It was a disappointing season for the Charlotte Hornets, but not every player fell short of expectations. How did each player's standing with the team change over the course of the season?
The long slog of the NBA season has reached a merciful end for the Charlotte Hornets. Sure, the end came earlier than anticipated and that might be disappointing, but it’s time for the Hornets to move forward and make some changes that will help the franchise take another step towards competing for a championship.
That means making some changes to the roster. As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. The big question now is which eggs should be cracked and which ones should stay in Buzz City. In an attempt to get some clarity on that issue, here’s a breakdown on the stock of the top players on the roster that began the season in Charlotte.
Few players in the entire league have had a better year than Kemba Walker, who became the franchise’s first All-Star since 2010. Walker is the face of the franchise and the team’s best player, and Rich Cho and company won’t be shipping him out anytime soon. Walker isn’t without his flaws, of course, but he’s an offensive dynamo that’s the only reason the Hornets won’t be picking near the top of the lottery.
Batum had a rough year shooting the ball, but he still produced at a high level and is a valuable player for Charlotte – the team scores about two more points per 100 possessions while he’s on the floor than when he’s off, per NBA.com. Still, that’s less than half of last year’s 4.9-point differential. Like Walker, Batum is an important player – especially offensively – that isn’t going anywhere. Unlike the star point guard, though, Batum hasn’t done much to improve his reputation this year.
MKG is a curious case. He missed most of the last season, and the Hornets actually managed to put together a top-10 offense. In the seven games he did play, though, he showed hints of a reliable shooting stroke, raising excitement for his return in 2016-17. That excitement was misplaced as Kidd-Gilchrist hit fewer threes across the entire season than he did in the handful of games he participated in last time around. The evidence is mounting that Kidd-Gilchrist can’t be a part of an elite offense, and if the team won’t look at changing his position it might be time to look for other options at small forward.
Williams’ value has nosedived straight off of a cliff since the beginning of the season. He had a career year last time around, hitting the .400 mark from downtown for the first time in his career. This time around, he’s closer to his career mark of around .350, and it’s severely affected his usefulness as a player. He’s still a valuable defender and solid rebounder, but he’s not nearly the key cog he was last season.
Many fans are still frustrated that the Hornets passed on a king’s ransom to keep their pick and select Kaminsky, and rightfully so. But it’s less egregious now that Kaminsky is steadily improving as a player. He’ll likely never live up to the haul that Charlotte reportedly turned down for him, but he’s showing some ability on the offensive end. He still can’t rebound or defend effectively, but he’ll hopefully improve in some of those aspects as his career moves forward. He was especially great in February when he averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. If he can extend that kind of play over an entire season, it could take the Hornets to another level.
Belinelli hasn’t been terrible this year, but trading last year’s first-rounder for him looks even worse in hindsight than it did at the time. When the move occurred, it was swapping a late first-rounder for Jeremy Lin insurance on a playoff team. Now it’s trading a potential young contributor for an aging, past-his-prime veteran on a team that missed the postseason. Of course, Belinelli was always past his prime and aging, but that was an easier pill to swallow when Charlotte was playoff-bound. Now, it’s just a failure.
The Big Handsome played a career-low number of games this season thanks to a couple of injuries, but all it did was show how valuable he is to the Hornets. Charlotte was dreadful when he didn’t play, getting outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench. When Zeller did see the court, the Hornets were 6.2 points better than their opponents across 100 possessions. That differential shows on their record, too: they were several games above .500 when he played, but only 3-17 in games he was unable to play in. Zeller is a great center, and he’s vital to what the Hornets try to do.
It seems like Jeremy Lamb will always be exactly what he is now: a young player with enough athleticism and potential to make him a tantalizing bench option, but just unable to put it all together and become a great player. He’ll continue to float around the league and show just enough to frustrate everyone in the organization, but he’ll never be able to put it all together. He shot well from the field this year but was dreadful from behind the arc. He still has value as a bench piece, but he’s largely just frustrating and not quite good enough.
Sessions was absolutely dreadful this year in limited time as the backup for Walker, and then he got hurt. He has a recent track record of being a very capable backup point guard, but it didn’t show at all this season – he shot .339 from behind the arc and a dreadful .380 overall. There’s a team option on his contract for next year, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be wearing purple and teal by the time next season tips off.