Making predictions is difficult. Quite frankly, it sucks. As far as making preseason predictions, it's especially difficult to get a feel for what may or may not happen because anything could happen. You could be right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the reasons you thought would be right.
With that said, I did the Charlotte Hornets preview for SB Nation last season. With some down time before the draft, I thought it would be a good time to look back at what I said and see what actually happened. I haven't actually looked at it, so I have no idea going into this what I was right or wrong about.
On Significant Moves
What I Said: For the second straight summer, Charlotte was able to land a notable free agent. Much like Al Jefferson in 2013, the Hornets added Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers. By waiting out the free agent frenzy, the Hornets were able to improve their depth at shooting guard. Stephenson is certainly not without his share of controversy from time to time, but there's no denying what he brings to the basketball court.
Marvin Williams was also a notable free agent acquisition. Williams already has the Carolina connection having graduated from the University of North Carolina, so this will be a bit of a homecoming for him. Williams will be asked to fill a vital role in Charlotte's offense, where he will replace Josh McRoberts, who departed for Miami earlier this summer.
What Actually Happened: OK, Marvin WIlliams was fine. He was no Josh McRoberts, but he also wasn't supposed to be either. The Hornets knew coming in that Williams wasn't the same type of player as McRoberts and he was fine overall.
But, oh boy, was I ever wrong about Lance Stephenson-- we all were. When Lance Stephenson is on your team, you expect a couple headaches from time-to-time. What we didn't see coming was the 61 games played and 25.8 minutes per game and all of the consequences that came along with it. It'd be one thing if Stephenson just wasn't productive, but the team began actively shopping him as soon as the moratorium on trading the past summer's free agents lifted.
Also gone is backup point guard Ramon Sessions, whom Brian Roberts will replace. With Kemba Walker firmly entrenched as the starter, Roberts will be counted on to be a capable backup as he was during his time in New Orleans.
It's not that Brian Roberts was ever a great shooter, but it seems as if Charlotte is a dead zone for shooting efficiency. In both of Roberts' two previous seasons he at least shot over 40 percent, but shot just 38.2 percent. Roberts' other numbers were fine, but with Kemba Walker proving more and more to not be a strong shooter right now, it's a disadvantage to have two point guards who can't shoot. When Walker went out, the team went out and traded for Mo Williams from Minnesota. Williams was hardly more efficient, but his superior assist and rebound numbers earned him over 30 minutes per game during his time in Charlotte.
The Hornets also had one of the better drafts last June. They added forward Noah Vonleh, who once healthy should only enhance a solid frontcourt rotation. With Cody Zeller, Jefferson, Williams and Bismack Biyombo, Vonleh won't be asked to do too much and can focus on a steady transition to the NBA.
I didn't expect Vonleh to contribute much this season, but it seems like I thought he would contribute more than he did. It's still hard to get too worked up over a playoff team choosing to not give a project rookie extended playing time.
Another rookie the team will be counting on is shooting guard P.J. Hairston, who certainly has had an unusual path to the NBA. Spending last season with North Carolina collegiately and later the D-League that same year, Hairston has already had a taste of a higher level of play. The Hornets will be hoping that his experience against heightened competition will make him a contributor sooner than later. If he is able to shoot like he has before, he could certainly see time over Gary Neal and even Gerald Henderson.
P.J. Hairston, also known as the other tenant of Steve Clifford's dog house. I'm not sure anyone else overrated Hairston more as Hairston struggled with his shot. In just 42 games played, Hairston shot just 32 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three. The shooting wouldn't be a problem if Hairston's biggest strength wasn't considered.
On Team Strengths
A couple of things played into Charlotte becoming a playoff team in 2014: improved defense and drastically reducing their turnovers.
In his first season as head coach, Steve Clifford took what was largely the same group of players that was one of the worst defensive teams in the league in 2013, and turned them into one of the league's top units in 2014. This includes defensive rebounding, in which they were top-10 in the league. This enabled them to play at a much slower pace than the previous season because they were able to limit their opponent's touches on the defensive glass.
The Hornets defense turned out to be fine. They finished seventh in opponent's points per game and ninth in defensive rating. As far as defensive rebounding, not much changed and were the NBA's sixth best. But that was to be expected considering the team didn't have a whole lot of turnover. It's not as if McRoberts was an elite rebounder and he was arguably their biggest loss.
In addition to limiting their opponent's possessions by rebounding, the Hornets turned the ball over less than any team in the league. By maximizing their possessions and limiting the opposition's, Charlotte became one of the league's surprises last season.
That makes back-to-back years now that the Hornets led the league in fewest turnovers committed.
On Team Weaknesses
Of course, one of Charlotte's bigger weaknesses last season was their shooting. They were among one of the league's worst shooting teams thanks in part to their abysmal offensive spacing.
A lot of teams are moving towards "pace and space" as their offensive philosophy. The Hornets appear adamant with their belief in "slow pace and no space" as they were 20th in the league in pace were one of the league's worst shooting teams again.
The loss of Josh McRoberts — who was one of the team's best shooters and facilitators — could hurt them this season. However, the Hornets brought in Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and drafted PJ Hairston in hopes of avoiding a stagnant offense. If the new additions are as capable as their track records indicate, they should be fine.
Two of these three were among the Hornets' biggest problem children in terms of shooting struggles. People scoffed when I said that McRoberts leaving was a big deal, and turns out he was a difference maker. Cho and Clifford should formulate a plan to kidnap McRoberts from Miami or lure Kevin Love from the Cavaliers (Joke).
An improvement from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would also help tremendously. Coach Clifford said that in all his years of coaching he has never seen such a drastic improvement in a player's shooting form, which is encouraging. Working with assistant coach Mark Price appears to have worked out much of that infamous hitch in his shot, but we have yet to see how that will translate to the court. However, with improved technique and a confidence boost, we could see both Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets improve in this area.
Kidd-Gilchrist Shooting Splits 2013-'14: 47.3-11.1-61.4
Kidd-Gilchrist Shooting Splits 2014-'15: 46.5-00.0-70.1
We were all optimistic about Kidd-Gilchrist's new and improved shot coming into the season. While Kidd-Gilchrist struggled with injuries, his field goal percentage actually dropped and attempted as many threes as I did this season: zero.
Where there is still cause for encouragement, it's in the midrange. From 16 feet to the three-point line, Kidd-Gilchrist improved from 30.8 percent to 37.1 percent. When shooting from 10-16 feet, Kidd-Gilchrist also improved from 15.4 percent to 50 percent. Combined, these shots accounted for 45.3 of Kidd-Gilchrist's total attempts. If you look at it as a one step at a time kind of thing, the improvement is there. Eventually he needs to work on continuing to expand his range to the three point line, but it will be a process.
On Team Goals
With the excitement around the team after the name change and last year's playoff berth, the Hornets obviously want to capitalize on their momentum. This will likely hinge on the team's ability to integrate its new pieces, the development of their prospects like Cody Zeller and Kemba Walker, and Gerald Henderson's ability to slide seamlessly into a sixth man role behind Stephenson.
Ideally, the Hornets would like to bring their offense up to the same level as their stout defense from last season. In order to do this, Zeller will need to continue to build on his strong second half, and Stephenson and Williams will have to prove to be good systematic fits. If they are able to do these things, they should be able to win more games and snag a higher seed in a weaker conference.
Zeller did improve like you would expect. Yet, Walker didn't and was hurt for a short amount of time. And while he may not be their best player, Kidd-Gilchrist missing 27 games this season showed that he may be the team's most valuable player. Yet, the team's biggest issue was that they struggled to click with each other. When they did figure it out and made a push, they weren't able to sustain it long enough and the Hornets missed the playoffs. It felt like everyone thought this team would be back, so this was a little surprising. When teams like Brooklyn and Boston sneak into the playoffs, there always seem to be a team like Charlotte that surprises in the opposite way.
On The Futures of Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson
For center Bismack Biyombo, who is already entering his fourth year, this season is a final chance to prove himself. The Hornets have shown that they won't wait for Biyombo to put it together, and have slowly built up their frontcourt depth above him over the last two offseasons. Once a starter, Biyombo only started nine games last season, but proved to be effective in a diminished role last season nonetheless. Still, is it worth paying lottery scale money for a limited offensive player to play 15 minutes per game? Probably not, especially as the Hornets continue to amass improved players at his position.
What about Gerald Henderson? Henderson signed a two-year deal in the summer of 2013 and has a player option for 2015. While the Hornets could still have Henderson in 2015, the Hornets' perimeter additions indicate they may not be married to him there in the longterm. If he can prove to be a strong contributor as a sixth man or spot-starter, he'll stick around. If not, the front office could view him as more of an asset.
Finally, Kemba Walker's rookie contract is also expiring and he will be looking to earn an extension. Unlike Biyombo, it's not a matter of "if", but "when", and for how much. Walker's efficiency slid last season, which could very well just have been be an off year, but he still continued to improve his ability to make plays for others. Walker could be in for a bigger extension if he is able to rediscover his shooting stroke and builds on what he already does well.
Kemba Walker definitely got his money; players like him just don't not get their first extension. As for Biyombo, it seems as if he did a lot to improve his staying power while Henderson's future is somewhat up in the air. After last season, I'm sure we could almost see anything happen this summer.