The NBA regular season kicks off tonight; unfortunately, the Charlotte Hornets don’t until tomorrow. But that’s okay! We can focus our attention tonight on the drama packed Boston and Cleveland matchup, then watch the Warriors humiliate the Rockets should we decide to stay up late.
But most of all, the extra day allows us to run a roundtable preview of sorts for the upcoming season. The staff were asked the following questions. Most of them are serious, but no one had to answer seriously if they didn’t want to. Serious or not, a few trends formed. A lot of us think Frank Kaminsky is feeling the heat, while we unanimously believe Kemba Walker will return to the All-Star game. In between are some mostly solid takes on who could win some personal silverware, while Reinis details how the Hornets could enter the history books this season. (And in a good way!) Also, Kyle provides what could be the NBA conspiracy of the decade.
So sit back and get comfortable, because you’ve got about 4,000 words to read through. And because we love opening things to the crowd, feel free to provide your own answers in the comments.
Who is under the most pressure to have a good season?
Daniel Coughlin; @xvanwilderx (DC): I think this season is going to be more about pressure on the coaching staff and front office, but if I’m going with a player, it’s Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky is still taking a lot of heat for being a top 10 draft pick and not turning into Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s getting better at NBA basketball, but he isn’t passing Marvin Williams. Williams is a good player, but you’d like to think Kaminsky can be the kind of guy to take the starting job. Despite a step back from Marvin in 2016-17, Kaminsky is still the backup — when he’s not filling in at center on a decimated roster. That’s the other twist. If Kaminsky showed any signs of being an NBA center, he’ll probably not have a chance to show it off this season in any meaningful way with the addition of Dwight Howard. So, it’s either power forward or bust for the former NCAA standout.
Nick Denning; @nickdenning (ND): There are a few options here, but I’m settling on Kaminsky. His lack of consistency in two seasons has more than a few worried. His offense has been good at times, but he has yet to become a consistent offensive player. Defensively, he needs even more work, particularly making the correct rotations. It would be less concerning if he had one side of the ball figured out, or if he wasn’t going to be asked to play a prominent role off the bench. But the Hornets are counting on a good year from him, and in preseason he showed more inconsistency aside from a strong game shooting the ball in the finale against Dallas. Hopefully that carries over.
Evan Dyal; @EvanDyal (ED): I am going with Kaminsky as well. Frank is going into his third season, and his first two seasons have been up and down. This year he needs to show significant improvement. Coming off the bench should help him, but he needs to be more consistent. His preseason has been up and down, which is not the best sign. Kaminsky has the potential to average somewhere in the range of 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists; if Charlotte can get that from him they become a far more dangerous team. If Kaminsky disappoints, trade rumors could start. Charlotte needs to get more out of the former ninth overall pick on a consistent basis. Remember Frank is older than most third year players, as he was a four year player in college. If improvement doesn’t happen this year, when will it happen?
Reinis Lacis; @LamarMatic (RL): Could it be Rich Cho? Many smart people have talked about how the 2016 spending spree during the big salary cap jump is looking worse with every passing day. Back then it seemed like some of the hefty contracts were just a part of the new era. Now, some make you cringe more and more after a particular player’s peers sign lesser deals.
In other words, with Charlotte somewhat locked in on their current core of players, it will be interesting to see how Cho responds to the team’s results. If a first round series win seems probable, do you make any moves? Is it worth it? What happens if the team trends downward? Do you try to repair it on the fly? Do you think about dealing Kemba Walker when his value is at a high point? Are there plausible trades in which you could send away Marvin Williams’s or Nicolas Batum’s huge contracts?
Not saying that any of those players aren’t positives for this team or that they should be traded. Yet the addition of Dwight Howard has made the Hornets even more of a less flexible team with a somewhat certain ceiling (and floor). It would look bad if all of those salaries resulted in a below average season.
Stephen Sears; @StephensTweets_ (SS): I think the obvious answer is Dwight. This is pretty much his last shot in the league I would say.
Kyle Wells; (KW): Sisyphus in Greek mythology was a former King who was doomed to an eternity of pushing an enormous boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back downhill and start anew every day. Now I do not believe that Kemba Walker was the cunning man poor Sisyphus was purported to be that he would deserve such a fate in basketball Hades, but here we are.
Kemba will have a huge burden on his shoulder every game to bring the Hornets offense up to a baseline level of competence. He was next level fantastic last season, so it would be insane to expect him to improve off of it, but that is exactly what we are going to do. Walker will be pushing that boulder uphill all season; let us not be terribly disappointed if it happens to roll back downwards just a bit throughout the season.
What is the biggest roster subplot?
DC: I took a long look at the team for the upcoming season and focused a lot of my attention on the Howard addition. It could be the Howard-Zeller dynamic, but it’s all in relationship to Kemba Walker. Both big men have work to do, but it might be more important that they both figure out their game in relation to Walker, who led the league in pick-and-rolls per game last season. Zeller, Kaminsky, and even Spencer Hawes averaged more pick-and-roll actions as the roll man than Howard did with Atlanta last season. Since the pick-and-roll is integral, and Howard could be so good at it, I think the interwoven connectivity of all three guys and the pick-and-roll action will be the most interesting subplot for this team.
ND: The weird backup point guard situation. Monk wasn’t supposed to be backing up Walker, but injuries have forced Clifford’s hand. Monk has looked the part to a certain degree, so I wonder what could happen with Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone once they both returning. Let’s assume Monk grows into the position. Do the Hornets pair him with one of these big guards, or do they opt to play him next to likes of Bacon or Graham? It almost seems like a good thing, but I’d be more comfortable knowing how the bench unit is going to operate at this point, rather than speculate.
ED: It has to be Batum’s injury. They will miss Batum’s passing the most. I am confident Jeremy Lamb and Malik Monk can fill the scoring void, but neither is the playmaker that Batum is. Also, Batum figured to get a bit of time at back up point guard, as Michael Carter-Williams also comes back from injury. It is really a two-position injury. If the injury is 6-8 weeks, Charlotte can survive. The schedule isn’t brutal early, and I am confident Charlotte can stay around .500. However, if its 12 weeks, watch out. Charlotte may miss the playoffs in that scenario, even in the East. Batum is worth about three wins in my opinion.
RL: The Dwight Howard and Cody Zeller situation seems so predictable. People will say that Dwight does this and that, and is so and so off the court, while Zeller is such and such and is almost/just as good and plays less. We all know how that could shake out and what will the main arguments be. Perhaps, that just means that it indeed is the biggest subplot.
Yet the wing situation seems so fascinating and previously unexperienced with Nicolas Batum out (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s absence can also be noted). Steve Clifford will be forced to do something he hasn’t exactly been fond of in previous seasons. He’ll either have to rely more on Jeremy Lamb -- a regular in coach Clifford’s dog house due to defensive lapses -- or give a decent chunk of playing time to a rookie in Malik Monk and/or Dwayne Bacon. Remember how lottery pick and four-year college player Frank Kaminsky earned a DNP-CD in Charlotte’s 10th game of the season? That tells you something about Clifford’s previous habits.
Treveon Graham is also basically a rookie with only 189 minutes of NBA basketball under his belt. Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone are tall at 6-6, but both have their own injury problems.
You have to suspect that Marvin Williams could simply eat up some of those minutes at the three to stabilize the situation from a perspective of how many young guys are playing. Nevertheless, the possibilities of how the rotation will change game from game are vast.
SS: I’m going to go with the Batum injury. I think this opens the door that we all want open, except the coaching staff, and that’s Monk in the starting lineup. Kemba, Monk, and MKG could be fun if they let it happen. Although it looks like they’ll stick Bacon in the starting lineup as long as they don’t have a backup point guard.
KW: There is no backup point guard on the team. Michael Carter-Williams is not healthy for the start of the season, when healthy his claims to being both an NBA player and a point guard are tenuous at best based on recent results. Malik Monk looks awe inspiring and I have high hopes he will be an awesome player for the Hornets, but he is a 19 year-old rookie who is not a point guard. The track record for 19 year-olds playing at the point in the NBA is not exactly incredible. Julyan Stone has shown some intriguing flashes in the preseason, but he is also someone who was not in the league last year so it is tough to say what if anything can be expected from him this year.
People like to say that today’s NBA is a point guard’s league. If that is the case, not having a legitimate established point guard for a chunk of minutes every game is not something that I would recommend for a team that has high hopes entering the season.
Will Kemba make the All-Star team again?
DC: Isaiah Thomas missing a big chunk of the season with an injury should give Kemba a leg up on returning to the All-Star Game. I don’t think there’s a lot of competition from the younger guards to overtake Walker. I’m trying to think of a scenario, but John Wall and Kyrie Irving are the two clear favorites and I’m not sure what to make of Kyle Lowry right now. I will say this: at least he’s not in the West.
ND: He’s got a chance. If Isaiah Thomas is out until January, that will severely hamper his chances of making it. Thomas essentially took his spot two seasons ago, so his absence clears the way a bit. That said, the likes of John Wall, Kyrie Irving, and Kyle Lowry remain very much in the conversation or ahead of Walker, and those are only the point guards. Gordon Hayward is now in the East, and will be a favorite to make it as well. Assuming Walker has a similar season from a year ago, he should be a reserve.
ED: Yes! Even in the new format. If it was the old format, he would have been a lock, but I still thinks he makes it. With Batum’s injury, he will carry even more of a load on offense and Kemba will deliver. Walker is capable of averaging 25 points and seven assists in Batum’s absence. As long as Charlotte has a decent record around then, then Kemba should make it.
RL: Yes. Even if he takes a step back from his spectacular performance last season, the East seems weak enough for the Hornets to be among the Top-8 in February. At that point, the shine he already has as a one-time All-Star will help him. NBA history suggests that it’s easier for a player to return to another All-Star Game than for a new one to make it for the first time. Moreover, Nicolas Batum missing time will make Kemba an even more standout leader of the Hornets. Unless the team itself undergoes some unexpected downfall, those reasons will help Walker make it as a representative of a playoff team.
SS: Of course. Are there even stars in the east anymore?
Editor’s Note: [reads above statement]
Other than Walker, who else could make the All-Star team?
DC: It would take a lot for anyone else to come close to an All-Star selection. I don’t really see it. Best bet is Steve Clifford.
ND: Barring a breakout season, nobody.
ED: Umm, no one? Batum would be the pick before the injury, but now that’s off the table. I guess Howard? If Howard averages 15 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks, then he will get some all-star attention. Even then he is unlikely to make it, and what will be a very deep pool. If Charlotte gets two All-Stars this season, then things are going very well.
LM: The Cavaliers and the Celtics are teams which might as well have three guys in it due to their collection of talent in comparison to other teams in the conference. It seems like if any other team were to get more than one All-Star, it would have to come thanks to particularly strong individual performances -- seems rather unlikely for the greater than the sum of its parts Hornets -- or a very good team record.
How could the Hornets reach such a record? Probably with a bounce back year on defense. The 2016-17 season was the first campaign in which Steve Clifford’s Horncats finished outside of the top-10 in Defensive Efficiency. Who would get the credit for it? There probably would be a place for a feel-good “Dwight Howard is back with the help of his old pal Steve Clifford” narrative. Dwight Howard is my answer.
SS: I would say Dwight based off of what we know he can be, but I don’t think he’ll live up with that expectation so i’ll go with Malik Monk.
KW: The entire league has gathered in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game team selections, suddenly a wormhole appears and it’s gravitational pull brings in hundreds of players who are suddenly transported into another dimension. Left behind are only sixteen men. Among the sixteen is Frank Kaminsky. NBA All-Star Frank Kaminsky.
Are there any other possible award winners?
DC: If Charlotte exceeds expectations and wins the division – with some help from Dwight – general manager Rich Cho could be up for some hardware. Acquiring Howard at a relatively inexpensive cost and getting him to buy in, working with Clifford again, would be a great story and the Hornets need narrative if they want to steal any hardware. Oh, I guess Malik Monk shouldn’t be overlooked. No Batum and a disappointing start from Lamb is all it would take for Monk to get some serious minutes, and minutes are the key to stats, and stats are what people care about for Rookie of the Year.
ND: Howard could be in the All-Defensive team conversation, while Jeremy Lamb could be in the running for Most Improved if he actually does, well, improve. Additionally, Monk appears on track to make an All-Rookie team and play in the Rising Stars game. But don’t count out Bacon for either of those rookie awards either.
ED: The only one that is realistically possible is Steve Clifford winning coach of the year. If Clifford leads the Hornets to a top five finish in the East while dealing with the Batum injury, then he at least deserves some votes. The only player who can realistically win the award is Monk winning rookie of the year. Like Clifford, if he contributes to winning, people will notice. The Batum injury also gives him a bigger opportunity. The preseason showed he is not afraid to put it up.
RL: All-Rookie Second Team - Malik Monk. Monk has the chance of earning playing time due to Charlotte’s troublesome wing and guard situation. The draft might have been top heavy, but Monk has the ability of scoring enough to have the 6th - 10th best season by a first year player.
Sixth Man of the Year - Cody Zeller. 20 minutes per game, a good plus/minus, the ability to be an even better rim runner and active defender against second units, talks of him being deserving of a starter’s spot. Those aspects could allow Zeller to put together a season that landed him on the shortlist for the award. It’s a long shot, yet people who pay attention to all 30 teams would notice his candidacy.
All-Defensive Second Team - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Very dependent on Charlotte regaining its groove on that end of the floor and landing in the top-5 in Defensive Efficiency. Hypothetically, letting Howard hang back more in the pick-and-roll than the Hornets did with Zeller would allow the wings to stay at home more. There MKG could focus on ruining the day for his match-up and earning kudos for doing so. However, Howard has had problems of staying springy for the whole 82 games, thus creating a hole in this theory.
The Doug Moe Lifetime Achievement Award - Charlotte Hornets and Steve Clifford. Lead by Alex English and Fat Lever, coached by Doug Moe and playing under the belief that there is no shot which comes too early in the shot clock, the Denver Nuggets lead the league from 1985-86 to 1989-90 in Turnover Percentage. Each of those seasons they coughed up the fewest turnovers in the league and thus reached an unofficial NBA record of putting together five such seasons in a row, per Basketball-Reference data. Though, Clifford’s Hornets get there in a different fashion, they can repeat that achievement if they finish first in TOV percentage again.
Michael’s Don’t-Shoot - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Michael Carter-Williams. The hyphenated award which celebrates the last of a dying breed — perimeter players who play in the NBA despite not taking and/or making 3-point shots. Last season Kidd-Gilchrist was one of the three perimeter players to play more than 500 minutes and attempt less than 15 3-pointers (Shaun Livingston and Derrick Jones Jr. were the other two). Carter-Williams was one of the six guards to shoot a worse percentage from downtown than 25 percent.
The fact that the two of them are now on the same team is remarkable. Do league rules permit Charlotte acquiring Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? Would he be okay with changing his name to Michael?
SS: Rookie of the Year: Malik Monk. There will be a lot of competition, but his name will definitely be in the running.
Most Improved Player - Kaminsky. He could be a big year for him if steps up into a starting role.
Finally, what hill are you dying on this season? (In other words, what is one unique or hot take that you feel very strongly about.)
DC: I don’t know if I have a hot take. Also, not really looking to die over anything about the Hornets 2017-18 season. If I have to throw my hat in the ring, I’d take the Frank Kaminsky train. The team has been so consistent over the last couple of years that I feel like we know what this team will be and it’s hard to find something outlandish about it. So yeah, give me Frank the Tank as the starting power forward. His improved 3-point shooting this year will make him a great floor spacer to give either Zeller or Howard room to reign destruction with Walker without fear of the crash down help defender. Or I’m totally wrong and I’ll be found dead on a badger-shaped hill come April.
ND: Dwight Howard will remain the starter all season. A lot of folks want, or expect Cody Zeller to take back the spot at some point this season. And look, it makes a lot of sense! Cody is great, and highly underappreciated around the league. But Clifford 1. loves Howard, and 2. loves starting defenders. Dwight is both, and he’s a better defender at this point than Zeller. So its important to understand that this isn’t a knock against Zeller, who honestly, could be the better all around player. But fit wise, they’ll ride with Dwight, and unless things really start to stink or Zeller makes too good a case to start, Howard will stay in the starting five.
ED: The Jeremy Lamb hill! I have long thought highly of Lamb. Last season he showed flashes, but this year he will break through. He gets a great opportunity to show what he can do as he fills in as a stater. He does needs to get his three point percentage up. If Lamb can hit 33-35% from deep, that’s enough. He has the talent to average 15 points per game. Defensively he is not the best, but I think he can be average, and honestly that should be enough.
RL: Before I begin, I’d like to state for the record that Nick advised us to write “hot takes.” I consider myself more of a scared lukewarm take guy, yet here I go. Editor’s Note: Steve Bob came up with this question, so place all blame on him.
Frank Kaminsky seems like a great guy. His off the court quirkiness -- anyone up for a Skittles bath? -- makes you believe that he would be fun to hang out with. There is no indication that you wouldn’t want such a person in your collective of people, whatever the purpose of the group is.
Yet I don’t believe that he will be much more than an average NBA bench player. There, I said it. Is that sizzling hot?
Though, Kaminsky relies on his 3-pointer a lot, some of his struggles are part of the reason why I’m not exactly 100 percent in on this new 3-point heavy basketball era. His passing, funkiness and just overall set of skills would have probably worked better in any past era. Yet there are just some things he can’t do and that rears its ugly head when small ball lineups take use of his lack of athleticism. It doesn’t exactly work great when you play him at center either, though, I envision him as a decent stretch-5 for bench units.
Draft him in 1998 and you’d probably want to see how much of, let’s say, Toni Kukoc he has in him (not to compare the two). Draft him now and you just worry whether the guy will make enough of his 3-point looks. It’s getting too damn homogeneous nowadays! (Is that how you do this “hot take” thing?)
SS: At some point this season Marcus Paige will work his way into the backup point guard spot. Even with his size, he’s already the best option for it, I think. This might be my UNC fan blood talking.
KW: I know what you are thinking, we have been talking about the great “what if” of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist developing a jump shot for over half a decade now, why should this year be any different? He has been hard at work since May re-calibrating his jump shot with the same shooting coach that is currently teaching the gravity changing marksman Dwight Howard. Here me out.
Michael Jordan is one of the world’s most competitive and successful gamblers the world has ever seen; he singlehandedly kept Atlantic City afloat for the entire portion of his time as a player with the Chicago Bulls. Being such a preeminent gambler and businessman, Jordan is well aware that making money is all about taking a long term approach.
We can only imagine what kind of odds MJ got on Kidd-Gilchrist winning the 3-point shootout or leading the league in 3-point percentage for this season. While he rages against super teams in the press, he has quietly been setting up his greatest financial victory to give him the funds necessary to create the greatest super team ever assembled. As a player, Jordan went out on top after hitting the game winner in the 1998 Finals. Now as an owner, he will return to the top due to a five year scheme convincing the league that the man he spent the second overall pick on in the draft one was one of the worst shooters in the history of the league, and then using that knowledge to place bets all over the world at insanely favorable odds that MKG will win the three point shootout in February. M.J. is truly playing chess while us plebs are out here playing checkers. Long live the GOAT.