What are the Charlotte Hornets? Last season they were a surprise. The Hornets entered the season with the lowest preseason over-under projection at 23.5. Despite playing only 65 games, Charlotte managed to win 23 games and shock the NBA world. This season, the Charlotte Hornets start is something to discuss. Except now, everyone should have seen this coming, and here’s why.
The Charlotte Hornets Start Should Not Be Surprising
In a brand new season with some key new additions, the Hornets’ expectations did not seem to change much as their new over-under entering the season was only 26.5. This would translate to a 30.5 over-under in a normal 82 game season.
Almost halfway into the season and the Hornets are 15-16, just one win away from being the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The biggest reason for this jump has been Charlotte’s offseason additions.
Charlotte Hornets Current Star
Over the offseason, Charlotte signed former NBA All-Star Gordon Hayward to a massive contract. In order to make this deal, however, the Hornets had to waive and stretch the final year of Nicolas Batum’s contract. Financially these moves are risky and only time will tell if they made sense long term. But for just this season alone, this has made a huge difference.
It’s one thing to just add Hayward to last season’s Hornets team but combined with the subtraction of Batum the effect becomes monumental. Batum was in the midst of a career-worst year posting career lows in scoring and efficiency. He was a total negative for the Hornets so simply taking him off of the roster is a benefit on his own.
Now when his replacement is instead a borderline all-star, the difference is staggering. Hayward is in the middle of his best season since he left the Utah Jazz. Averaging just under 22 points per game to go along with five rebounds, four assists, and a career-high true shooting percentage. It’s only been a few weeks but so far the contract looks pretty good.
Charlotte Hornets Future Star
He’s not the player that Hayward is, but third overall pick LaMelo Ball has been sensational. It’s not even just the flashy passes, step-back threes, and nifty layups. Ball has averaged just under 15 points to go with six rebounds and six assists on 54 true shooting percentage. In NBA history only three other rookies have ever matched or exceeded these marks! Ben Simmons, Oscar Robertson, and Magic Johnson. That is some elite company right there.
So Ball is not just a highlight reel, he’s the real deal. Not to mention that Ball is also only 19 years old, a full year younger than Johnson was and over two years younger than Robertson or Simmons were in their first seasons.
Last season the Hornets were bad on defense and god awful on offense. This year, the defense is only marginally better but the offense looks so much cleaner. They went from being dead last in pace and second to last in offensive rating to 14th in pace and 19th in ORTG. Those are huge improvements that are made possible by internal development.
The efficiency levels of the returning Hornets have been fantastic this season. Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, and Malik Monk have all increased their effective field goal percentages by at least six percent. They are all having career years thanks to the newfound spacing provided by the two new offseason additions as well as the faster pace leading to more fastbreak buckets.
So, we know the Hornets are solid. We know why they are solid but why is this not surprising?
…these improvements and additions working well together make sense. The question with Hayward was never about his skill set, it was health. He has been quite healthy and thus very productive. Ball was drafted third overall for a reason, his ceiling is sky high and the passing was generational at first glance.
Young players like Monk and Bridges improving their shooting percentages as they gain experience in the league is not new. Every season most young players take steps in the right direction and it doesn’t hurt that they have two new great players to play off of every night.
Monk and Bridges’ athleticism and shooting always made more sense around a fast break-oriented team. Now with the addition of an elite primary ball-handler in Ball and a great scoring point forward in Hayward, the fit is seamless.
I will admit though that Rozier improving as much as he has from last season to this one is a bit of a shock. Who would have thought a player that was known his whole career for being extremely inefficient, would suddenly become the 12th most efficient 20 point scorer in the league?
Not the Hornets detractors, that’s for sure.
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