Last season, the Charlotte Hornets signed head coach Steve Clifford to a multi-year contract. Owner Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho firmly believe that Clifford is the right coach to lead the lackluster Hornets franchise in the right direction. The Hornets landed the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference last season, winning 48 games in the process. This season is Clifford’s fourth year in Charlotte, and his Hornets team looks to be heading in the right direction. They have handled the draft and free agency well, and the talent is there. Key players have been locked up for the foreseeable future and the Hornets also have some of the best young talent in the association. So with the Hornets roster coming together, Charlotte’s time might be right around the corner.
Charlotte Hornets Can Become An Eastern Conference Powerhouse
The Future All-Star and the Frenchman
Point guard Kemba Walker and wingman Nicolas Batum are the Hornets’ two best players. So far this season, Walker is playing at an All-Star level. Walker is averaging a career high 25.9 points along with 5.6 assists per game, through eight games. Walker has been the key to Charlotte’s 6-2 start to the season. After losing Jeremy Lin in the off-season, Walker stepping up isn’t just good; it’s necessary in order for the Hornets to return to the playoffs. If Walker keeps playing at this level, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t make his first All-Star appearance this February.
Frenchman Nicolas Batum is key to Charlotte’s success because of his ability to play both ends well. Batum’s scoring numbers are down so far this season, which, in most cases, would be a bad sign. However, Batum’s blocks and rebounds are up, and his turnovers are down. So the minuscule drop in scoring so far this season is forgivable. Batum is a good defender and an all-around strong player. Capable of a double-double any given night, Batum is a player who Clifford looks to get the most out of. Heading into this off-season, a goal in Charlotte was making sure that Batum stayed long-term. The team achieved that goal, as Batum was signed to a five-year, $120 million deal this summer. Walker and Batum are key players who, if healthy, can push this Hornets team into the playoffs.
The Hive is Young and Has Potential
Since drafting Walker in 2011, the Hornets have been accused of being a bit hit and miss in the draft. Charlotte has retained just three draft picks since the selection of Walker six years ago. However, when you look at the talent they have kept, you get Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky. All three players look set to have increased roles as their careers progress. Kidd-Gilchrist is an excellent defender who plays hard at both ends of the floor. The major issue that Kidd-Gilchrist has is health. Clifford would love to have Kidd-Gilchrist around more often. Unfortunately, it appears as if Kidd-Gilchrist is already having injury issues, just eight games into the season. Still just 23, Kidd-Gilchrist can be a key player for the Hornets, but staying healthy is the first obstacle for the talented forward.
Zeller and Kaminsky are both seven-footers full of potential. The recently extended Zeller is playing less minutes but scoring more points. So with Zeller stepping up the offensive side of his game, the decision to give Zeller a four-year, $56 million deal is looking better every game. The former fourth overall pick out of Indiana is proving to be a valuable player for a Hornets team looking for its young players to step up. Kaminsky, on the other hand, might have an even brighter future than Zeller, but he hasn’t really shown it yet. Kaminsky is contributing well, despite having yet to start a game this season. Averaging 10.8 points per game off the bench is good, but it’s only a matter of time before Kaminsky is a starter in Charlotte. Then we will see what Kaminsky really has to offer.
The Hornets Are Very Balanced
The Hornets are currently second in the Southeast Division, but they are tied with the Atlanta Hawks in the loss column. The main reason Charlotte has played so well is the balance within the roster. Walker is giving opposing teams nightmares. The Hornets are currently ranked seventh in the league in assists. Charlotte’s bigs are contributing very well. Play from Zeller and Kaminsky has led to the team being the eighth ranked ball club in rebounds. Furthermore, the Hornets are defending as a team, with Clifford’s team ranked eighth overall in points allowed per game. That means that the Hornets are ranked top ten in all of the key team rankings, except team points per game. Even there, Charlotte is ranked 11th. Getting a team to be strong and balanced is extremely hard for any franchise to achieve. The Hornets have managed to do so, but it’s taken a while.
Now, we are just eight games into Charlotte’s 2016-17 season, so we shouldn’t jump right in and say that the Hornets are about to take over the East. However, the future looks bright for “The Hive” in Charlotte. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the Eastern Conference right now, and the Hornets are a mile away from being on the Cavaliers’ level. But the Hornets can afford to bide their time, as they have the young players to do so. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. However, this Hornets team is on its way to the party. Look out, because the most unlikely of contenders is buzzing around the corner.