Earlier this week, SI.com's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney posted their list of the top 100 NBA Players of 2015. Three Hornets -- Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, and Al Jefferson -- made the list. Golliver and Mahoney based their rankings on the evaluation of players "in a vacuum" rather than taking their influence and role on the team into consideration, which is important to remember when looking at how the rankings came out.
First on the list, Kemba Walker came in at #94. Kemba was unranked last season, and while Mahoney praised his superb ball-handling skills and confidence, he suggested Walker hasn't done enough to separate himself from the other point guards around him:
For as many impressive plays as Walker makes with the ball, though, he isn't the kind of point who can really distinguish himself from his counterparts. Walker shot only 39.3 percent and finished with so-so assist marks last season on a Charlotte team that ranked 24th in offensive efficiency. His high scoring average isn't enough to make him standout, but the ninth pick in 2011 still has room to grow.
Walker's shooting efficiency is a concern. His field goal percentage dropped from 41.3 percent before the All-Star break to 35.7 afterwards, while his 3-point shooting percentage dropped from an already poor 34.5 percent before the break to 31.5 following.
On the bright side, his assists per game rose from 5.2 to 7.7 following the break, suggesting that Walker had a better sense of Clifford's system and his teammates by season's end. What also shouldn't be overlooked is that Walker averaged 6.1 assists per game despite playing in an offense that often resulted in dumping the ball to Jefferson and letting him create his own shot. 38.7 percent of Jefferson's shots were unassisted last season, and for a player ranking sixth in the league is Usage Percentage, that's a considerable amount of touches. Charlotte's offense relied heavily on the ball movement of Josh McRoberts as well, which meant even less opportunities for Kemba to tally assists. This may be an over-defense of Kemba's passing ability, but it is important to note how Charlotte's offense ran, and that Kemba's assists rose as the season went on.
Ultimately, #94 seems a little low for one of the better point guards in the league (just look at the players around him), but there's no use getting worked up over it; he made the top 100, and that's enough to be excited about.
Next up for Charlotte is Lance Stephenson, ranked #73 (after being unranked the season before). Mahoney admits the ranking is low for a player with star potential, but brings to light glaring inefficiencies in Stephenson's game:
Stephenson takes even the slightest opening in the defense as an invitation to drive headlong, often losing sight of the help defense and open teammates along the way. It's no surprise, then, that Stephenson turned the ball over more ofthan than all but four players at his usage level. His wild play also led to a ridiculous turnover rate (22.8 percent) in transition, which is generally a reliable source of hyper-efficient offense.
There is plenty of excitement surrounding Stephenson's arrival in Charlotte, and for good reason; Charlotte desired a backcourt player who would aggressively look to score and Lance provides that. However, Mahoney's analysis offered a bit of warning that Lance could cause headaches along the way. One of the biggest challenges for Steve Clifford this season will be designing an offensive featuring two ball-dominant scorers. Last season, Jefferson was relied on by default, but he required a lot of touches. Stephenson will demand plenty as well, so balancing that, particularly when Lance takes things into his own hands, will be a challenge.
Stephenson's less than stellar finish to the season (both on and off the court) seemed to factor into his ranking. Whether that is fair to include in his assessment is up for debate, but if Stephenson continues the upward trend he's had since entering the league, he could find himself ranked much higher next season.
Finally, Al Jefferson came in ranked at #26. Golliver had plenty of positive things to say about Big Al, including this bit on his immediate impact:
At first, Jefferson's arrival last summer on a three-year, $41 million contract looked like a pure cash grab, but it didn't take long for the 2004 first-round pick to change that perception. Jefferson, surrounded by a fairly inexperienced group of teammates, immediately gave Charlotte hope with his proven scoring and rebounding abilities. To everyone's great surprise, he also served as the starting center for the NBA's No. 6 defense, even though he's been knocked as a liability on that for years because of his limited foot speed and lift.
This about sums up what many Charlotte fans knew already; Big Al went from overpaid big man to franchise changer, and without him Charlotte wouldn't have sniffed the playoffs last season. Clifford got a lot of credit for assembling a top-ten defense last season -- and rightfully so -- but Jefferson still had to give the required effort within the system in order for it to work effectively. Jefferson was the most dominant big man in the league at times last season, to the point where Paul Pierce claimed, "no one on the planet" could guard him.
The #26 spot seems fair for Jefferson, with DeMarcus Cousins ranked #27 and Al Horford at #25. The due respect for him came a little too late last season, but if he dominates the left block again he could more than likely find himself on the All-Star ballot this season.
While Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did not make the top 100 list, he did make the Snubs list, as in, players just outside the top 100. The rap on MKG? His offensive development will determine his ceiling, a fact Charlotte fans know all too well. Also worth mentioning (despite not playing for Charlotte anymore) is Josh McRoberts, who also made the Snubs list, with Golliver giving him credit for flourishing in his role in Charlotte.
It's fairly safe to say Charlotte has never had three players ranked in the top 100 of any major list, at least not since the Bobcats inception in 2004, and this list can be added to the steady amount of praise the team has received this offseason. Tragically, fans will be left never knowing where Byron Mullens would've been ranked had he not decided to play in China.
All stats via Basketball-Reference.