• Lashun Watkins

Can the Charlotte Hornets Improve on Their Previous 48 Win Season?


*Photo via Getty Images

The 2015-16 Charlotte Hornets had an up and down start last season. Center Al Jefferson suffered knee injuries early in the year that saw him miss significant time. Then small forward/power forward Michael Kidd -Gilchrist went down with another season ending injury and that looked to be it for the Charlotte Hornets. But a mid season acquisition of Courtney Lee, improved play from veteran small/power forward Marvin Williams, and a stretch where Jeremy Lin looked like he recaptured Linsanity.Not to mention, rookie Frank Kaminsky got increased playing time (with the Jefferson injuries) and looked confident in the starting role at center. And you can’t forget how Nicolas Batum and Kemba Walker put the team on their shoulders and in the second half of the season when the Hornets were one of the top five teams in the East and West. The Hornets even managed to get a win over a LeBron James lead team during the regular season, the first time that had happened since the 2009-2010 NBA season. The Hornets went back and forth with the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat for the 3-6th seed throughout the second half of the season. In the end, the Hornets went back to the playoffs after a one year absence and ended up with the 6th seed, and playing the Miami Heat in an exciting seven game series. The Hornets held a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 at the Hive in Charlotte, however Dwyane Wade turned back the clock and had a game to remember. Game 7 was not even close, as it seemed all the air had been let out of the Hornets playoff balloon in that Game 6 loss. But for most Hornets fans, getting back to the playoffs was something positive to see from the franchise.

The big question is, “Can the Hornets make it 2 for 2 for the playoffs and bring another successful year to the franchise?”

It will be difficult. The East has improved this year. Al Horford is with the Boston Celtics. Dwight Howard went to the Atlanta Hawks. The Indiana Pacers added some key pieces to go with Paul George and look ready for a deep run. Toronto re-signed Demar DeRozan and the rest of the team pretty much stayed intact. The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks won’t struggle like they did last year as long as the new pieces each team acquired (Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo for the Chicago Bulls; Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee for the N.Y. Knicks.) stay healthy. Oh yeah, that team which won the NBA Championship this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers, still have that guy named LeBron James and are still the leaders in the East until further notice.

The Hornets traded away their number 22 draft pick for shooting guard Marco Belinelli, who coincidentally had his worst shooting season last year. Hopefully, he can find his touch in Charlotte because when he is hitting, Belinelli is one of the top three point shooters in the league. Most NBA pundits and front office officials figured the Hornets would lose either Jeremy Lin or Courtney Lee to free agency after both individuals provided the Hornets with much needed offense, spunk, and defense. Lin probably could have been in the running for 6th Man of Year if Al Jefferson didn’t thrive as well as he did in that role once he returned from injury.

*Photo via Fox Sports

Well, not only did the Hornets lose Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn Nets) to free agency, they also lost Courtney Lee (N.Y. Knicks) and Al Jefferson (Indiana Pacers). The biggest shock to most fans was probably Al Jefferson leaving. Throughout many of the interviews and even reporting from the local Charlotte media indicated Jefferson was happy in Charlotte and wanted to remain with the team. Jefferson himself stated he would take a pay cut just to be able to stay with the team and help them have the ability to sign other players. Either that pay cut was too much for Al to swallow or Indiana threw in some extra bonuses for Jefferson that haven’t been reported in the media. Jefferson coming off the bench was a needed spark in the middle for the Hornets and this means that newly acquired Roy Hibbert will need to turn back the clock to his days with the Pacers to fill that void. Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts were brought back to the team for what seemed like the 50th time. Sessions does bring that veteran presence off the bench and he can be aggressive when he gets his time to play and is not shy when it comes to taking a shot either. The Hornets did re-sign Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams so hopefully with M.K.G. coming back, that frontline will have a lot of length and quickness to bring to the game. Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller need to take that next step. It is essential for Zeller to improve on his physicality as he gets pushed around a lot when he gets down low. He will be a key coming off the bench and will be looked upon to bring some scoring and toughness in the game with the 2nd unit. Kemba Walker improved on his three point percentage last year and it will be imperative for him to continue the improvement. His play during the first half of the season last year was getting him some notoriety for the All Star game. If the Hornets record would have been a little better when the break came, Walker might have made the team. The big key though will be M.K.G. This young man has to stay healthy for the Hornets to have a chance to compete for the playoffs in the East next year. The bench will not have that added punch like it did last year, but the Hornets thrive when M.K.G. plays. The team turns into one of the top five defensive teams in the league when he is on the court. If M.K.G. is healthy, the heart and grittiness of the team could carry them anywhere from the 6-8th seed in the East. Coach Steve Clifford will have them ready defensively, but will the offense progress on the strides it made last year? If not, the team could be looking like the 2014-15 team that went 33-49 and missed the playoffs after making it the previous year.

P.S. Coach Clifford, Can Jeremy Lamb come out the doghouse and have a chance to compete? The first half of last year Lamb was averaging about 12-13 points a game off the bench. He got injured and when he came back, he sat on the bench more than I did. He has the look, and even looked to have the talent and then it disappeared. So come Lamb, pick up the pace and earn some playing time. This is your perfect opportunity to shine.

Any questions, comments or concerns, contact Lashun Watkins @ lashunwat@outlook.com

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