Well, its finally happened. The Bobcats of Charlotte were too much of a powerhouse franchise that Adam Silver had to step in and break them up.... yeah, if only. After having only two seasons above .500 and zero playoff wins in 10 years, it was only right that Charlotte decided to bury all the bad history with the Bobcats name and revitalize the classic Charlotte Hornets franchise, and the time couldn't have been better.
Unless you live in Charlotte or are the single lone Charlotte fan in Los Angeles (Hello...? Anybody else out there?), you probably didn't catch a single Bobcats game last year. And that isn't your fault, 82 regular season games and not a single one was nationally televised. BUT if you did watch, then you know that the 4-game sweep that ended our season wasn't the end of something terrible, but rather the start of something beautiful.
After the 2012-13 season, with only 21 wins and the league's worst defense, fans thought it was Bobcat's business as usual when their biggest off-season acquisition was a B-Level big-man who's notoriously known for having slow feet defensively. His critics aren't wrong either. Big Albus Ricardo Jefferson was scored on 52.7% of the time an opponent made a field goal attempt at the rim against him, 13th best out of 15 players who faced 8+ FGA @ the rim and recorded at least one block a game. (Only better than Pau Gasol and Spencer Hawes). But yet Charlotte as a whole was the 5th best team in protecting the paint, behind only the Pacers, Thunder, Blazers, and Bulls, all teams with elite paint defenders.
Before you even ask, the answer is Steve Clifford.
Coach Clifford took a rock bottom defensive team and turned it into one of the leagues best defenses in only one year and with no significant roster changes. Rather than coming into Charlotte and forcing certain ideas or styles, he did the complete opposite and analyzed his roster to mold his philosophies and the way he was going to handle the challenge of coaching his new team. Coach Cliff knows about Big Al's slow feet, so rather than having him play up tight on pick and rolls, he has him slide back towards the paint to force the PnR handler into a mid-range shot or a heavily contested lay-up. And this conservative style of defense didn't just apply to Big Al. Though Charlotte as a team was the 3rd worst in creating turnovers and 4th worst in getting steals, opponents had the fewest free throw attempts a game against Charlotte as a direct result.
It's only been one year, but Steve Clifford has definitely already begun to identify himself as a defensive minded coach. A the year went on, the team's confidence defensively kept growing, but Charlotte's offensive struggles stayed stagnant. Charlotte made only 44.2% of their shots last year, 25th in the league. They're also a bottom-10 three point shooting team and they definitely knew it because only 22% of their shots came from beyond the arc.
But this off-season is the perfect year to ameliorate any offensive woes. The Charlotte HORNETS (sounds so good to say) have the 9th, 24th, and 45th pick in a heavily loaded draft and over $18 million in excess salary space, mostly thanks to Ben Gordon's massively disgusting contract finally being dead. This is the dream place to be after coming off a great season, but Cho and the front office needs to keep its cool before it gets excited and signs an unproven free agent coming off a hot season to an insurmountable amount of money. Yes, you know exactly who I'm talking about. But first, lets talk draft!
The Charlotte Hornets have the 9th, 24th, and 45th picks in this years draft and I'm confident that we can find a talented player at all three of those spots. As tempting as it might be to package up some draft picks/swaps and Hendo/Bismark to Orlando for Afflalo, it just isn't worth it. This draft has too much talent and potential for one year of Afflalo and hoping he re-signs. I'm interested in building a long term future in Charlotte.
The biggest of Charlotte's issues last year was their three point shooting. This draft class runs deep with talent and there's two guys I'd really like us to take if they're available:
He's not a great defender. He isn't much of an athlete. But I think people are underrating how much of an offensive machine this kid is. Catch-and-shoot, off screens, off the dribble, McDermott is going to create some interesting spacing for the Hornets and give coaches a headache trying to figure out a way to defend Al down-low and McDermott from deep at the same time.
His biggest criticism is that he won't be quick enough to guard a small forward or big enough to guard a power forward. He's definitely a bit undersized, especially for someone who spent four years in college. But he still stands at 6'8 and 225 pounds, an extra fifteen or twenty pounds and the Hornets could have an extremely interesting power forward for the future. Worst case scenario (and I know this is a cliche comparison), his career turns out like Kyle Korver's. I wouldn't complain.
It also gives Coach Cliff some new offensive flexibility. Small ball with MKG at 3 and Dougy at 4, or use MKG off the bench to give the 2nd some serious reinforcement. Just some ideas, but things could get interesting.
If Doug isn't available, then I'm taking Nik Stauskas. He's undersized, but it's not too big of an issue. He's probably the best catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter in the draft and a natural cutter. I'd love to see him start and have Henderson move into a 6th man role.
I didn't always like Shabazz, but he definitely won me over during the tournament. With Ridnour out, he's a perfect fit for the void left at back-up point guard. Shabazz has quite a reputation for being a wild shooter with bad shot selection, but let me tell you something you probably didn't know: He made 40.5% of his shots beyond the arc on about 5.5 attempts a game last season. He's got the kind of explosive offensive game we've been lacking off of the bench. Past UConn teammate Kemba Walker will be a great role model as well and it'll be great for the team chemistry as a whole.
Patric Young or Khem Birch
Both of these guys are pretty similar, so it's just a matter of which one is left on the board come the 45th pick. Biyambo and Haywood are most likely going to be both let go at the end of the season, so this pick would be perfect to find a new big man. Both were good defenders in college, but neither one had much an offensive game. But with a pick this late in the draft, I think it would be alright to take a chance on either one because they're both such intriguing prospects.
Out of the two, I definitely prefer Patric. He's durable, has that MKG hustle, an extremely tough post defender, and has a natural knack for pulling down offensive boards that would be a perfect compliment to a trigger-happy second unit consisting of Shabazz, Gary Neal, and McDermott.
If Patric isn't available, I'm taking Khem. An excellent rebounder with great length and defensive instincts that reminds me a little bit of 2012-13 Larry Sanders.
Charlotte has a little over $18 million to spend in free agency this year, but just because they have that money, doesn't mean they need to spend it. If we end up getting McBuckets, Napier, and Young in the draft, then there's two guys I'd love to see Charlotte pick up.
I've been a big fan of Gordon Hayward and I think he's one of the most overlooked offensive players in the game. He's a versatile offensive weapon that's going to be a solid improvement to Charlotte's offense as a unit. He didn't exactly put up his best numbers last year, but that's just a result of being the only person in Utah capable of shooting a basketball. He's going to get some real comfortable spacing on the court when he's sharing the floor with Big Al. Now he's looking for a big time signing, but last year definitely hurt his stock, but if we add on the usual overpay cost for getting a player into Charlotte, we might be able to land him at a fair price.
Had a train wreck of a season in OKC, but I'm okay to signing him to a 2 year/$6 million deal if there's even a chance he can replicate some of that deadly corner-three offense he produced in OKC between 2011-13. With Big Al's ability to attract double teams, Jesus' gift of passing, and Kemba's explosive off the dribble game, I think Thabo is going to find himself with some wide open looks a couple times a game. Whether they fall or not is up to him. If the price is right, I like the gamble.
Post-Draft/Free Agency Roster
C: Al Jefferson, Patric Young, Biyambo, Haywood
PF: Jesus, Zeller, (McBuckets)
SF: MKG (Thabo), (McBuckets), (Hayward)
SG: Hendo, Neal, (Thabo), (Hayward), (Napier)
PG: Kemba, (Napier)
This new roster gives a new level of 3-point shooting we weren't close to having last year. Plus with this roster has the flexibility to play both small and big ball effectively. I loved seeing what Coach Cliff did with our offense last season and I'm looking forward to see some more of that brilliance and creativity on the offensive side of the ball when surrounded by such a diverse group of new weapons.
Whatever Cho and the front office elect to do, I feel like it's going to be a great season for Charlotte. Confidence is high after coming off a great season and culture shift. But Cho, just promise me one thing... God, please don't sign Lance Stephenson.