LaMelo Ball is the talk of the town and the Charlotte Hornets might be able to make the playoffs in 2021. The Eastern Conference has always played second fiddle to the Western Conference in the past decade. However, this year the East is much improved and is on pace to be the most competitive it’s been in years.
With the top five seeds practically locked on, the last few spots are up for grabs. The Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat have struggled out of the gates, and the New York Knicks record to this point doesn’t seem sustainable. With that being said, the Charlotte Hornets are in a prime position to contend for a playoff spot.
Can the Charlotte Hornets Make the Playoffs?
It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibilities.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers will be in the playoffs without question. Next in the standings are the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Hornets.
If the season ended today, the Hornets would be in. Unfortunately, there are still nearly 50 games to play and the demise of the Raptors and Heat, who are 10th and 13th respectively, shouldn’t last much longer.
Nonetheless, this Hornets team has the talent to make the play-in tournament at the very least.
The Charlotte Hornets’ Guards
In what sounds like a really bad band name, LaMelo Ball and the guards will be huge for the Hornets going forward.
Ball has been brought along slowly in his rookie year but has earned more minutes lately, even more so after Terry Rozier hurt his ankle. Ball won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for January and February. He posted averages of 12.7 points, 5.9 boards, and 6.0 dimes.
His playmaking skills were never questioned as he continues to make impressive passes at ease. It was his shooting that was a concern, and his three-point clip is at just 32 percent but has gone up recently.
LaMelo Ball had one of his best performances of the season tonight.
Elite passing ability. Pull-up jumpers off the dribble. Floaters in the lane.
The rookie is finding his rhythm 💯 pic.twitter.com/ZvToisWqym
— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) January 31, 2021
Aside from Ball, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham are the starters, for now. Both of them have played well, and there are times in the game when all three of them share the court in a small lineup.
Rozier is averaging 18.6 points and 2.8 assists and Graham is averaging 14.5 points with 6.1 assists per game. They have earned their minutes, and it seems that head coach James Borrego might add Ball to that starting group.
The Hornets lead the NBA in assists per game at 28.5 and these three are a huge reason why. Their assist to turnover ratio is third in the league, and unless there’s a trade or injury, Ball and the guards will propel this team.
The Re-Emergence of Hayward
The Hornets made headlines after signing Hayward to a four-year, $120-million deal in the offseason. Gordon Hayward has come in and proved that he’s worth it, even at his age on a rebuilding team.
The former Jazz and Celtics star has found a home and leads the team in scoring with 22.9 points a game. He takes over the game when needed and his passing ability is a huge plus for this young squad.
Gordon Hayward is averaging 𝟐𝟕.𝟏 points over his last 10 games.@SharonviewFCU // #MemorableMoments pic.twitter.com/YU9m71vFjs
— FOX Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnFSSE) January 28, 2021
Hayward had some issues with minutes in Boston due to their three-headed monster, and now Hayward is the guy in Charlotte. He might be able to make his way into the All-Star game for the East, and it would be hard to argue against it.
It’s no secret that the ongoing success of this team rests on Hayward’s shoulders, especially after that huge contract.
The Charlotte Hornets’ Kryptonite
The biggest, most glaring issue the Hornets have are their bigs. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, who somehow is still in the league, are the bigs they turn to.
Zeller missed some time with injury and Biyombo started in his place. Zeller has returned and been thrown back into the starting lineup and he’s gotten mixed reviews.
Biyombo is averaging 6.3 points and 6.5 boards in 20 games and Zeller has 9.2 points and 8.4 boards in only nine games. Still, a Zeller-Biyombo center rotation won’t get you very far and that was evident against the Sixers on Wednesday night.
Joel Embiid, Myles Turner, and Nikola Vucevic are just a few of the centers they have to face from the Eastern Conference. With all due respect, the Hornets pair can’t handle them.
Embiid coming different this year.
(via @NBA) pic.twitter.com/58597gaFyj
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) February 4, 2021
To be fair, not many guys in the league can guard Embiid. If the Hornets want to make the playoffs they need to find a center. Perhaps they sign somebody in free agency and roll with these guys through the season.
Playoffs are Possible for the Charlotte Hornets
To recap, the Hornets’ path to the playoffs isn’t too far off. The new play-in tournament allows the 9th and 10th seeded teams a shot to sneak into the playoffs, and they are right in the middle.
Hayward has been amazing, and Ball and the other guards are doing just fine. Borrego has finally given Ball more minutes and that’s a huge reason for their three-game winning streak that ended against Philly.
Let’s not forget about Miles Bridges and PJ Washington.
The expectations this year weren’t much at all for the Hornets, but they could find their way into the playoffs if they keep playing at this rate.
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