The Charlotte Hornets took a step back last season as they stumbled their way to a 36-46 record, finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference. After the franchise’s winningest season in 14 years and Steve Clifford’s second playoff berth in 2015-16, the Hornets struggled to find consistency in 2016-17 after losing Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, and Courtney Lee in free agency. Charlotte will look to bounce back and return to the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that has changed quite a bit since last season. Here is the 2017-18 Charlotte Hornets season preview.
After a great 2015-16 season, expectations were fairly high for Charlotte last year. A second straight playoff appearance at the very least, right? And through December, it looked like the Hornets were in a good position to do just that. Kemba Walker continued to creep his way up top point guard lists, making his first All-Star appearance. However, after starting 20-16, the Hornets collapsed. They went 16-30 over the remainder of the season, ending it on a five-game losing streak that essentially cost them a playoff spot.
The bright spot, though, was Walker. The seventh-year point guard posted career-highs in three-point percentage (shooting nearly 40 percent), field goal percentage, and total points, as well as offensive and defensive rating per 100 possessions.
On top of all the individual success, Walker orchestrated one of the NBA’s most disciplined offensive units. Charlotte committed fewer turnovers than any other team in the league last season, a feat that the Hornets have now accomplished in all four of Clifford’s seasons as head coach. Walker’s average of 2.1 turnovers per game was lower than 25 other point guards last year, and it was the best among all of the 2017 All-Star guards.
Charlotte remained disciplined on the other side of the floor, as well, committing fewer personal fouls than any other team in the NBA. Consequently, the Hornets allowed the fewest number of free throw attempts and makes last season.
Even though Charlotte didn’t foul all that much on the defensive end, it didn’t mean their defense was all that good. Although they were middle of the pack in overall defensive rating (14th), Charlotte struggled to defend the three. Teams attempted and made more three-pointers against the Hornets than they did against anyone else. Given that the game is shifting further and further outside the arc, this is something that Charlotte needs to fix immediately.
The loss of Al Jefferson hurt Charlotte in one major area above all else: rebounding. Without a reliable big man to crash the boards, the Hornets were down across all major rebounding categories. Most notably, Charlotte was 26th in offensive rebounds, which limited the team’s ability to extend possessions and create second-chance opportunities.
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) June 21, 2017
If rebounding was a concern for the Hornets last season, they probably fixed it by trading for Dwight Howard. Though Howard will never again be the player we saw lead the Orlando Magic to the 2009 Finals, he’s still a double-double machine and one of the best defensive big men in the league. Howard finished in the top-10 in all rebounding categories last season; that includes him ranking fourth in offensive rebounds. The Hornets didn’t have a single player in the top-20 in any major rebounding category last year.
In addition to helping on the glass and the defensive end, Howard is far better than any big man Walker has ever played with in Charlotte. The pick-and-roll potential between the two of them could be deadly for the Hornets down the stretch. Also, Howard alone still demands attention on the offensive end. His presence down low should help pull defenders into the paint and create open looks for shooters like Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and highly-touted rookie Malik Monk.
Monk was regarded by many as a top-five prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft. He may have been a steal for Charlotte with the 11th pick. Monk led an uber-talented Kentucky Wildcats team in minutes, points, and three-point percentage as a freshman in his only college season. Monk adds some much-needed youth, athleticism, and shooting to a Hornets squad that really lacked explosiveness last season.
Lastly, the Hornets will now wear Jordan brand jerseys, and they added these dope throwbacks to their collection:
— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) September 13, 2017
Walker and Howard will develop into a pick-and-roll nightmare for defenses, becoming one of the East’s most formidable duos. Walker will make his second consecutive All-Star appearance and continue to climb up the point guard ranks. In a conference that seems wide open beyond the top two spots, expect to see Charlotte back in the playoffs after last season’s disappointment.