Before the season, people did not mention the Charlotte Hornets when bringing up playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Even now, despite the fact that the Hornets sit at 7th in the Eastern Conference, people aren’t viewing them as a playoff team. People shouldn’t just view the Hornets as a playoff team, but rather a lock to make the playoffs.
Not Just a Playoff Team, But a Playoff Lock
Competing With the Top of the league
The Hornets have already played tough teams. They have played the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers twice, the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Besides the game against the Raptors, the Hornets have kept each of these games close. The Hornets lost to the Bucks by just one point, they lost to the Sixers by two points in the first game and then one point in overtime in the next, and they lost to the Thunder by just four points. The Hornets are clearly close to winning a few more games. If they can get another player who can score as Kemba Walker can, they may be able to put up a few more points and would win a couple of these games.
The Hornets are actually just 1-4 in games that are decided by three or fewer points. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. In these five games, the Hornets played the Bucks, the Chicago Bulls, the Miami Heat and the 76ers twice. Four out of five of those games were against playoff teams, and three games were against teams that had a better record than the Hornets. The reason for this is that the Hornets, unfortunately, start games out flat despite being great in the fourth quarter. The Hornets are just 22nd in points scored in the first quarter. In contrast, they are third in points scored in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, they are third in field goal percentage and second in three-point percentage. If the Hornets played as they do in the fourth quarter in every quarter then they would be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. If they were even just 10th or so in points scored in the first quarter they would win a lot more of their close games.
A big reason as to why they are so good in the fourth quarter is because of Kemba Walker. Walker is first on his team and fourth in the entire league in points in the fourth quarter. He is on average scoring eight points in the fourth quarter. Besides Walker, there are a few other players on the Hornets playing well in the fourth quarter. Malik Monk is averaging 5.3 points, Miles Bridges is averaging 4.0 points and Dwayne Bacon is averaging 3.3 points. Each one of them is shooting over 50 percent on two-pointers and over 40 percent on three-pointers.
Most Underrated Team
Although the Hornets sit at just 8-8 and 7th in the Eastern Conference, their record is deceiving. They are much better than their record says. Despite having just the 16th best record in the NBA, they have the sixth best net rating. The Hornets have the fifth best offensive rating and the 13th best defensive rating. They have a better offensive rating than the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets. They have a better defensive rating than the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz. Based on their net rating and their strength of schedule, the Hornets are really the 11th best team in the NBA and should have a record of 9-5 instead of 7-7.
Per nbamath’s fats calculator, the Hornets right now are playing like a team with a 49.2-32.8 record. Nbamath’s fats calculator gives a win-loss record over an 82 game season based on the four factors of a team. The four factors are effective field goal percentage, free throw attempt rate, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and then their opponent’s effective field goal percentage, their opponent’s free throw attempt rate, their opponent’s turnover percentage and their opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage.
Why Are They Playing So Well?
The Hornets are just 12th in field goal percentage and 17th in three-point percentage. This is a little confusing when taking into account the fact that the Hornets have the fifth best offensive rating in the league. The Hornets are well disciplined on both sides of the floor, which leads them to score a lot. They are committing the lowest amount of turnovers per 100 possessions in the entire NBA. They are also committing the 10th least amount of personal fouls per 100 possessions. This leads to them attempting the most field goals in the entire NBA, which is the main reason as to why they’re scoring so much.
Another big reason as to why the Hornets are playing so well is because of Kemba Walker. Walker is averaging 26.4 points per game this season, a 4.3 increase from last year. Walker is also shooting 37 percent on 10 three-point attempts per game, which is good for about 11 points per game. The only other players getting more points per game from three are James Harden and Stephen Curry. Nicolas Batum is also having a great year, as his three-point percentage has increased from 34 percent last year to 40 percent this year.
The Hornets Are A Team to Fear
The Hornets have been playing just as well as some of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Right now, the Hornets are really looking like a lock to make the playoffs. While Walker is an MVP candidate right now, he isn’t the only player contributing. Players such as Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to name a few are some role players that have been doing their part and playing well. If the Hornets can keep this up, they should be a lock to make the Eastern Conference playoffs.