Last season, the Charlotte Hornets played pedestrian basketball, finishing with a record of 33-49 and seeding 11th in an inferior Eastern Conference.
The Lance Stephenson project was a complete letdown for the team, as he did not fit into head coach Steve Clifford’s system, causing off-court drama and eventually being benched.
Therefore, this summer Michael Jordan and company shook up the roster, making quite a few gutsy moves that could potentially help the team.
Some of the key acquisitions this offseason have been Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb, and Spencer Hawes. The organization also selected Frank Kaminsky with the ninth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Gone are Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Henderson, Mo Williams, and Bismack Biyombo.
The complexion of this team will certainly change with the addition of Nic Batum. The Frenchman is nothing like Stephenson, as he dwells playing off the ball and is a more efficient shooter from outside. However, Batum had one of the worst seasons of his career last year, struggling to find his shooting touch.
A handful of minor injuries could have been at fault, but Batum didn’t want to use that as an excuse. Now, with a brand new team consisting of young, up-and-coming players, the 26-year old has a chance to start fresh to prove his value. With the Hornets, Batum could become a key contributor, as he will more than likely become a third option.
Batum’s flexibility and ability to play make, effectively hit outside shots, defend, and rebound are going to be a huge asset to this young Hornets team. The only question is where does this leave Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
The 21-year old most recently signed a hefty contract extension, assuring his future with Charlotte. Nevertheless, he and Batum play the same position, so coach Clifford has to figure out his rotation to make everyone happy.
Depending on what coach Clifford does with Batum and MKG, there could be a log jam at the power forward and center positions as well. Say coach Clifford goes small and places one or the other at the starting power forward position, then where would that leave Cody Zeller, Kaminsky, and Hawes? Who gets the most backup minutes out of the three?
Zeller was the team’s starting power forward last season, and he delivered with quite a successful sophomore campaign. With that being said, perhaps he could keep the same role this upcoming season. Kaminsky, meanwhile, is another stretch big man who had a superb Summer League outing a couple months ago. He seems ready to earn major minutes on this Hornets team. As for Hawes, he had a sluggish year with the Los Angeles Clippers and is looking to bounce back. The eight-year veteran has, however, been a serviceable player throughout his entire career and hopes to receive significant minutes in a Hornets uniform.
The point guard position, on the other hand, seems to be set in stone for Steve Clifford’s team. Of course, the improving Kemba Walker will assume the starting role again and will be backed up by the newly acquired Jeremy Lin.
Lin, 27, has had a roller coaster type career, but after short stints with the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, it’s clear that a backup point guard role is better suited for the five-year man out of Stanford. As a reserve point guard, Lin is equipped to provide Charlotte with adequate play making and scoring.
The two guard position seems to be up for grabs, too. The sharpshooting Lamb could assemble that position, but to make things work between Batum and Kidd-Gilchrist, who’s to say coach Clifford doesn’t go big by shifting Batum to that position. After all, as mentioned above, Batum is a flexible player and can very well play shooting guard if he was asked to do so.
In the end, Steve Clifford has a lot of figuring out to do, and he has the luxury of the preseason to iron out the wrinkles. Once coach Clifford can fit all the pieces to the puzzle, the Charlotte Hornets could possibly challenge for a playoff spot this year. That idea is not too far-fetched, but consistency will continue to be the key for this youthful team.