Last year, Charlotte turned heads around the league by winning 48 games, despite starting forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missing nearly the entire season with injuries. That unexpected success and MKG's return have Hornets fans buzzing with excitement for the upcoming year. The team is talented and coached well enough to return to the playoffs, and if things work, they could win 50 games and make an appearance in the second round.
There are high hopes for the Hornets, but there are some reasons for concern. Charlotte needs to answer some questions before the fans can rely on them to make an impact this year. If these five questions are answered in a positive way, the Hornets should have a successful year.
1.) Is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s offense for real?
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s main claim to fame with casual NBA fans is his horrible shooting. Charlotte fans and those that follow the league closely know that he’s a devastatingly good defensive player and can contribute to the offense with his off-ball cutting and transition running. In his few games last year and this year’s preseason, MKG has shown off some new tweaks on the offensive end. Between last season and this preseason, he shot 10 three-pointers in 14 games. In the season before that, he took zero threes in 55 games.
MKG was 0-for-3 from deep in the preseason, but he hit a few jumpers off of screens and even showed some ability in the post on the offensive end. He shouldn’t ever need to be a star on offense, but if he forces the defense to respect him, it’ll open up the floor for everyone else make things easier for the Hornets. If not, fans might have to suffer through another season with an anemic offense.
2.) How will the center position work out?
Al Jefferson is gone, and it’s up to Cody Zeller and Roy Hibbert to take his place. Most fans seem to believe that Zeller will begin the year as the starter, but both players have valuable things to offer. Zeller is more mobile and polished on the offensive end, but Hibbert would be the fiercest rim protector that Head Coach Steve Clifford has had during his time in Charlotte. Whoever ends up starting, both will likely play major minutes that depend on the lineups around them. Hibbert and Kidd-Gilchrist, for example, might be unable to play together without completely shutting down the offense. On the other hand, a frontcourt combination of Zeller and Frank Kaminsky might end up being too leaky to work.
If Hibbert can protect the rim at a high level, and Zeller can continue to be solid on both ends, the combination could prove valuable and help the Hornets match up against a variety of different lineups.
3.) Can Marvin Williams continue to shoot well?
Of course, the first priority for Williams and the Hornets is to ensure that he’s healthy and able to play. After that, however, his shooting is paramount. He was a career 34 percent shooter from deep before hitting just over 40 percent of his career-high 378 three-point attempts last year. That shooting ability combined with solid defensive play and rebounding made him an invaluable player for the Hornets. If he’s unable to go or can’t shoot efficiently, the team would be forced to turn to Frank Kaminsky to juice the offense a bit. Kaminsky isn’t a bad player, but he was only a league-average shooter and a bad defender last year.
With a year of NBA experience under his belt, it’s likely that Kaminsky will improve, even more so on the defensive end. Still, Charlotte would be much more comfortable depending on the veteran Williams, and Kaminsky will likely never be that good of a defensive player.
4.) Can Nicolas Batum find consistency?
Batum was Charlotte’s most important player last season, and they re-signed him in the offseason to a five-year, $120 million contract. He’s an extremely talented player, but his year-to-year consistency should be a cause for concern with fans. His career PER is only 15.2, about average, and it’s not been particularly stable during his career. During Batum’s time in Portland, he would frequently put together a promising year only to be disappointing the very next season. His inconsistency is related to a spotted injury history, but that shouldn’t do much to make fans feel better. His shooting percentages have also varied a lot in the past.
If Batum puts together another year of great play in Charlotte, the Hornets will be a dangerous team. If his inconsistency continues, it could be an incredibly long and ugly year.
5.) Is Kemba Walker legit?
If Batum wasn’t Charlotte’s most valued player, it was easily Kemba Walker. Walker had a career year last season and established himself as one of the league’s many great point guards. As the team’s longest-tenured player, he’ll be expected to be one of the leaders. After an offseason knee surgery, that could be a tall order. Walker should be up to the task of leading this team, but he his knee could hinder his on-court play a bit. He played like an All-Star last year, though, and play like that is necessary for a team that wants to compete at a high level.
Walker is at an important point in his career. He needs to prove that his superb playing last year wasn’t a fluke and that he can truly lead a team. If he plays like he did last year, it would be hard to count out the Hornets.
The Hornets should make the playoffs this season. If they can make some of these things go right, they could break into the top half of the Eastern Conference and demand attention from around the league.