The Charlotte Hornets are looking to build on last season’s run that saw them make the play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference. Led by last year’s Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball, the Hornets are hoping to take the next step and make a real playoff push in the 2021-22 season.
Charlotte Hornets 2021-22 Season Preview
The Hornets were a pleasant surprise in the east last season. Although they finished 10th in the standings for the second year in a row, they won 10 more games than the previous year and improved to a .500 record at home. A late-season losing streak cost them home-court advantage in the play-in tournament against the Indiana Pacers.
Terry Rozier led the team in points per game during the regular season, P.J Washington was the leader in rebounds and blocks per game, and Ball set the pace in assists and steals for the squad. Gordon Hayward was an exciting offseason addition going into the year, but the wingman was held to only 44 games due to injury. Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges were bright spots for the young team, averaging 14.8 and 12.7 points per game respectively. Ball managed to earn ROY honors despite missing 21 games with a broken wrist. This paired with Hayward’s injury certainly kept the Hornets from an even better record last season and the team needs both of these guys to stay healthy in order to have a chance at the postseason in the upcoming year.
The Hornets didn’t make any blockbuster moves this offseason, choosing instead to add depth to their rotation through the draft and two notable free-agent signings. Although they lost backcourt rotation players like Graham and Malik Monk, the Hornets were able to replace them by signing Kelly Oubre and Ish Smith to two-year deals. Oubre needs to improve his shooting percentage from beyond the arc (31.6% last year) but he averaged 15.4 points per game for the Golden State Warriors. Smith’s numbers won’t scare opponents, but the veteran point guard played well in limited minutes during the Washington Wizard’s short playoff run last year. He has averaged 7.7 points per game for his career.
Charlotte also said goodbye to centers Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller. The duo started 57 games between them last year and combined to average 14.4 points per game. The Hornets are looking to Mason Plumlee to fill that void. Plumlee was acquired via a salary-dump trade with the Detroit Pistons. This same trade allowed the Hornets to move up in the draft to select lefty forward JT Thor with the 37th pick overall. Plumlee should provide some much-needed frontcourt muscle. He started 56 games last year and just missed averaging a double-double for the season with 10.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
The Hornets also drafted James Bouknight and Kai Jones in the first round of the 2021 NBA draft. Bouknight should make an impact right away. He has impressed scouts with his outside shooting ability and should contribute as a role player early on. When Jones slid out of the lottery, the Hornets sent a top-18 protected 2022 first-round pick for his draft rights. The 6’11 forward/center could also be a solid contributor by season’s end.
Charlotte Hornets 2021-22 Expectations
The Hornets were ahead of schedule last year, catching the league off-guard with their appearance in the play-in tournament. Because of this, expectations for this team are higher coming into the 2021-22 season. Hopes are high that Ball will improve upon his impressive rookie campaign and fans are hoping Rozier will continue his ascent as well. The x-factor for the upcoming season will be the health of two of the team’s stars. If Ball and Hayward can stay healthy for the entire season, the Hornets will have a serious shot at the playoffs this year.
The Eastern Conference is strong this year, but with teams like the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics possibly falling out of the playoff picture, there is room for the Hornets to take their spot in the standings. Charlotte fans shouldn’t fret if that turns out to not be the case. With a deep and talented young roster, it seems to be a matter of time before the Hornets make that push to the next level.
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