The Charlotte Hornets’ season has come to an end after a Game 7 loss in the first round to the Miami Heat. Coming into the last game, the narrative was that, win or lose, the season was already a success for Charlotte. In many ways, that is true. For the most part, the season was a success. Here’s a few reasons why:
1) Kemba Walker’s Rise
Kemba Walker improved his game in the offseason, and came back as one of the best point guards in basketball this year. His three-point shooting was the major difference, but it wasn’t the only one – he shot more efficiently from everywhere on the floor and improved his defense and rebounding. The only area he didn’t show big improvement was in his passing, which wasn’t even a major problem. Nevertheless, the team’s addition of extra playmakers in Jeremy Lin and Nicolas Batum has certainly helped lighten the load for him in that aspect.
Other players on the team had great seasons (see below), but no one improved to the same level as the 6-foot guard. Walker has a legitimate argument to be an All-Star point guard in the coming years if he continues to play at such a high level. He showed just how incredible he is in the waning minutes of Game 6, even if the team couldn’t pull off the win.
2) Linsanity Returns, Others Improve
Lin wasn’t quite on the level of his incredibly fun “Linsanity” season with the New York Knicks, but he was an incredibly valuable player for the Hornets this year, and certainly had moments reminiscent of that magical run in 2012. His play on the court would have been enough to endear him to fans, but he combined it with a level of fan interaction and several unusual hairstyles that made him even more popular among the Charlotte faithful.
Batum, the other major offseason addition, put in the best all-around year of his career, landing at second on the team in points and first in assists. His playmaking opened up plenty of new ways for the Hornets to attack opposing defenses and his three-point shooting helped spread the floor, which was a major reason the Hornets had a dangerous offense this year.
Marvin Williams came into the league as a small forward, but has spent several years playing as a stretch four. This season was hands-down the best he’s looked in that role, and he was a vital part of the Hornets’ success all season on both sides of the floor – he hit threes, defended at a high level, and rebounded well enough to make it feasible to play him as a power forward.
The team also saw improvement from the young Cody Zeller, who averaged a career high in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and field goal percentage. During the playoffs, he was a key defensive player, and the injury that limited his minutes was a major reason that the team struggled to stop the Heat.
Even Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who only played seven games due to a pair of shoulder injuries, saw improvement in his limited playing time. Trying to draw real meaning from such a small sample size can be a fool’s errand, but he was scoring at a career-best rate and, most promisingly, was actually hitting three-pointers.
3) Exceeding Expectations
Nobody was expecting this team to be this dangerous, especially after they lost MKG. A playoff berth was out of the question, and this team managed to tie for third place in the Eastern Conference. They lost one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and still managed to put together a top-10 unit on that end of the floor. After a number of terrible offensive years, they managed a top-10 offense, too. Only six teams were top-10 on both sides of the floor this year: the Warriors, the Cavaliers, the Spurs, the Clippers, Charlotte, and the Celtics. That’s some great company.
In the playoffs, several players faced injuries. Kidd-Gilchrist was out, Batum missed two games and limped through three more, and Spencer Hawes, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller both faced injuries that limited either their effectiveness or playing time. They were blown out in each of the first two games, and they still managed to take it to seven games.
This team faced an incredible amount of adversity and doubt this season, and still managed to put together an incredible year. The team seemed to legitimately love playing together, and that enthusiasm transferred to the fans.
There were some negatives to the season, of course. For the most part, the losses in the postseason were ugly, and Hassan Whiteside’s defensive influence terrified the Hornets and drastically changed their offense. The team still picked Frank Kaminsky over Justise Winslow, a mistake that fans of the team had to repeatedly re-live during the series against the Heat. Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and midseason acquisition Courtney Lee are all free agents, and Jeremy Lin has a player option for next year.
Those are all discussions for another time, though.
There will be plenty of time in the offseason to worry about how the team will move on, rebuild, and bounce back for next year. We can fret about the draft, chase second-tier free agents, and convince ourselves that we’re somehow going to wind up with Kevin Durant later.
For now, let’s all just take a moment to reflect on just how incredible and enjoyable this season was.