During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Charlotte Hornets.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Charlotte Hornets Season
Kemba Walker Must Become An All-Star
Last season, Kemba Walker led the Hornets to the NBA playoffs. The energetic point guard averaged a career high 20.9 points per game and missed just one regular season game. Walker has become a reliable high volume scorer, but this coming season, Walker will need to do more than just score. For this Hornets team to have a successful season and make it back to the playoffs, Walker needs to become an All-Star for the first time.
Walker has come really close in recent seasons, but this year is a must for Walker. Making the Eastern Conference All-Star team means having to potentially outperform the likes of Kyle Lowry and Isaiah Thomas. Walker is currently on the bubble. Along with players like Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson, Walker is right on the boundary of making his first All-Star team. This could be Walker’s year, but he has stiff competition.
Walker is just one of eight point guards capable of making the Eastern Conference All-Star team. This Hornets team lacks balance and has a few players who struggle with injuries. The fans in Charlotte expect playoff basketball this season. There is added pressure, seeing as the team went out this off-season and spent a fair amount in free agency. The team made re-signing wing-man Nicolas Batum a priority, and the Hornets also re-signed power forward Marvin Williams. However, Charlotte appears to have lost more talent than it gained this off-season. The Hornets saw Courtney Lee, Al Jefferson, and Jeremy Lin all leave in free agency.
Now, the Hornets should still be in the race for a playoff spot, but they will have to rely on their star point guard in Walker for success this coming season.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Has To Stay Healthy
There are very few defensive specialists in today’s NBA. One of those few plays his basketball in Charlotte. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a small forward and the Hornets’ best defensive player. After being drafted second overall in 2012, Kidd-Gilchrist became an extremely valuable player for the Hornets. In Kidd-Gilchrist’s rookie season, the forward played 78 games and started all but one. Unfortunately, the promising Kidd-Gilchrist has struggled with injury ever since. In his sophomore year, Kidd-Gilchrist managed just 62 games. In year three, that number fell to 55. And last season, Kidd-Gilchrist had his most disappointing season yet. He played in just seven games during the 2015-16 season due to recurring shoulder injuries. Health appears to be Kidd-Gilchrist’s biggest obstacle.
The label of “key player” is thrown around a bit too much in today’s NBA. But in the case of Kidd-Gilchrist, it’s justified. Last season was filled with turmoil, but Kidd-Gilchrist is still just 23 years old. The young forward was on pace for his best offensive season yet before getting hurt last year. So despite Kidd-Gilchrist giving Hornets fans only a small sample of what he can do, the forward still showed why they drafted him so high. The Hornets simply can’t afford to lose Kidd-Gilchrist this season, as they don’t have the depth to handle the loss.
Kidd-Gilchrist is a player Hornets head coach Steve Clifford would love to have in the rotation. Clifford is hoping to take this Hornets team back to the playoffs and will need to keep the core of his roster healthy in order to do so. Kidd-Gilchrist has a high-motor and is relentless on both ends of the court. Players like Kidd-Gilchrist don’t come along too often, and the Hornets would do well to have their talented forward play in more than just seven games this coming season.