The Charlotte Hornets ended last season with a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament. After facing the same fate two years in a row, the Hornets are determined to take the next step into the Eastern Conference playoffs. With teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers on the rise and contenders reloading in the offseason, did Charlotte do enough to make a postseason push in 2022-23?
Charlotte Hornets 2022-23 Season Preview
Looking Back on Last Year
Charlotte came into last season looking to bounce back from a disappointing slide at the end of 2020-21 that saw them fall into the play-in before ultimately missing the playoffs. Last year, the Hornets looked doomed to repeat that same implosion, losing nine out of ten games in February. However, the team bounced back in March, winning eight out of ten games near the end of the month. It wouldn’t be enough to keep them out of the play-in tournament, but at least the Hornets faithful had hope of a playoff run.
The Atlanta Hawks quickly dashed those hopes in the first play-in game for the east. After jumping out to an early lead, the Hawks put the Hornets’ season on ice with a 42-point third quarter. It was an unfortunately familiar end to their season.
Surprisingly to some, Charlotte was not very active this offseason. The Hornets hope to have addressed their rim-protection issues with 15th overall pick Mark Williams. They signed Williams in July following the draft, inking a two-way contract with Bryce McGowens on the same day. Later that month, the Hornets re-signed Cody Martin. It looked like those would be the only moves made this offseason, but earlier this week, Charlotte signed Dennis Smith Jr. to a one-year deal.
Although this team has a young core that they hope continues to grow, it does seem that the Hornets didn’t do enough to keep pace with a competitive eastern conference. The Cavaliers added Donovan Mitchell to a roster that already made the playoffs last year. The Philadelphia 76ers added depth and toughness to their rotation, and the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics added needed veterans to their ranks. That doesn’t begin to cover all of the moves made by other contenders for the eastern crown. To make matters worse for the club, their leading scorer Miles Bridges was arrested on charges of domestic battery this offseason as well. When looking at how strong the Eastern Conference could be for the near future, the Hornets may regret their lack of activity in a busy offseason.
Charlotte Hornets 2022-23 Outlook
LaMelo Ball leads the way for Charlotte in 2022. If the former rookie of the year can ascend to the level of a top-20 NBA player, then this plan may work. Terry Rozier is the next name that often comes up on this roster, and with good reason. ‘Scary Terry’ is an electric combo guard that can fill it up with ease, whether by attacking the basket or pulling up for a jumper. What doesn’t get mentioned enough is Rozier’s playmaking ability and efficiency with the ball. He averaged 4.5 assists and 1.3 turnovers per game, and his 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio was the best on the team. PJ Washington and Kelly Oubre Jr. each had impressive stretches last year that they will need to build on.
Perhaps the biggest need for Charlotte this year will be a healthy and productive Gordon Hayward. The 32-year-old forward is the highest-paid player on this roster at over $30 million for the upcoming season. Hayward was fourth on the team in points per game with 15.9. The Hornets will need him to up that a bit and play more than 49 games this year.
Charlotte will look for growth from their key rookie, Williams, but he isn’t the only young prospect on this roster. James Bouknight was a first-round pick in 2021. He is a good shooter and could see more playing time with Bridges gone.
Even if all of these young guys take the next step, this team seems too thin to compete with the top-tier squads in the east. Unless Ball rises to an MVP level, expect this season to end the same way that the last two have, with an early play-in exit.