Tuesday, October 13, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Charlotte Hornets

CHARLOTTE HORNETS
[] 33-49
[] Offensive Rating: 100.9 (28th)
[] Defensive Rating: 104.4 (10th)
[] Net Rating: -3.5 (23rd)
[] Last playoff appearance: 2014
[] Coach: Steve Clifford

The Hornets were aggressive this offseason in adding players who can contribute right away, grabbing Nic Batum from the Blazers in a trade and then selecting Frank Kaminsky with the 9th pick in the draft.  They also made potential value deals by acquiring Spencer Hawes from the Clippers and Jeremy Lamb from the Thunder for little in return.  While their free agent signings weren't illustrious, Jeremy Lin and Tyler Hansbrough bolster a bench that found itself digging too deep at times last year.  All of these moves were made with a return appearance to the playoffs in mind, but those hopes are on life support before the season has even started.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tore the labrum in his right shoulder, suffered in a preseason game against Orlando.  The loss of MKG hurs a little less thanks to the acquisition of Nic Batum, but a team with serious offensive struggles could hardly afford to lose its best defensive piece.  With Kidd-Gilchrist out for six months, the Hornets will be going uphill if they want a playoff berth.
Projected Starting Five

PG: Kemba Walker - 6'1, 180 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
62
17.3
17.6
25.9%
48.6%
30.4%
.285
82.7%
.288
27.1%
8.3%

Although inefficient, Walker is one of the few sources of instant offense that the Hornets have.  He doesn't shoot well outside the arc, or inside, and his Assist Rate is nothing to write home about.  On the bright side, he gets to the FT line at a decent rate, and his turnovers have never been a serious issue.  You can do much better than Walker at the PG position, but you could do worse too.  You wish he was more efficient, but this team needs the points he gives them.

SG: Jeremy Lamb - 6'5, 195 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
47
6.3
14.9
20.5%
53.8%
34.2%
.444
89.1%
.220
10.9%
9.0%

One of Kemba Walker's college running mates, Lamb was picked up over the summer in a trade with OKC.  The Hornets only gave up the perpetually traded Luke Ridnour and a 2016 conditional second rounder to get him.  He'll get an honest chance to outplay PJ Hairston and win the backup SG role.  It's highly speculative, but I think Lamb will have a surprisingly solid year and give the Hornets some much-needed offense off the bench.

SF: Nicolas Batum - 6'8, 205 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
71
9.4
13.1
14.6%
51.6%
32.4%
.515
85.7%
.163
20.5%
17.0%

The Hornets shipped out their 2014 lottery pick, Noah Vonleh, and Gerald Henderson to bring Batum into the fold.  He's only under contract for one year, and he's coming off of a down season, but Batum's skill level brings something new to the wing spot for the Hornets.  He's a playmaker, something that Charlotte needs, and in most years he's been an efficient scorer.  Look for a return to efficiency for Batum in 2015-16, and for Hornets fans to cross their fingers that they can lock Batum up with a long-term deal.  He'll turn 27 in December, so Charlotte figures to have him for the majority of his prime.

PF: Cody Zeller - 7'0, 240 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
62
7.6
14.1
15.6%
53.0%
77.4%
.440
13.4%
7.0%
20.1%
1.2

It felt like a vote of confidence in Zeller when the Hornets shipped out Vonleh for Batum.  Although he has strictly played his time at C to this point, it's hard to see any of the Hornets' other options winning the PF gig.  He has enough of a mid-range game to pull the defense off of Jefferson, and his overall abilities are much better than those of Frank Kaminsky, Marvin Williams and Tyler Hansbrough.  He turns 23 in October, and there could certainly still be some growth left in Cody Zeller's game.

C: Al Jefferson - 6'10, 275 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
65
16.6
19.7
26.3%
50.0%
65.5%
.163
15.1%
5.3%
25.5%
1.5

Jefferson battled a knee injury throughout the year, something he's attempted to combat in the offseason with a weight loss program.  He'll need to be in better shape this year to improve his scoring efficiency and rebounding numbers, which both took a dip in 2014-15.  The Hornets desperately need his offense, and for him to at least be somewhat mobile defensively, so hopefully the knee issues are behind him.  Jefferson is entering a contract year at age 31, so he'll need to show something this year to earn one more big contract.

Bench

PG: Jeremy Lin - 6'3, 200 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
74
11.2
15.6
21.9%
53.9%
36.9%
.269
79.5%
.410
28.6%
17.7%

Lin came to the Hornets on a cheap deal (2 years, $4 million), one that I think will give Charlotte a solid backup PG at a good value for the next two years.  Lin is an upgrade over Brian Roberts in all departments.  Lin's not going to put the Hornets over the top or anything resembling such, but he'll outplay the contract he signed.

PG: Brian Roberts - 6'1, 180 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
72
6.7
11.7
18.6%
49.5%
32.1%
.427
89.2%
.164
20.3%
10.5%

Roberts' role is in jeopardy with the signing of Lin and the drafting of Aaron Harrison.  He'll likely start the year as Charlotte's third PG, but it's hard to say if he'll finish the year in that role.

G: Troy Daniels - 6'4, 200 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
47
3.7
9.6
21.3%
51.5%
36.4%
.715
84.6%
.079
9.2%
10.5%

Daniels is a three point specialist, something that the Hornets absolutely have a need for.  If he can give them enough of the other stuff (playmaking, defense, etc.), he'll earn minutes and a permanent NBA home.  That probably sounds appealing, considering he played for three teams last season.

G: Aaron Harrison - 6'5, 195 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
3P%
FT%
39
11.0
2.6
1.4
39.5%
31.6%
78.2%

Harrison will bounce back and forth between Charlotte and their D-League affiliate.  The 47th pick in the 2015 draft is attempting to play more of his minutes at PG, something he didn't do at Kentucky.  If he can sharpen those skills, he may factor into the Hornets' long-term plans.  If not, minimal loss for Charlotte.

G/F: PJ Hairston - 6'6, 230 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
45
5.6
9.0
20.4%
44.6%
30.1%
.606
86.1%
.134
5.1%
7.2%

I thought Hairston's professional experience in the D-League would help him as a rookie, ranking him 18th on my 2014 NBA Draft Big Board.  That looks like a huge mistake after he had a highly inefficient rookie season.  He'll need to improve his scoring efficiency, or risk losing his role to Jeremy Lamb.

PF: Marvin Williams - 6'9, 230 - 11th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
78
7.4
11.8
13.3%
54.1%
35.8%
.535
71.3%
.176
10.4%
7.8%

Williams could hypothetically challenge Zeller for the starting PF spot after starting 37 games last season, but it seems like he's destined for a reserve role.  He fits the Hornets' need for a stretch four, but he doesn't create enough of his own offense to be a big factor.

PF: Tyler Hansbrough - 6'9, 250 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
74
3.6
13.3
10.5%
59.7%
14.4%
11.6%
17.3%
69.8%
.842
0.5

Hansbrough may challenge Williams for minutes, but it's hard to imagine just what his role will be on this team.  His astronomical FT rate provides for some offensive efficiency, although his defense often leaves a lot to be desired.

F/C: Frank Kaminsky - 7'1, 230 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
BPG
FG%
3P%
FT%
39
18.8
8.2
1.5
54.7%
41.6%
78.0%

Kaminsky will have every opportunity to win minutes at both PF and C, as the Hornets look to justify the 9th overall pick.  Rumor has it that Charlotte turned down a total of four first round and two second round picks from Boston in order to take Kaminsky.  I think his rookie season hinges on how well he can shoot the outside ball.

C: Spencer Hawes - 7'1, 245 - 9th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
73
5.8
9.8
17.9%
47.8%
31.3%
.424
64.7%
.164
11.4%
10.0%
Hawes was quite clearly a terrible fit with the Clippers last season, as he struggled to earn the trust of Doc Rivers or a consistent role.  The Hornets traded Lance Stephenson's dead salary for Hawes' this summer, betting that his outside shooting and rebounding perk up in a new environment where he figures to have a bigger role

SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - 6'7, 230 - 4th NBA season (Out for season: Torn labrum)
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
55
10.9
15.1
18.4%
51.9%
70.1%
.444
14.4%
7.4%
21.9%
0.9

Kidd-Gilchrist's rebounding and defense will be sorely missed by the Hornets on the wing.

Outlook

The Hornets looked to be right in the thick of the race for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference before the injury to Kidd-Gilchrist.  While MKG is an integral part of their defensive identity, I don't think the loss of their starting SF is quite a death blow.  However, it's going to take heroic efforts from Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Al Jefferson and the rest of the roster to earn a playoff berth.  The overall depth is improved from last season, which should help the cause.  There's no way Spencer Hawes can be worse than he was last season, and I like the Lin addition.  While I still think it's feasible for Charlotte to scrape out a playoff bid, I don't think it's likely.  I'll guess that 33 wins is about where we see the Hornets finish in 2015-16, exactly where they finished last year.

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