Nov 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) dribbles in the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Charlotte defeated Memphis 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
The Charlotte Hornets have taken the NBA and the Eastern Conference this season by storm this season
The Charlotte Hornets have been on the brink of success for the last two NBA seasons. After securing the sixth seed in the playoffs in 2016, and adding quality support for Kemba Walker, the 2016-17 season has gotten off to a promising start.
Starting the NBA season on a hot (6-1) start, the Hornets have established themselves as a premiere contender in the Eastern Conference. Since the hot start, the team has dropped seven of its last 11 games, but in that stretch, Charlotte has faced the defending champion Cavaliers, the 2nd place Raptors of the East, and not to mention Greg Popovich and the Spurs.
The biggest question surrounding this team is if this is a fluke or perhaps owner Michael Jordan’s rebuild coming to fruition. It is most definitely the latter, the Hornets have rebuilt this team around Kemba Walker since drafting the UCONN point guard with the ninth pick in the 2011 draft and their rise starts with Walker, but relies on so much more from this talented group.
Here are five reasons the Charlotte Hornets are not to be taken lightly this season.
Nov 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard-forward Jeremy Lamb (3) steals the ball from Detroit Pistons guard Beno Udrih (19) during the first half of the game at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
The Charlotte Hornets enter the season as one of the 10 youngest teams in the NBA. With stars like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James and Chris Paul reaching their mid-30s, players taken in the draft, trade acquisitions, and free agents has boded well for the guys in teal and purple.
At an average mark of 25.6 years of age, the Hornets organization should be primed and ready for playoff runs for the next decade, and by the time LBJ retires ( give or take six years) , Kemba Walker should have his team in a place to compete for the East each year.
It’s not just on Walker though, the added talents from the draft in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (defender and slasher), competent stretch-forward contributions from Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, and add in the spot-up threats from behind the arc of Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Spencer Hawes, and veteran Marco Belinelli, you now have a balanced rotation from top to bottom that can compete with any team in the league.
Coach Steve Clifford’s team can play a solid rotation of 8-9 players and will prove to be a lot of work for opponents come playoff time.
This bodes well for longevity and endurance against some of the NBA’s best, because a solid Kemba Walker sans fatigue is an exceptional PG to have.
Nov 26, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward-center Frank Kaminsky (44) warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
This team is full of shooters, and of the most promising, there has to be light shed on Kemba Walker’s increased three-point field goal percentage each season. We all knew Walker could “shake and bake,” but the biggest flaw in his game was his shot from deep.
Knocking down a remarkable 43.4 percent in the early part of 2016 so far, it’s safe to say Walker worked hard on the three ball in the offseason and much of his career. Shooting a career-high 37 percent a season ago, this is promising for Charlotte, Walker is a lifetime 34 percent shooter from three.
The stretch four capabilities of Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller can be synonymous with lots of hard work of what LaMarcus Aldridge has done over his career. If these two young big men can maximize their potential with their backs to the basket as well as owning the stretch four position, the sky is the limit for the Hornets potential.
Kaminsky is a 40 percent shooter from the field in his short two-year career, boasting an effective FG percentage of 47 percent and on the verge of being a 30 percent three-point FG shooter. (needs work), “Frank the tank” has all the tools to be a star in the league.
Cody Zeller comes into the league this year shooting 60 percent from FG range ( talk about high percentage) and cementing himself as a solid anchor on offense. Getting stronger down low and on defense can elevate to Zeller to All-Star status years from now.
Veterans Marvin Williams, Nicholas Batum, and Marco Belinelli continue to shoot an honest percentage from the clip (34, 33, and 45 percent) respectively. The star power of Batum should equate in a “Robin” to Kemba’s “Batman,” and veteran leadership from these three scorers will be key all season long. Whereas Jeremy Lamb, Walker, Zeller, and Kaminsky provide youth, athleticism, and energy in their roles, it will be on the others to provide guidance and experience.
Nov 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford talks to an official in the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Charlotte defeated Memphis 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
In two of his first three seasons, Coach Steve Clifford has taken a young Hornets/Bobcats team to the NBA Playoffs. He’s dealt with a point guard that couldn’t shoot very well but has possessed all the tools, aging overpaid veterans and working for probably the most intimidating owner in all of the professional sports.
Clifford continues to impress and his team’s progress as has his win-loss record while coaching the Hornets. A long-time assistant with both VanGundy brothers (Jeff and Stan), Clifford and his team possess the blue-collar mentality of a rugged and raw NBA team working hard for the prize accepting no handouts along the way.
Clifford’s teams continue to defend at a high rate, since being hired in 2013 his teams have stayed in the Top 10 when it comes to overall defensive rating. With extremely quick guards and length in numbers, this 2016 is already off to a great start already in the Top 10 once again (Def Rtg.)
Where Clifford has his strengths as a coach, his assistants hold years of experience ranging from Hall of Fame Center Patrick Ewing, Bob Weiss, and Stephen Silas (Paul Silas’ son). It is hard to argue that if not for an injury-riddled second season, the Charlotte Hornets would have reached the playoffs in every year of Clifford’s tenure.
Nov 28, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) gains position against Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) at FedExForum. Charlotte defeated Memphis 104-85. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Getting to the final reasons this team is an honest contender you must look at the balancing act on the defensive side of the ball. Allowing opponents only102.8 ppg comes in at 10th best in the league perbasketball reference dot com. The team also boasts an SRS of 1.70, a rating of point differential vs strength of schedule, which is best for 11th in the NBA.
Being active in the passing lanes and protecting the rim is something this team is exceptional at , the Hornets have 122 steals on the year to go along with 94 blocks. Their length at the every position besides point guard is what makes them tough to beat, because if you can’t get to the rim, you won’t win many.
The defense has regressed when comparing last season, but a given exception should be to Jeremy Lamb being out early, along with a team that is scoring more, committing fewer turnovers while distributing the ball for more assists which in turn has lead to a point increase from 2015-16.
When the mid-season hits, look for Clifford to have these guys playing together as a unit relying more on team chemistry and using their length to be tops in the league as a playoff run approaches.
Nov 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford shouts at an official after receiving a technical during the third quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 113-111. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
At the end of the day, the Eastern Conference is strides behind the Western Conference. While many teams in the lower tier of the West could dominate in the Eastern Conference or at least make a playoff spot, they don’t have that luxury, but the Charlotte Hornets do.
After finishing as the sixth seed last season, Clifford’s crew is already out to the number five spot and it’s hard to argue they may not elevate any higher as the season pushes along. As raw as the guys were in 2015-16, they have matured into a cohesive unit of veterans who understand the opportunity lying ahead.
With only the Cleveland Cavaliers as the lone sensible favorite to represent the East in the playoffs, the Hornets can legitimately play with any other team sans the team with “The King.”
While expectations of an Eastern Conference Championship may seem bleak for 2016-17, if management can keep this team together and build from within the draft as they have done, there’s no doubt the Charlotte Hornets are here to stay and they will be contending in the 2017 playoffs and seasons to come.