The Charlotte Hornets Rebuild Is Ahead of Schedule
Golden State of Mind
With the departure of Kemba Walker over the summer, the Charlotte Hornets were heading towards a rough rebuild. They had minimal cap space, minimal trade assets, and not much talent left on the roster. In our Divisional Matchup Series and Eastern Conference Ranking Previews, the Heaters Gonna Heat podcast crew struggled to find positives for the Hornets and predicted them to be at the bottom of the standings all season long. Yet a quarter of the way through the season the Hornets sit 10th in the East at 9-15, above teams hoping to make the playoffs this season like the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks. More importantly, they’re at their position due to three young players thriving in bigger roles.
After a very under the radar rookie season, Devonte’ Graham has taken over as the Hornet’s lead scorer, averaging 19.1 points per game on 41.2% shooting from the field. The point guard is shooting a scorching hot 42.1% from 3-point range on 8.7 attempts per game and a decent 57.6% within 3 feet of the basket, so it’s mainly the midrange area that’s pulling his shooting numbers down. Graham also leads the Hornets in assists with 7.8 per game to 3.2 turnovers, giving him a healthy 2.4 assist/turnover ratio. He started the season on the bench but was promoted to starter halfway through November and doesn’t seem to be looking back.
The other second year player fueling the Hornets surprising start is Miles Bridges. Bridges had a solid rookie season with the Hornets, eventually becoming a starter later in the season. This year he’s started all 24 games for the Hornets and has become integral to their success. The small forward is filling up the stat sheet with 12.5 points per game on 44.8% from the field, 1.8 assists per game, and 5.3 rebounds per game. He’s knocking down a solid 36.5% of his 3-point attempts and making an impact on the defensive end with 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
Lastly, there’s the rookie PJ Washington, taken this year with the 12th pick in the draft from Kentucky. The sharpshooting he was known for has translated well to the NBA, where he’s shooting 42.1% from 3 on 3.2 attempts per game. His ability to come in and be an instant stretch four has been a big reason why the Hornets have been doing well. It also helps he’s contributing 5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. The only thing Washington isn’t doing too well off the bat is free throw shooting, where he’s currently 64% from the line. Still, for a rookie to come in and make an instant impact is exactly what a rebuilding team is looking for.
For a team that had a bleak looking future going into the season, the Hornets now find themselves with a solid young core to potentially build around. Washington and Bridges seem like do everything two-way wings, while Graham can be the playmaking guard that runs the offense and puts up points. Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller are veteran players that can still make an impact while teaching the younger players. Obviously, the Hornets still need to show they can sustain this throughout a full season, but early on they’ve been one of low-key happy stories throughout the league. Thanks to this young core of Graham, Bridges, and Washington, the Hornets look ahead of schedule.
*Stats accurate as of 12-7-19*