The Charlotte Hornets: Playoffs Nuisance

The Charlotte Hornets are by no means a sure thing in the playoffs just yet. As of now, they sit as the eighth in the Eastern Conference. This means they’d be set to face the Boston Celtics in the play-in tournament. With this being said, the Celtics faced a major loss with Jaylen Brown being ruled out for the season. Charlotte has a legitimate chance to win that play-in matchup and cause some trouble for the East big dogs in the first round.

The Charlotte Hornets will be a Tricky Playoff Team

First and Foremost: Gordon Hayward

The Hornets received good news last week when Gordon Hayward was cleared to start weight-bearing work. He’s already out of his walking boot, and could potentially return before the playoffs.

Many scoffed at the contract handed to Hayward by the Hornets this last offseason, but he’s proved to be a very useful player again. This season he’s averaging 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Those are borderline NBA All-Star numbers. He also has a stellar shooting split of 47.3-41.5-84.3. Simply put, Hayward can get bucks and play tough defense.

Players such as Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels have filled the void while Hayward’s been out. Martin averages roughly four points and three rebounds per game, while McDaniels averages roughly seven points and three rebounds per game. It’s easy to see that although they’re solid players, they simply cannot provide (combined) what Hayward can. With that being said, they’ll be very useful backing Hayward up.

Miles Bridges can also play small forward minutes, which he has, and is putting up averages of 12 points and six rebounds per game. The Hornets would much rather see Bridges at power forward with Hayward by his side at small forward.

The Charlotte Hornets Bread and Butter: Stellar Guard Play

The Hornets’ success runs through their backcourt. This includes the likes of LaMelo BallTerry RozierDevonte’ Graham, and Malik Monk. All four of these guards are having terrific seasons.

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Ball is back from his injury and continuing on his Rookie of the Year path. This season he’s averaging about 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists per game. His deep ball percentage of 36 percent is also surprising, as many thought he would struggle in that department. He’s also one of the league leaders in steals, showing his defensive prowess. Ball is still a very young rookie, but he’s talented enough to win games on his own. A strong playoff showing will allow him to build his case for future superstardom.

Rozier receives plenty of flak for his game, but he’s been one of the better guards in the entire league. This season he’s averaging about 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists per game. He’s also shooting 40 percent from deep. Rozier is instant offense and can start a run on his own or take the team out of a shooting slump. He’s also experienced in the playoffs, with past success too, so look for him to take a leadership role alongside Hayward come playoff time.

Graham’s numbers are down from last season, but because of Ball’s arrival. He’s still averaging 14 points and five assists per game. He’s a terrific shooter and high-energy scorer but is also more than capable of being a floor general. Graham can easily start for multiple NBA teams, but the Hornets have the luxury of having him off the bench.

Lastly, Monk is experiencing a revival of sorts this season. He’s averaging 12 points per game on nearly 42 percent shooting from deep. Once labeled a bust and an afterthought, Monk is carving himself up a nice role as a three-point sniper.

Potential Big Man Woes

Charlotte’s big man options are not ideal, especially for a playoff team. Disregarding combo forwards like Hayward and Bridges, the Hornets can use some work.

Their primary options include P.J. WashingtonCody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo.

Washington is undersized, but his length allows him to compete with other bigs. He’s averaging 13 points and six boards per game and can stretch the floor. He’s already a legitimate player, and will only become better. With all that being said, he cannot be the primary center option. Washington is best suited at the three and four.

Zeller has been on the team his entire career. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if that never changes. He’s solid by all means, averaging nine points and seven boards per game, but is still not an elite option.

Lastly, there’s Biyombo. He can block shots with the best of them and is still a valuable rebounder. Unfortunately, he offers very little defensively.

All three are very solid players in their own respects. Washington has the potential to be great as well. The Hornets cannot be a title contender, however, until they make frontcourt upgrades.

Charlotte Hornets Playoff Prediction

The Hornets have what it takes to upset the Celtics in the play-in, assuming that’s the match-up. Slowing down Jayson Tatum will be pivotal, but Charlotte has plenty of their own offensive firepower. The Celtics also struggle in the frontcourt, which offsets any worries the Hornets may have.

If the Hornets take the seventh seed, they’ll likely match up with one of the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. Simply put, those are not favorable and the Hornets will be major underdogs. It’s likely the Hornets bow out in the first round, but they’re talented enough to keep most games close and potentially steal a game or two.

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