Charlotte Hornets basketball is back! Coming off of their first postseason appearance in four years, Charlotte has At the Hive - Charlotte Hornets 2014-15 Preview - SBNation.com
With the excitement around the team after the name change and last year's playoff berth, the Hornets obviously want to capitalize on their momentum. This will likely hinge on the team's ability to integrate its new pieces, the development of their prospects like Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker, and Gerald Henderson's ability to slide seamlessly into a sixth man role behind Stephenson.
Ideally, the Hornets would like to bring their offense up to the same level as their stout defense from last season. In order to do this, Zeller will need to continue to build on his strong second half, and Stephenson and Williams will have to prove to be good systematic fits. If they are able to do these things, they should be able to win more games and snag a higher seed in a weaker conference.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
3rd in Southeast Division - 7th in Eastern Conference
Lost to MIA (4-0) - Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
After more than a decade as an assistant coach, Steve Clifford became the fourth head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats in a four-year span, and he had no easy task taking on a 21-win team. Prior to the 2013-14 season, however, Charlotte was able to land our old friend Al Jefferson and finally brought in a go-to guy to help get them back into the mix in the Eastern Conference.
Jefferson was absolutely fantastic all season long and put the team on his shoulders time and time again. Big Al's averages of 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game put him in a class of just five players to reach the 20-10 plateau in 2013-14. Even so, he was snubbed for the All-Star game yet again. After the break, he made it a point to take his game to a new level as he put up 24.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game and put Charlotte into the playoff picture once again.
Big Al has never been recognized as an All-Star ballplayer [yet], but make no mistake about the fact that the 29-year-old low-post savant is one of the best centers in the game right now.
Kemba Walker continued his progression as one of the top up-and-coming point guards in the league, as well. Walker tied his career high of 17.7 points per game while posting highs in assists (6.1 APG), rebounding (4.2 RPG), three-point percentage (33.3%) and free throw percentage (83.7%). He would, however, turn his ankle in mid-January and whether that was the biggest factor or not, his efficiency took a dip for the rest of the season and Walker found himself shooting under 40% from the field for the second time in his first three years as a pro.
Once the lights came on at playoff time, though, Kemba came to play and dropped roughly 20 points and six assists per game on 47% shooting in the series vs. Miami. If he can become more consistent shooting the ball and finishing in traffic, he may have a chance to put his name into All-Star consideration in the future.
After an impressive 26-game stint with Charlotte in 2012-13, Josh McRoberts was given a chance to shine last season and earned the first full-time starting gig of his professional career. McRoberts' versatility complemented Al Jefferson beautifully as he was able to both stretch the floor and make plays with the ball. McBob played 30 minutes per game, producing 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while making a significant jump as a stretch-four. Throughout his first six years in the NBA, he took 185 accumulative three-point shots and never more than 84 in one season. Last year, he came back to hoist 291 long-balls, connecting on a more than respectable 36.1% of them.
McBob is no star, but he brings a lot to the table and was terrific for the Bobcats all year long.
Coming into the season, the hope was that either 2013 fourth overall pick Cody Zeller or Bismack Biyombo, the seventh overall pick from 2011, would separate themselves from one another and earn a more consistent role. Unfortunately, both of them still have a long way to go and put together fairly underwhelming 2013-14 campaigns.
Biyombo started off getting the nod, playing over 22 minutes per game through the first month of the season, but that experiment didn't last long. Biyombo would finish the season playing just 13.9 minutes per game, which was more like 11 minutes per game after the All-Star break. Meanwhile, Zeller played a more consistent role, getting 16-18 minutes of burn per game all year long, but it took him a while to get used to the NBA game as he shot 38% through the first 50 games of the year. As the season progressed, he started performing at a higher level and even put up just under eight points and five rebounds per game on 50% shooting after the All-Star break.
If he can become more consistent, there's no doubt that Zeller can become a quality and reliable rotation big with his size, touch, agaility, ability to run the floor and length. For the time being, especially in Biyombo's case, the young fellas have a long way to go.
The Bobcats experienced plenty of ups and downs, like any young team, but they took a serious step in the right direction in 2013-14. After going 21-61 the year before, Charlotte went 43-39 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010, drawing the Miami Heat as their first round opponent. As expected, the two-time defending champs took care of business by completing a clean sweep, sending the Bobcats home in four games. Regardless, Steve Clifford's troops fought hard and showed that if they can bring in one or two more quality pieces, they've got some potential going forward.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, PJ Hairston
Key Losses - Josh McRoberts, Luke Ridnour, Chris Douglas-Roberts
One of the coolest things to happen to the game of basketball this summer was when Charlotte switched their team name back to the Hornets, which came with updated logos, uniforms and a brand new court. As little of an impact as something as simple as a team name may have, it sparks nostalgia and adds to the new energy of Charlotte hoops.
The Hornets swung and missed when they signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $63 million max offer sheet, as Utah elected to match their restricted free agent's new deal, but they lucked out when they were able to land Lance Stephenson as a consolation prize. Stephenson signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the club and is coming off of his best year as a pro, where he was arguably the most notable Eastern Conference All-Star snub with production of 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Stephenson will add a much-needed creator on the perimeter and will certainly wreak havoc with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing from a defensive standpoint, as Stephenson is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. His toughness, all-around skills and ability to create off the dribble will be huge for the Hornets.
In the draft, Michael Jordan and the gang came away happy as they added another promising frontcourt player to the mix. With the ninth overall pick, the Hornets selected Indiana's Noah Vonleh, a Georgetown, MA native, who was heavily looked at as a potential top five pick but slipped into Charlotte's lap. Vonleh is a chiseled 6'9" that can play either the four or the five spot, and he will be able to at least make a defensive impact right away. A terrific rebounder, Vonleh understands positioning and puts his 7'4" wingspan to good use. He needs to become more consistent offensively, but he has already shown signs of developing into a quality mid-range shooter with a couple of back-to-the-basket moves on the block.
Vonleh may not turn into a star, but he has a lot of potential to become a serviceable P.J. Brown kind of player that can make an impact on both ends of the floor. With the slow start Bismack Biyombo's career has gotten off to, let's hope Vonleh can step in and contribute from the jump.
The Hornets also owned the 26th pick of the first round, where they may have gotten another contributor for the future. P.J. Hairston is a very aggressive 6'5" swingman that can really shoot the lights out and take it strong to the cup. The word is that he has some maturity issues to work out off the court, but I'm not about to judge a guy's character for one or two mistakes as a youngster. The fact of the matter is that Hairston's jumper is money from the outside and his 2013-14 mark of 21.8 points per game in the D-League tells you that he's going to be able to, at the very least, put the ball in the basket.
Charlotte lost Josh McRoberts via free agency, as he decided to head down to Miami, but the Hornets brought in a solid replacement. Free agent combo forward Marvin Williams was signed on a somewhat pricey two-year, $14 million contract to become Charlotte's new stretch-four alongside Big Al Jefferson on the front line, and will return to the hardwood in North Carolina, where he played his college ball as a Tar Heel. Williams may not be quite as skilled with the ball as McRoberts, but he is a much better defensive player who will provide some welcomed veteran leadership and versatility.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Al Jefferson / Noah Vonleh / Bismack Biyombo
PF - Marvin Williams / Cody Zeller / Jason Maxiell
SF - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist / Jeff Taylor
SG - Lance Stephenson / Gerald Henderson / Gary Neal / P.J. Hairston
PG - Kemba Walker / Brian Roberts / Jannero Pargo
X-FACTOR - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Kidd-Gilchrist is a difficult guy to root against, on account of his high motor and willingness to get after it on the defensive end. Unfortunately, he has yet to live up to the hype he brought with him from his one year in college, and now that he is entering his third year as a pro, it's time he takes another step in the right direction.
Apparently, MKG has spent a lot of time on his shooting form this summer. If he can knock down open jumpers with some level of consistency and become more reliable attacking the rim off of two to three dribbles, it would take him a long way.
If he doesn't make a leap this season, it would be difficult to hold out hope for him to live up to being the second overall pick in the draft. Let's hope he can put it together and start to expand his game.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
With the additions of Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and rookie Noah Vonleh, there's no doubt that Charlotte improved their roster this summer. As long as they stay healthy, there's no reason to believe they can't return to the postseason as one of the mid-to-low seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
This team is going to be young, scrappy and tough to deal with. You can expect a somewhat similar place in the standings this season, but this year's squad is more equipped to potentially make some more noise in the playoffs.
4th - Southeast Division
7th - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Houston Rockets team preview, coming later today.