The impressive winning streak of the Warriors led by Curry’s stellar performances, great and all-around numbers posted by Paul George, the usual excellence of Durant, Westbrook and James and unexpected struggling of the Rockets put in the shadow one of the Eastern conference’s most entertaining stories this season – the rise of the Hornets.
Could this finally be the year of MJ’s team? Do they have what’s necessary to make some noise in the postseason?
Career year of Al Jefferson in 2013/14 helped them to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2010, but they were easily defeated by the Heat in the first round. After that relatively successful campaign, the Hornets signed Lance Stephenson, and everyone expected them among the Top 4 teams in the conference. Instead, they were a kind of a disappointment, with the subpar 33-49 record and with aforementioned Stephenson setting one of the all-time worst shooting sprees (18 for 105, or awful 17,1% accuracy).
The Hornets finished 28th out of 30 in offensive rating and 26th in 3-pointers made. Their offense was stagnant, slow and sterile. The future once again looked bleak for Charlotte.
The Fresh Charlotte Hornets
The past summer franchise’s GM, Rich Cho, pulled down a couple of moves that fixed some of the team’s problems and addressed glaring weakness when it comes to shooting. First of all, Cho decided to part ways with a longtime Hornet Gerald Henderson by sending him and intriguing Noah Vonleh to Portland for Nicolas Batum. Stephenson was traded to the Clippers. Role players Neal and Biyombo are no more members of the roster.
The Hornets signed Jeremy Lamb, Jeremy Lin and drafted shooting center Frank Kaminsky in the lottery to stretch the floor. But their biggest addition is Nic Batum. The Frenchman perfectly plays his role of the glue guy. He’s a type of player like Tayshaun Prince, who would sacrifice his stats for the team’s good. Batum found his lost shooting stroke in Charlotte and delivers a standard amount of buckets, rebounds and assists.
Nic is probably the most important piece of the Hornets right now. He makes everyone around him better, and that is one of the most appreciated qualities in the game. Regaining team’s chemistry is one the reasons why the Hornets currently stand at 14-9 record, just two games behind the conference-leading Cavs. Lamb and Lin are doing their job, both averaging in double-digits, with Lamb helping on the boards (4.7 per game) and Lin facilitating the tempo off the bench.
Rookie Kaminsky is averaging a modest 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds (via basketball-reference.com), but he is connecting his 3-point attempts on 41,7% chip. That is pretty good for a big man, especially on a team who was desperate for shooting last year.
Marvin "X-Factor" Williams
It must be mentioned that very few analysts believed in this squad. After the horrible injury of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, it seemed like the Hornets are a lottery-bound. MKG was the best stopper on the roster, both individually and as a team defender. He was among the best in that category in the whole league. He was seen as a building block for the future, and his loss would hurt even the best teams in the NBA.
But coach Clifford found more than decent replacement, and his name is Marvin Williams, former second pick by the Hawks. Marvin was occasionally regarded a bust, but he’s playing the 11th season in the league and holds career averages of 10.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg. By any measure, this can’t be described as a bust, on the contrary. Williams is one of the six Hornets with at least 10 points per contest this season, greatly reducing the damage caused by Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence.
Kemba Walker leads Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are relying less on Jefferson (who has received five games suspension by the NBA for using marijuana by the way) and his post game, another proof of Coach Clifford’s farsightedness.
Finally, Kemba Walker, the team’s best individual, is enjoying best shooting form of his career. Having problems to hit even 40% of his shots in the previous years, he improved to 45,2% overall and almost 40% from beyond the arc in the ongoing season (once again, basketball-reference.com).
The Hornets are in the Top 10 in both, offensive and defensive rating, plus total blocks. Knowing this, it’s no wonder why they are doing quite well so far.
There are also few liabilities in their game, like a bunch of turnovers and fouls committed, which is natural. But one thing is for sure – the Hornets are no longer a laughingstock of the NBA.