“Patience”: 2015-16 Charlotte Hornets Preview

Can Al Jefferson & Kemba Walker lead the Hornets back to the playoffs? (Getty Images)
Can Al Jefferson & Kemba Walker lead the Hornets back to the playoffs? (Getty Images)

Last season: 33-49, 4th, Southeast Division (11th, Eastern Conference), Missed Playoffs

Notable Acquisitions: G/F Nicolas Batum (via trade w/ POR), F/C Spencer Hawes (via trade w/ LAC), G Jeremy Lamb (via trade w/ OKC), G Jeremy Lin (free agent, LAL), F Tyler Hansbrough (free agent, TOR), G Aaron Harrison (Kentucky, undrafted rookie)

Draft Picks: F/C Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin, 9th overall)

Notable Losses: G Lance Stephenson (LAC), G Gerald Henderson (POR), F Noah Vonleh (POR), F/C Bismack Biyombo (TOR), G Mo Williams (CLE), G/F Jeff Taylor (Real Madrid), F Jason Maxiell (Tianjin Steel)


#DogTags:

Star UnderDOGs: Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson

Salty DOG: Marvin Williams


Burning Question: Are the Hornets deep enough to make a run in the Eastern Conference?

Nic Batum (Emmanuel Dunand:Getty Images)

Charlotte’s lack of depth is now the focal point heading into the season for Charlotte. After learning Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may miss the entire NBA season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, they are searching for more help on the perimeter moving forward.

Nicolas Batum, PJ Hairston & Jeremy Lamb are key payers to watch.


Storyline:

Every NBA team has two main goals during the preseason: establish continuity/chemistry heading into the regular season and STAY HEALTHY. Only 2 games in, Charlotte’s year is now in jeopardy due to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s torn labrum.

MKG’s devastating injury immediately casts doubt upon Charlotte’s upcoming campaign. The heart and soul of the team, MKG is an irreplaceable player in the lineup (signed a 4 year/$52 million extension in September), as he complements Big Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker with his slashing on offense and is the best perimeter defender by far.

Without him, they will have difficulty competing night in and night out. And when Charlotte can’t contain the opposition from scoring, it gets really, really ugly out there. To put it nicely, a Kemba Walker-Al Jefferson led offense has a very limited ceiling to start with.

Combine that with a lack of shooting and question marks across the roster and you’ve got yourself a firm lottery team, yet again.

Jeremy Lamb:Nicolas Batum
Jeremy Lamb & Nicolas Batum are very capable, yet inconsistent wings. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

Walker is a consistent jumper away from making the jump from Star UnderDOG to Top DOG. But does Coach Steve Clifford’s deliberate offense make sense for Walker to operate under? As long as Slim Al (lost 20 pounds in the offseason) is on the court, Charlotte will play through the post. Since the Hornets lack a ton of shooting, however, Al’s space and opportunity is limited.

In a nutshell, there’s way too many variables to have faith in this defensive-minded squad (finished 6th in scoring defense in 2014-15), sans its best defender until April (at best), making any kind of noise this year.

New additions Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin and Jeremy Lamb (Kemba’s running mate at UConn) figure to add some depth but they’ve all been righteously labeled with the “inconsistent” tag at some point during their careers. Lamb might slot into the starting lineup alongside Batum at the 3, which could be kinda fun considering the success he and Kemba had in college.

In reality, however, they are both average shooters, the power forward spot is still a question, and the entire squad features only a couple of guys who can generate their own offense.

Everyone says how important a glue guy is for a roster to function without any missteps. MKG was the person who made all of the pieces fall into play for the Hornets.

Unless Walker or any of the other young wings step up, it’ll be another lost season for Michael Jordan’s bunch, a tune all too familiar in the Queen City.


Projected Starting 5:


Four By Four:

Cody Zeller (Chuck Burton:AP)

MKG’s injury will force Coach Clifford to trot out creative lineups to stay competitive. Right now, it looks like Jeremy Lamb will start at the two, with Batum at the three, to maintain some sort of continuity. Walker and Jefferson are set at the 1 & 5, respectively, so the main question left is: who starts at the four?

For the second consecutive year…let’s take a look at Charlotte’s power forward situation!

Marvin Williams…the Salty DOG: smart veteran who specializes in knocking down threes from the corner; very heady, won’t force up too many difficult looks at the rim; undersized 4 (6’8); struggles defending bigger guys on the block

Frank Kaminsky…the Rook: very skilled big man who can knock down the deep ball and put the ball on the floor; very good passer out the post, loves finding teammates for easy scores; fights for rebounds; does not move well laterally and could have trouble both closing out to shooters and staying in front of quick four men

Spencer Hawes…the Cast-off: solid shooter, passer & post scorer; savvy veteran presence; porous defender who does not always “play big”

Cody Zeller…the Incumbent: athletic four man who started to show off a face up attack a year ago; runs the floor very well and is an improving offensive rebounder; lacks range on his jumper

Verdict: Cody Zeller will get the nod to begin the season, with Williams alternating between the 3 and 4 to offset MKG’s production.

By midseason, however, look for Kaminsky to jump ahead of the pack and control the position.


The Tank

Frank Kaminsky (Nathaniel S. Butler:Getty Images)

F/C Frank Kaminsky:

“Frank the Tank,” Wisconsin’s leading man in 2014-15, has a great chance to challenge for All-Rookie honors this season. Like we mentioned, he can play off Jefferson well in the post because of his tremendous size (7’0) and ability to stretch the floor. Plus, he can put the ball on the floor and make plays off feeds from Walker, Lin, etc.

A rare talent with great hustle AND skill, expect Kaminsky to experience a highly productive season.

Projected Stat Line: 10.5 points/game, 5 rebounds/game, 44% shooting


Charlotte’s Best Case Scenario: Jefferson’s new, svelte physique leads to a dominating season, Kemba stays under control, Lamb, Batum, and Hairston provide excellent relief on the wing and the Hornets sneak into the 8th spot in the East.

MJ (Chuck Burton:AP)

Charlotte’s Worst Case Scenario: Steve Clifford is a victim of the team’s poor record, free-agent-to-be Al Jefferson is dealt to a contender, Walker is erratic and the Hornets win less than 30 games.


Season Prediction:

5th, Southeast Division (13th, Eastern Conference), Will Miss Playoffs

“I’m patient.” – Michael Jordan

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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