2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Charlotte Hornets
Head Coach: James Borrego
Last Season: 39–43, 9th in Eastern Conference
- PG: Terry Rozier
- SG: Nicolas Batum
- SF: Dwayne Bacon
- PF: Miles Bridges
- C: Cody Zeller
Additions: Robert Franks (R), Ahmed Hill (R), Cody Martin (R), Terry Rozier, Kobi Simmons, P.J. Washington (R).
Losses: Joe Chealey, Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb, Shelvin Mack, J.P. Macura, Tony Parker, Kemba Walker.
Anytime you lose your franchise player, you can chalk up the off-season as a loss. With their all-time leading scorer Kemba Walker now on the Celtics, Charlotte begins a much needed rebuild after three consecutive seasons of mediocrity. The Hornets are now left with a squad that lacks a lot of talent and will struggle to compete on a night-to-night basis. This season is expected to be bad, and the future doesn’t exactly look bright for the Hornets either.
Not only did the Hornets lose arguably the franchise’s best player this past off-season, they also lost their second best player from last season in shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. The seven-year veteran put together his best season as a pro last year, as he averaged a career-high 15.3 points per game on 44% shooting. Lamb now resides with the Indiana Pacers, and it remains to be seen how the Hornets will replace his production on the wing.
While the Hornets did lose Walker over this past summer, they did not do so for nothing. Charlotte was able to work out a sign-and-trade with the Celtics to acquire point guard Terry Rozier to be Walker’s replacement. Charlotte signed Rozier to a three-year, $58 million deal, which seems a bit extreme given Rozier has averaged just 7.7 points per game through his first four seasons. Rozier has only had one stretch throughout his career where he has played like a starting point guard, and that was the 2018 postseason where he took the place of the injured Kyrie Irving and averaged 16.5 points per game.
While Rozier is a positive on the defensive end, I question how capable he is of running an offense. He has yet to shoot over 40% in a season and has started just 30 games in his four years in the NBA. Rozier has struggled with efficiency as well, including last year where he ranked 106th out of 180 players in field goal percentage for players who shot more than eight times per game. Rozier more than likely won’t replicate the production Walker had as a Hornet, but he is on the upswing in his career and could prove to be a quality starter for the Hornets.
Speaking of bad contracts, the Hornets have dug themselves into a deep hole with the deals they’ve given out over the past few seasons. This year, the Hornets will pay role players Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo a combined $84 million. While some of these players are solid role contributors, none are worth the average of $17 million they are receiving. According to CARMELO market value via fivethirtyeight.com, those five players are worth a combined $43 million next year, which goes to show that the front office may be the biggest roadblock for the Hornets.
While their veterans have been disappointing, the Hornets younger players have also not progressed as anticipated. This is especially the case for former lottery pick Malik Monk, who has averaged just 7.7 points per game on 37.6% shooting in his first two years in the NBA. Monk was in and out of James Borrego’s rotation last season due to his inconsistent play and sporadic shooting stretches. A prime example would be how he followed up his season-high 26 points back on Novermber 25, 2018 with a seven point, 28% shooting game the very next night. His defense has also been below average, as his career Defensive Box Plus-Minus sits at a dreadful -3.0.
If the Hornets need anyone to have a breakthrough next season, it’s Monk. The former Kentucky guard should have more minutes and opportunities to score the rock with Walker and Lamb gone. Monk appears to be a part of the Hornets future for now, and should get plenty of shots this season to prove his worth and develop.
Another player who must make a big leap in the 2019–20 season to help replace Walker and Lamb’s production is Dwayne Bacon. While Bacon is still a project at this point, he made improvements to his game last year and projects as the Hornets starting small forward this upcoming campaign.
Bacon’s biggest issue coming into the league out of Florida State and during his rookie season was his inefficient shot selection. In the 2017–18 season, Bacon attempted 95 of his 165 field goals from four feet away from the 3-point line. As the analytics will tell you, the long 2-pointer is the worst jumpshot in basketball, and that was practically where Bacon lived his rookie year.
In the 2018–19 season, Bacon was able to improve his shooting numbers from all distances. The two-year veteran shot 68% at the rim, improved his 3-point percentage from 26% to 43%, and took significantly less mid-range shots. Bacon will need to continue to cut down on his mid-range attempts, as 31% of his shots came from there last year and he shot just 22 for 73 on those shots.
Moving forward, Bacon could ultimately take a Jeremy Lamb type route and develop into a solid shooting guard. It took Lamb six to seven years to really hit his stride in the NBA, and the same could come for Bacon. The Florida native is entering his third season in the pros and is still just 24 years old, so there is still time for the young wing to develop.
The only player the Hornets added through the first round of the draft this summer was Kentucky big man PJ Washington. The 6-foot-8 forward made great strides in his second year with the Wildcats, as he improved his offensive approach. Washington has good post moves and footwork, can pass exceptionally for a big man out of the post to open shooters, can take opposing big men off the dribble and improved his 3-point percentage from 23.8% to 42.3% from his freshman to sophomore season.
Washington should come in and make an immediate impact for the Hornets frontcourt off the bench. He also has the potential to be a small-ball center as well, as his 7-foot-3 wingspan should help make up for his lack of height. Washington’s lack of athleticism won’t help, but he still projects as a solid rotation player moving forward.
X-Factor: Miles Bridges
Miles Bridges may be the most promising young player the Hornets possess. After an encouraging rookie season, Bridges should be back in the starting lineup this season at one of the forward spots. In his rookie year, the Flint, Michigan, product averaged 10 points and 5.5 rebounds a game as a starter. Those numbers should improve this year as he could become the primary scoring option for Charlotte.
After struggling out of the gate, Bridges made 32 3-pointers in the last three months of the season and showed promise on the defensive end as well. If Bridges can continue to improve his shot, he could make a big impact for the Hornets.
Is this the worst team in the league?
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Hornets are going to be awful this season. This team was mediocre with Walker and Lamb, and things don’t look promising without them.
If the Hornets are going to win 25 games or more this season, they’ll need their young players to improve, as their veterans have reached their peaks. The Hornets will have to bank on the development of players such as Bacon, Rozier, Monk and Bridges to accelerate their rebuild. Being in the weak Southeast Division could help Charlotte win a few more games than expected, but this is still the team that could easily find itself in the cellar of the NBA.
Who runs the offense and who is the primary scoring option?
One reason the Hornets could fall to the bottom of the standings is that they lack a clear-cut number one option on offense. The Cavs have Kevin Love, the Wizards have Bradley Beal, but the picture is not as clear with Charlotte. Their leading scorers from last season who return this year are Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams, who both averaged just 10.1 points per game. On top of that, the four players I project to take the most shots next season for Charlotte (Rozier, Bacon, Bridges and Monk) have an average true shooting percentage of 51.3%, four points below the league average.
If I had to guess, I’d say Rozier will be the go-to option for Charlotte next year. Regardless of who takes the most shots, the Hornets look like they are shaping up to have the worst offenses in the NBA in recent memory.
I would be shocked if the Hornets win more than 25 games this season. This team is entering a rebuild that has been years in the making, and it doesn’t appear they will be out of it anytime soon. The Hornets will be most looking forward to the draft lottery next summer, as they’ll need the ping pong balls to bounce in their favor to try to land a potential star. On top of that, the front office has to improve its draft success if they want to get the franchise back on track.