Gametime: 7:00 p.m.
The Charlotte Hornets' first preseason game is finally here. Who wins doesn't really matter, but tonight still matters for the franchise as it will be the first time the team will play a leagued sanctioned game as the re-branded Charlotte Hornets. The regular season is still a few weeks away, but there will plenty of excitement for Hornets fans to see their team play in the purple and teal again.
Charlotte's opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, also have reasons to be excited. Nerlens Noel, the team's first round draft pick last season, will be making his home debut. Noel played over 26 minutes in Monday's preseason loss to Boston, and while he struggled offensively, finishing with four points on 2-9 shooting, he did register six rebounds. The Sixers are also excited about the prospects of this year's first round draft picks, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (acquired in a trade on draft night). While Embiid is still recovering from a foot injury, and Saric will be stashed overseas for at least this season, their potential has Philadelphia fans excited.
And the future is really all Sixers fans have to look forward to. The team finished with a record of 19-63 last season, which surprisingly wasn't the worst record in the NBA (thanks, Milwaukee). After a number of mediocre seasons, the team hired the former Houston Rockets executive vice president Sam Hinkie to build a contender.
Hinkie promised to do just that, but before he could build he had to tear the team down. Since his hiring in May 2013, Hinkie has acquired a number of assets by trading away veterans for draft picks and expiring contracts. In addition to Noel, the Sixers drafted Michael Carter-Williams, who turned out to be a stud. The point guard averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds per game, and was named Rookie of the Year. While these numbers may have been inflated due to the number of possessions the Sixers averaged (the team ranked first in pace at 99.2, which estimates the number of possessions per 48 minutes), MCW showed plenty of promise.
In addition to drafting Embiid and Saric, the 76ers also drafted Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels and Syracuse forward Jerami Grant. Then in late August, Philadelphia was part of the three-team trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland. The 76ers sent Thaddeus Young to Minnesota in exchange for Cleveland's 2015 first round draft pick and Alexey Shved and Luc Mbah a Moute from Minnesota. The first round pick is the highlight of the deal for Philadelphia (even though it will likely be a late first), but both players, particularly Shved, could be turn out to be solid pieces for the team moving forward.
Philadelphia will be one of the worst in the league again this season, but that is part of the plan. Hinkie isn't rushing this rebuilding project, and it may be another two seasons before the 76ers are competing again. Until then, Sixers fans should try to enjoy the process.
Matchups to Watch
Nerlens Noel vs. Al Jefferson
Noel is known for his defense, but seeing how he reacts to the craftiness of Jefferson's post game will be intriguing. In all fairness to Noel, this could end up being a, "Welcome to the NBA" kind of night for him.
Lance Stephenson vs. Tony Wroten
This will be Stephenson's first game in a Hornets uniform, so a lot of attention will be given to him. Wroten, who is one of the more offensively gifted players for Philadelphia, will likely see a lot of Lance.
Charlotte's (new look?) half-court offense vs. Philadelphia's run-and-gun
As mentioned, the 76ers had the highest pace of any team last season. They like to push the ball in transition as a way of utilizing the team's athleticism. It works to a degree, but as a result they give up a lot of points.
Meanwhile, the Hornets played at a slower pace last season (ranked 21st). Their offense last was predicated on a lot of ball movement in the halfcourt, along with plenty of post ups for Jefferson. While signs point to a similar style of offense this season, the team has more scoring options on the perimeter, so seeing how Clifford utilizes them should be interesting.
Note: Michael Carter-Williams, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, is likely out tonight.