After seven preseason games, the Hornets sit at a record of 3-4. This obviously is not enough to tell you anything about the team, having no indication of how those games were played, whether or not the games were close or blowouts, or how Steve Clifford wanted his teams to perform in these games. This introduction is not setting up a reversal; it is a reminder that with all preseason results, both team and individual, you must take them with a grain of salt. Keeping that in mind, let's take a look at what these exhibition games have shown us about the team so far.
First thing's first, because I'm sure it's been on everyone's mind — let's talk about shooting. While the amount of threes the Hornets have been making so far is right in line with last year's average, their percentage has actually been lower. This is troubling, because the outside shot was a big issue for the Bobcats last year, and it was supposedly improved for this season. But when you look a little closer at the individual stats, you'll see that this is skewed by a lot of normally reliable outside shooters performing well below their established success rates. Gary Neal, Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, and Brian Roberts have been shooting considerably worse than expected (although, it should be noted that PJ Hairston has shot .455 from deep). While some may be worrying about the 3-point shooting being troublesome again for this team, I think the fact that so many shooters are struggling, and the team is still hitting just as many — if not more — threes as they did last year, is actually probably a good thing. The Hornets will be shooting from outside more this year than last, and when the shooters find their stroke again, this could really be an asset for the team this year. (In short: they're slumping, but slumps don't last forever, and they'll regress back toward the mean soon.)
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, one of the biggest reasons the Bobcats stayed in so many games with a very lackluster offense last year was because they took care of the ball, finishing with the fewest turnovers of any team in the league. So far in the preseason, they're turning the ball over about 1.5 times more per game. They're still keeping possession of the ball very well, but for a team that rarely forces turnovers on the defensive end, it's a little worrisome, especially given that the turnover battle in the preseason has been just about even for them. This could easily be chalked up to the players trying to get acclimated to the offense, or to new teammates, or just shaking off offseason rustiness, so I wouldn't worry too much about it, but it's something to keep an eye on.
One other thing I've noticed is that there's a little more offensive flexibility this year. With way more backcourt depth this season, the Hornets don't feel the need to run the offense through one particular player when Kemba Walker is off the court, with no one player in charge of ball control like Luke Ridnour was last season. I'm a fan of this in concept (we'll have to see how it works in the regular season), as it allows the team to play to the strengths of the individual players on the court. Last season, Clifford showed himself to already be one of the very best defensive coaches in the NBA, thanks to his creativity and ability to look at a player's skill set and maximize its utility for the betterment of the team. Maybe this year, with a little more versatility (and, it should be noted, a lot more talent), he'll be able to do that on offense as well.
I think we can tell for certain what the regular starting lineup will be, too; Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Al Jefferson have been the starters whenever the whole unit was active for a game. This probably won't surprise anyone, but now that it's all but confirmed, it's interesting to look at. And with Gerald Henderson nursing an injury, the second unit appears clearer too, and I'm assuming that will have Brian Roberts, Gary Neal, PJ Hairston, Bismack Biyombo, and Cody Zeller — at least until Henderson and Noah Vonleh are both 100%. This is an interesting squad, with a pair of long-range shooters, a shoot-first point guard, one big man who likes to shoot a long two, and another big man who probably shouldn't be shooting from anywhere that could be described as "long." The Hornets have a much better bench unit this year, and their depth will prove even more beneficial when a couple key contributors are fully healthy.
Again, don't make any rock-solid conclusions about the season based on seven games of preseason play, especially with some players out with injuries. But based on what we've seen so far, there are a few reasons to be optimistic, even if these factors haven't necessarily translated into a winning record so far.