After nearly winning 50 games and reaching the playoffs in 2015-16, the Hornets took a big step back a season ago. The team’s defense took and most of the production elsewhere landed the Hornets somewhere in the middle of the league in most statistical categories. The one bright spot from 2016 was the smart play of the team, finishing first in the league in fewest fouls committed and fewest turnovers committed per game. That being said, smart play alone does not win games in the NBA. The Hornets needed an injection of talent to a roster of well established veterans searching for the last few missing pieces to the puzzle.
Enter D-12. Yes, I am willing to still call adding Dwight Howard an injection of talent, especially for this Hornets’s squad. Howard struggled a season ago in Atlanta, yet still averaged a double double while shooting over 60% from the field. I’m willing to attribute Howard’s 2016 dip in production to his playing in a Hawks offense that does not particularly focus low post centralized players such as Howard. In Charlotte, Howard will likely have free reign over the majority of the low post touches and minutes at the center position. The 31 year old should also provide a defensive boost on the interior to a Charlotte defense that allowed four more points per game to opposing teams in 2017 than previously in 2016.
The team also looked to add some more scoring options behind star point guard Kemba Walker through the draft. First round selection Malik Monk out of Kentucky and second round selection Dwayne Bacon out of Florida State were each well respected scorers at the collegiate level. Monk comes with more of a polished scoring game and would provide the Hornets with a scoring backcourt ranking among the best in the league, if he can play up to his potential. Bacon could slide in as a nice rotational bench piece due to his versatile size and sound offensive game. Outside of the rookies, the team also picked up veteran Michael Carter-Williams to complete an overhaul behind Kemba and Nicolas Batum.
Looking ahead to the 2017-18 season, it is safe to say that the Hornets have at least become on of the more intriguing and unpredictable teams in the Eastern Conference. Playing in an division that saw Miami fail to improve significantly and Atlanta initiate a full-fledged rebuild, the Hornets have a chance to climb back into the playoff picture and possibly even challenge Washington for the division. The problem with the Hornets is they could also hover around .500 and miss the playoffs once again. The new pieces have to be able to gel around Kemba and Batum and the team defense must improve. The Charlotte Hornets might finally have the talent required to win, but they still have quite a bit to prove in 2017-18.
I am going to take a chance on Kemba and company and say this team should finish towards the top of the Eastern Conference. The East is even weaker than usual, so that might not be saying much, but for a team coming off a 36 win season even reaching the playoffs is a nice step up. Malik Monk should flourish next to a player such as Kemba and he has the offensive arsenal to blossom as a second option and earn serious Rookie of the Year consideration. I predict the Charlotte Hornets will finish at 45-37, second in the Southeast Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.