strong defender. Charlotte traded away Noah Vonleh in exchange for Batum, who is coming off a horrendous season.

I understand why they made the trade. It’s never good to have a crowded front-court full of young players. Also, by adding Batum, that gives the Hornets a little relief during games from playing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who, in my opinion, has been nothing short of a disappointment. However, Kidd-Gilchrist might have turned the corner this past season when he averaged 10.9 points per game and 7.6 rebounds. He didn’t attempt one three-pointer last season, so he is still unable to stretch the floor like most small forwards, so it will be interesting to see if head coach Steve Clifford puts Kidd-Gilchrist at the 2 and Batum at the 3. Potentially, that could give opposing teams some nightmares.

Jefferson is the team’s best player and he’ll only be 31-years-old in January. He is one of the best and most efficient big men in the league when it comes to offense and one of the least efficient and effective when it comes to defense. I’ll be very interested to see how both Jefferson and Kaminsky play with one another. Kaminsky can step out to the three-point line while Jefferson hardly goes further than the free throw line. That’s a good thing.

Don’t forget that Kemba Walker is still on this team. I would love to see this guy take the next step in his career. I want to see Walker become more of a leader instead of a volume shot taker. He shot just 38.5 percent from the field and attempted 15.8 shots per game last season while playing with a knee injury. I think he can be very a good player for this team and I believe he can be a big part of the team’s success if he stays healthy, distributes the ball, and scores efficiently and when needed.

I like the combo of Cody Zeller and Hansbrough. I think they could make for a fun second group of bigs. Both players bring energy and Zeller is a little more skilled than people think. While I like Hawes, I’m not exactly sure where he fits on this team. He was abominable last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, to the point where Doc Rivers stopped playing him, and I’m not positive that Clifford, a defensive-minded coach, will give Hawes a plentiful bounty of chances. If Hawes is shooting the ball well, though, look for him to be in the rotation.

While the Eastern Conference didn’t add many big names to its respective teams this summer, it will have a rebirth of sorts. Like I have stated in my two earlier articles, I think the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic will be much improved. Add those teams to the list of six teams that I think are a lock for the playoffs and it puts Charlotte in a tough situation. However, the Hornets could surprise everyone like they did two years ago when they snuck into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed.

Realistically, I see this team winning between 23-27 games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to win a few more, though, especially if Batum and Walker play at a high level.

I think this team is on the right track, but it will be another year before this team is able to make some noise that the rest of the NBA will want to listen to.


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