We’ve seen the NBA atmosphere shift completely over the last several weeks. Anything promised, it’ll be a far different view from this past season.
However, even though the competitive alignment has altered, the same standard awaits for every NBA team — and that’s to win it all in June. Some franchises, however, have more diminutive goals in mind. The odds of posing as a “potential threat” to the league’s top powerhouses aren’t exactly in their favor.
And for the upcoming 2017-18 Charlotte Hornets, they could very well identify as one of those types, although I see them as a team that could cause some major damage next season.
The Hornets should be very proud of the way their offseason turned out. Some of the moves they made fell right into their laps. The notable draft selections of Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, as well as the signing of Michael Carter-Williams, has drawn more attention on paper. But overall, you can pinpoint their successful summer with the acquisition of eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard in late June. The Atlanta Hawks chose to send away their “hometown hero” after just one season, as they received Miles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli, and a second-rounder in return. They later selected Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey in the 2017 Draft.
With the addition of Howard, the Hornets have now added a character who may best fit their system. If there’s any franchise who’s struggled to find consistency at the Center position over the last several years, it’s been Charlotte. Recent names who’ve donned a Hornets jersey — such as Plumlee, Spencer Hawes, Roy Hibbert, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo (I was this close to mentioning Noah Vonleh, but he’s a power forward), have either flunked out of the rotation, or still haven’t made the adjustment to the NBA level. The only player who did manage to find success with Charlotte was “Big Al” Jefferson — who averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in 185 contests.
*Jefferson had a dominant 2013-14 campaign, averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds on nearly 51% shooting at age 29. He did not make the Eastern Conference All-Star team, however.
But now with Dwight taking his turn, he’s going to provide the size and athleticism of which the Hornets haven’t seen from his position in quite some time. At the other end, Howard adds another layer to Charlotte’s defense, in which head coach Steve Clifford has been emphasizing for the last four seasons. The Hornets ranked 22nd in Lowest Opponent Field-Goal Percentage from within 3-10 feet (40%), which is certainly above average.
Albeit at 31 years old, Howard has had his fair share of condemnation throughout the past few seasons. Other than not being “physical” enough, many critics have questioned his heart to play the game competitively. But lest we forget that Howard has suffered through countless knee and back injuries dating back to his final days in Orlando, to his tumultuous time with L.A, and as well as his three seasons with Houston.
It’s unlikely that Dwight will put up dominant numbers like he did in his earlier years, but if anything’s for certain, he’s going to draw attention whenever he gets the ball. It helps take some pressure off of his newest All-Star teammate, Kemba Walker.
After putting up a career-highs in scoring average (23.2 PPG) and efficiency (44% FG and 39% 3PT) last season, the 26-year-old point guard demonstrated how capable he is of improving into a top-tier scorer. The addition of Howard will provide another P&R option, as Walker continues to improve as a playmaking guard.
Walker has taken his game and confidence to such a new level, where he’s starting to live up to a “leadership” role. In fact, we could agree that his current job title was practically already given to him — when Charlotte (Bobcats, at the time) selected him ninth overall in the 2011 NBA Draft.
*Kemba recorded fourteen 30-point games in the 2016-17 season and added six games with at least 10 assists. Both facets are improved from every season prior.*
Walker isn’t quite a top-five guard in the league, but with more solid talent built around him, winning would give him a different kind of exposure. In the 2013-14 playoffs against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Walker showed (in only four games) that he’s capable of coming through in big moments — even at the next level. He averaged nearly twenty points a game on 50% shooting from three. Though the Hornets were swept in that series, Walker proved that even at a mere height of exactly six feet, he can compete with the absolute best.
But if the Hornets have any intentions on making a return to the postseason, and winning a series against any team. One player must have a strong season. Former number-two overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been heard to be working really hard on his unwieldy jump shot.
Kidd-Gilchrist is one of my favorite players in the NBA. He makes the winning plays, finds other ways to get involved, and sacrifices his body for loose ball opportunities. He’s one of the toughest competitors in our league, and at 23 years old, he still has plenty of time to add more to his offensive arsenal. Already being a strong attacker and great cutter, Kidd-Gilchrist also has the unselfish characteristics as a playmaker. If he and veterans Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams can fully complement each other’s games more than they have had in the last two years, the Hornets will have a well-balanced starting lineup.
The door has opened wide for Charlotte. After finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference (36-46), one can expect them to win at least 45 games next season. Are they championship caliber? Not at all. But this team has found a new direction and will be locked in for such a critical year.