It’s late October, which means another season of Hornets basketball is finally upon us. There are many things to be excited about this season, with the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist topping the list. After finishing with 48 wins last season, there are even higher expectations for this year’s team. While many that follow the team believe the Hornets can win around 48 games this season, Vegas certainly does not. The Hornets over/under win total was set at 39.5 in September. This seems like a very low number, and will give the Hornets something to prove this winter.
Before we get into personnel, let’s take a moment to look at the Hornets coaching staff. After getting the Hornets to the playoffs in two of his first three season, Steve Clifford has established himself as a top ten coach in the NBA. While the Hornets success has certainly added to his credentials, Clifford has been praised for getting the most out of his roster year after year. Clifford will be tasked with a new challenge this year, after losing 3 major rotation players in the offseason.
On the bright side, the Hornets bring back Patrick Ewing and Stephen Silas as assistant coaches. Both of these coaches have been interviewed for head job openings in the past. Silas, who is well regarded as one of the top assistants in the league, was a finalist for the Rockets job last summer that ultimately went to Mike Dantoni. Bob Weiss, Pat Delaney, Steve Hetzel, and Bruce Kreutzer round out one of the best coaching staffs in the association.
Key Losses: Jeremy Lin (PG), Courtney Lee (SG), Al Jefferson (C).
Key Additions: Marco Belinelli (SG), Ramon Sessions (PG), Roy Hibbert (C).
Projected Depth Chart
PG: Kemba Walker (6th season), Ramon Sessions (10th season), Brian Roberts (5th season), Aaron Harison (2nd season)
SG: Nicolas Batum (9th season), Jeremy Lamb (5th season), Treveon Graham (1st season).
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (5th season), Marco Belinelli (10th season)
PF: Marvin Williams (12th season), Frank Kaminsky (2nd season), Christian Wood (2nd season)
*C: Roy Hibbert (9th season), Cody Zeller (4th season), Spencer Hawes (10th season)
*At media day Clifford was non-committal on who his starting center would be. Given the fact Zeller has missed the entire preseason with a knee injury, expect Hibbert to begin the year as the starting center.
As you can see, there was quite a bit of turnover for the Hornets this offseason. As a result of the increased salary cap, the Hornets were only able to retain Nic Batum and Marvin Williams. While the team would have liked to have kept Jeremy Lin and others, they feel they found good replacements via free agency and trades. What has to excite Hornets fans is the addition of Roy Hibbert. This is the first time in the Steve Clifford era that the Hornets have had a true rim protector. If Hibbert somehow finds the fountain of youth, who knows how good the defense could be this season. Having a rim protector allows a team to pay more attention to the perimeter, which in turn will limit open three pointers. When you factor in the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, there is a lot to be excited about on the defensive end. Most expect the offense to take a step back from last year, but with Walker and Batum leading the way, there isn’t too much to worry about.
Kemba Walker: Barring any major injuries, Walker could become a first time All-Star this season. Walker had surgery in the offseason to prepare a torn lateral meniscus, but it shouldn't cause him to miss any regular season time. Walker posted a 37% three point percentage last year, which was up 7% from the year prior. If the Hornets want to continue to succeed offensively, Walker has to deliver another efficient season. His improved shooting makes him nearly impossible to defend on the pick and roll.
Marvin Williams: There’s no denying that Williams was fantastic for the Hornets last year, which is why he was rewarded with a handsome contract in July. In the absence of MKG last year, Coach Clifford considered Williams the anchor of the defense. Oh yeah, his three point shooting wasn’t bad either. Like Walker, Williams posted a career high in three point percentage (40%). The only thing you worry about is Williams taking it easy this year after signing a big contract last summer. It shouldn’t be an issue for the twelve year veteran, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Nicolas Batum: Hornets General Manager Rich Cho made a great trade two summers ago when he acquired Batum. The Frenchman fit right in, and took the offense to the next level. However, due to the large amount of money the team gave him in the offseason, he must be even better this year. It will be fun to see Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist play together, as it is something that only happened seven times last year. With MKG back, Batum will no longer have to guard the Lebron James’ of the world. Batum must play very well, and stay healthy, if the Hornets want to repeat last year's’ success.
Cody Zeller: Last year, the Hornets found out Zeller’s best NBA position was center. Zeller did a nice job replacing the injured Al Jefferson, and eventually took his job. However, with Roy Hibbert now wearing purple and teal, the competition begins all over again. Zeller should be a big factor this year, regardless of if he starts or comes off the bench.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: I, like most Hornets fans, am very eager to watch MKG play this year. Hopefully the Kentucky product is able to stay healthy for the entire season. Kidd-Gilchrist played 78 games in his first season, but that number has gone down every season. Remember that in the small sample size we had of him last season, he shot 43% from beyond the arc. Look for him to pull the trigger early on when teams choose to sag off of him. Kidd-Gilchrist’s aggressive and energetic play will be a welcoming sight come Wednesday night.
Frank Kaminsky: After an impressive serious offensively against Miami, Kaminsky figures to be a big part of the Hornets offense. With Jefferson leaving for Indiana, Kaminsky is now the best back to the basket player on the roster. The Hornets hope that Kaminsky's post-up success in the playoffs can carry over to this season.
-Ramon Sessions does a better job of replacing Lin than people think he will. Sessions isn’t quite as dynamic as Lin, but he possesses many of the same traits that made Lin such a good fit last season. Besides, we already know from 2013 that Sessions and Walker play well together. He won’t be able to replace Lin’s scoring and ability to take over the game, but he should be able to change the pace when he’s in for Walker.
-Frank Kaminsky becomes the Hornets sixth or seventh man. The Hornets aren’t very deep on the wing, so Kaminsky could play a lot with Marvin Williams at small forward. Also, don’t rule out the possibility of the Hornets going small and putting the tank at Center. Clifford didn’t do that much last year, but it makes more sense with this years team.
-Kemba Walker solidifies himself as a top point guard in the NBA. As long as his knee isn’t a factor, I expect a big year from the Hornets captain. I can’t wait to see the pick and roll game with Walker and Hibbert. An all-star appearance would legitimize his candidacy as a top point guard in the league.
Depth: The Hornets were among the top ten in the league last year in bench scoring. With the loss of Jeremy Lin, expect that total to decrease this season. Charlotte will rely on Sessions, Belinelli, and Kaminsky to provide most of the bench scoring. Whoever is the backup center (Hibbert or Zeller) will round out the Hornets top nine, which is generally how many players coach Clifford likes to use in a game.
Career Years: As you might have noticed in the player previews, a lot of Hornets are coming off career seasons. Any good statistician would tell you a regression towards the mean is likely this year. Hopefully that is not the case. If it is, the Hornets could find themselves on the fringe of the playoffs.
This should be a very interesting year at the Spectrum Center (formerly Time Warner Cable Arena). The national media isn’t high on the Hornets, citing the losses of Lin and Jefferson. However, I really think people are sleeping on the addition of Roy Hibbert. Clifford has a history of revitalizing careers (see McRoberts, Williams, and Lin), and Patrick Ewing will get to help out a fellow big man from Georgetown. The key this year will be offensive efficiency. Zach Lowe of ESPN predicts the Hornets will drop from 9th to at least 14th in points per possession. As long as the defense is as good as many think it will be, a slight drop can be afforded. However, if the Hornets finish around 20th, it could be a long season. I don’t think that happens, and I ultimately think the Hornets make the playoffs for the third time in the past four seasons. I have the Hornets at 46 wins and somewhere around the 4th seed in the playoffs. The team’s goal should be to get a top four seed, and win the first playoff series in Charlotte since basketball returned in 2004.
Check back here frequently throughout the year for game previews, analysis, and more.
Editor-In-Chief of The Charlotte Sports Blog
Lead Hornets Writer: Jonathon Hoppe