At the beginning of October, the major Las Vegas casinos released their over/unders for the number of regular season wins of all 30 NBA teams. Last year, the oracles in the desert set the over/under for the Charlotte Bobcats at 26.5 wins, which was good for the fifth lowest in the league. In other words, they thought Charlotte was going to be horrible (again). As most likely know, coach Clifford, Al Jefferson, and the rest of the Bobcats exceeded all reasonable expectations, won 43 games, and made the playoffs.
This year, the outlook on Charlotte is much more favorable, as the odds makers have set the over/under at 44.5 wins. After adding Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, and P.J. Hairston, while only losing Luke Ridnour, Josh McRoberts, Anthony Tolliver, and Chris Douglas-Roberts, that win total does not represent a perception of significant improvement. Is Vegas way off on the Hornets? The only way to hash this out is to consult the round table.
Nick Denning (@nickdenning): My Prediction: Over
44.5 wins is just 1.5 more than last season's team, and I'm inclined to believe the additions of Stephenson, Williams, Roberts, the rookies, plus the development of other younger players will have them finish over this mark. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive development could be the x-factor in this — his confidence on offense has risen dramatically, and even if his jump shot is still inconsistent (3-4 on jump shots against Chicago, 1-5 against Atlanta in preseason) he believes in his ability to score now, and that's evident in him even taking those shots in the first place.
Stephenson is the most significant addition, however, and how he fits into Charlotte's system, along with how much he improves, will factor into how much better they will be this year.
If Charlotte was in another division, picking the over would be easy, but the Southeast division is the toughest in the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, and Atlanta Hawks are all good enough to make the playoffs, and Orlando will be better than last season. Four teams from this division could make the playoffs, so Charlotte's over/under could ultimately be determined by how the team does in the division. They were 6-10 against the division last season, so this number will have to improve.
Russell Varner (@rvarner): I’m picking the over, but just over. I believe the team will finish with 45 to 47 wins. There’s no reason the team should not improve over the 43 wins they had last season, given the talent they added in players like Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh and Lance Stephenson.
The preseason has given me some worries though. The team still seems vulnerable to the scoring droughts that seemed to plague them the last few seasons. Lance Stephenson has been up and down. The team seems to lack some of the defensive intensity from last season (then again, it is preseason).
All that said, this team should still be solid enough defensively and has enough talent on offense to improve on last season’s record. Barring a major injury to Big Al (which is my biggest worry for the season), the Hornets should surpass the 44.5 wins Vegas set.
Frank Berndt (@MullensMafia): Although it pains me to say it, I'm taking the under. I don't think that the Hornets will miss the mark by much, but at this point I have some serious concerns about the Hornets winning over 45 games and thus securing something like a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference.
First, the East is much improved this year, and as Nick mentioned, the Southeast division is probably the deepest in the conference. On top of that, coach Clifford's style doesn't seem to match up well against the Orlando Magic and he's admitted as much in the past. Outside of the division, teams like the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks (if healthy), and Cleveland Cavaliers have improved, while only the Philadelphia 76ers have decided to again push for the lottery.
Secondly, the Hornets are going to have to incorporate a lot of new faces into the rotation this year. The two most important adjustments will be Marvin Williams replacing Josh McRoberts (covered in depth here) and Lance Stephenson becoming the team's second or third option on offense. So far this preseason, Lance Stephenson has been as polarizing as any player I've ever seen. When he's free-Lancing (what I call his half-court improvisation methods), there's no telling what might happen. And although sometimes it works out, it's a big deviation from how the Hornets typically work the shot-clock with ball movement and off-ball screens. If Stephenson is set on making the All-Star team this year and is willing to sacrifice the little things for statistics, I'm very worried that this could create a negative domino effect on the team's chemistry (a strength last year).
With increased competition within the conference and plenty of players itching for minutes, this could be a "down" year for the Hornets, where they only make the playoffs. I'm predicting 43 to 44 wins and a 6th or 7th seed. Go ahead and log your own choice in the poll and comment section below.