NBA Season Preview: Charlotte Hornets

Last Season: 43-69, 3rd in division, 1st round playoff loss to Miami

Changes: Added— Dwight Powell (draft), Noah Vonleh (draft), P.J. Hairston (draft trade); lost—Anthony Tolliver (free agent), Ben Gordon (free agent), Chris Douglas-Roberts (free agent), Janero Pargo (free agent), Luke Ridnour (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Kemba Walker, Gary Neal, Jannero Pargo

Kemba is just good enough of a point guard that the Hornets don’t need to be looking for an upgrade. He’s in the same sort of vortex that several other point guards of his caliber are—good players with useful valuable skills, but due to the insane depth at this position he’s not a top 10, or even top fifteen player at the position. He’s matured into the kind of player that the Hornets can count on for 15-20 points and 5 assists at a minimum which is pretty good production.

Gary Neal found his place in the NBA with the Spurs by exploiting his one, “A” graded skill in the 3 point shot. Off the bench he will back up Walker with less explosion, but with a quality shot that keeps teams honest which will be valuable despite being a different kind of player.

Pargo won’t get many minutes, but he’s been around for a long time and brings the kind of veteran stability that teams want in their 11th-12th guys.

Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson, P.J. Hairston

Stephenson probably cost himself a lot of money with his antics in the playoffs last year. He brings less production that Walker, but he can sore and he can handle the ball and he’s a plus defender. He will be a great complement for Kemba, and he is used to playing alongside a higher end scorer from his time playing next to Paul George. The irony here is that while Kemba is an all-around better player, due to the complete lack of superstars at the shooting guard right now, while Walker ranks somewhere in the high teens, Stephenson is probably one of the 5-7 best shooting guards in the league. The deal that the Hornets have him on will be a steal in the long run.

Henderson was a solid if unspectacular starter the last few years, and so long as his per-36 and per-48s don’t drop off a cliff with a reduced role, backup shooting guard will be a position of strength. The combination of Walker/Neal and Stephenson/Henderson add up to a really potent backcourt at both spots.

Hairston averaged almost 22 in the D League last year, so he should be able to provide production in the minutes he gets, but with entrenched starters and backups at both guard spots the minutes may be few and far between for his rookie season.

Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor

Needless to say Kidd-Gilchrest has not developed into the kind of player the Hornets (then Bobcats) were hoping for when they took him with the 2nd pick of the draft a few years ago. But, his PER is over 10, and he can defend if nothing else. The fact that his points and production went down last year over his rookie season is concerning, but with Stephenson on board MKG is at best a fourth option (behind Stephenson, Kemba, and Al Jefferson). As the fourth option on a decent team, MKG is fine—though he will probably never shed the bust label due to his draft position.

Williams brings starting experience, so he will be a capable backup or can take the starting role if MKG flounders. Taylor was a below average sub last year, but won’t be asked for many minutes this year, and he is still a young player who might develop into a useful rotation guy.

Overall this position is a weakness for the Hornets, but few teams can have all strengths, so this shouldn’t be too big a concern big picture this year.

Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh

Zeller brings quality defense and good size. He needs to develop more game on the offensive side of the ball, but playing alongside Al Jefferson it will be ok for him to mostly stay out of the way in the post. The fact that he should probably be backing Jefferson up at center is more concerning, and the Hornets are overall thin in the front court.

Vonleh looks to be injured at the start of the season, but he should get minutes due to the overall lack of other options in the front court so the Hornets will be hoping he will be able to translate his game to the NBA level.

Center: Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo

Big Al is one of the best offensive centers and all-around players in the front court in the league. It was a shame to see him hobbled and in a boot in the playoffs last year, but he should be back at full strength and leading the Hornets again this season.

Biyombo is without a doubt a sub-par backup. Zeller would be a natural backup here, but the Hornets would need another option at the four to be able to transition him along to that role. Many teams would try to play a small forward up as a stretch four, but the Hornets don’t have anyone of that caliber and shooting skill that could play in that kind of role. If there’s any trade to be made it would be for any front court player—a natural small forward who could play stretch, a four, or a backup center would be a quality addition to this squad.

Outlook: I project the Hornets to fall between the 5-7 seed again this year, but they have enough punch to make some noise in the playoffs once they get there. They are overall strong in the backcourt, but lack of depth in the front court could derail the season. I put them just a little behind their division rivals in Atlanta.

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