Sunday, March 26 2023

After losing in the play-in tournament in each of the last two seasons, the Charlotte Hornets decided to shake things up in a big way during the offseason. The team moved on from head coach James Borrego after four years and replaced him with a familiar face — Steve Clifford, who previously coached the team from 2013 to 2018. The Hornets made the playoffs twice under Clifford, and they’re hoping to add to that number moving forward, as the team hasn’t qualified for postseason play since 2016. 

It won’t be easy to make the playoffs in a competitive Eastern Conference, but third-year guard LaMelo Ball provides the organization with a major reason for optimism. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2021, Ball made his first All-Star team last season, and he was one of just five players in the NBA to average over 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds per performance. If the Hornets are going to make any real noise this season, they’ll need Ball to take another step forward. 

You can’t properly discuss Charlotte’s outlook without mentioning the uncertainty surrounding Miles Bridges‘ future with the franchise. Bridges is currently awaiting the legal process after being charged with three felony counts of felony domestic violence. Bridges pled not guilty to the charges. He was the Hornets’ leading scorer last season, averaging 20.2 points, to go along with 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. 

Here’s a quick glance at Charlotte’s offseason, and a preview of what things will look like when the 2022-23 season tips off.   

Key changes


Top of the key: Ball control

As good as he was last season, there’s still plenty of room for growth when it comes to LaMelo Ball’s game, which is to be expected since he’s just 21 years old. He can definitely get better defensively, where he is prone to gambling and getting out of position, and in turn allowing penetration. Given his size and athleticism, Ball has the tools to be a solid defender, he just needs to buckle down and commit more to that side of the ball. 

Ball’s shot selection can also be improved, as he tends to take some ill-advised attempts. While he shot a respectable 38 percent from long range last season, he only converted his two-point attempts at a 46 percent clip, which was below the league average. Lastly, Ball could take a bit better care of the ball. He was 10th in the NBA with 3.3 turnovers per game last season. 

Next up: Eyes on the younger guys 

Ball obviously isn’t the only player on Charlotte’s roster that has plenty of room to grow. The Hornets will also be looking for development from other young players like James Bouknight, P.J. Washington, and Jaden McDaniels. All three of those players are under 24 years old, and they could all see an increased role in the coming campaign. They’ve all flashed potential in the past, and they will need to take advantage of all of the on-court opportunity that they’re afforded. 

It will also be interesting to see how much playing time rookie big man Mark Williams gets after the Hornets used their first round pick on him. He averaged 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for Duke last season. Williams was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, which projects to make him a good fit in Charlotte, as the Hornets certainly need some help on that end. They were 22nd in defensive rating last year. 

One more thing: Hayward’s health 

The Hornets really need Gordon Hayward to stay healthy this season, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Miles Bridges’ future with the team. If Bridges isn’t out there, Hayward will need to shoulder a larger load when it comes to scoring — something he’s still capable of when he’s out on the floor. Last season, Hayward was one of just five small forwards to average over 15 points, four rebounds and three assists per game while also shooting over 45 percent from the floor. The issue is that he’s appeared in under 50 games in each of his first two seasons in Charlotte. The Hornets are obviously hoping that trend doesn’t continue.

Key games

Hornets at Spurs, Oct. 19: This is the first game of the season for the Hornets, and it affords them an opportunity to start the season off on the right foot. The Spurs aren’t projected to be very good, to put it lightly, so Charlotte should be able to capitalize. As a team with playoff aspirations, the Hornets should want to start the season with a win. 

Hornets at Hawks, Oct. 23: It was the Hawks that eliminated Charlotte in the play-in tournament last season, so this will serve as a revenge game of sorts for the Hornets. They won’t have to wait too long for their reprisal, as its their third game of the season. 

Warriors at Hornets, Oct. 29: The Warriors are the defending champions, so this game will give the Hornets a chance to measure themselves against the best. The Hornets won one of the two games they played against Golden State last season, so maybe they’ll be able to pull out another win. Plus, since the game is in Charlotte, it will give Hornets fans a chance to try to convince Steph Curry to eventually join the team — a remote possibility the star guard has discussed previously. 



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