No, they shouldn’t.
Maybe I’ll have to revisit this post in a few months and admit I was wrong, but hear me out.
Going into the season, the Charlotte Hornets looked poised for their best season in a long, long time. They added Dwight Howard—a player still within his prime when healthy and a close friend of Hornets head coach Steve Clifford—and managed to keep a solid, young-ish core composed of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky.
Thus far, things haven’t worked out. Roughly an eighth through the regular season, the Hornets are 5-7 and sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
At first glance, that might seem like a cause for concern. Maybe the whole Dwight thing won’t work out. I mean, they went 0-4 on their recent road trip. Maybe that core isn’t as good as we thought it was.
But things are never that simple.
The Hornets have had the second-toughest schedule so far this season per ESPN. They’ve played the Milwaukee Bucks twice, the Houston Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the San Antonio Spurs through their first 12 games.
They’ve played all 12 of these games without arguably their most important player—Batum—who’s been sidelined with an elbow injury since Oct. 4.
They’ve played half of those games without MKG, and in half of the games he has played in, he’s been on a minutes restriction. NBA fans in the know are well aware of MKG’s impact on the Hornets, which seldom shows up in all its glory in traditional stat sheets. This season’s no different—the Hornets are 4-2 in games MKG’s appeared in and 1-5 in games he hasn’t.
Michael Carter-Williams, Kemba’s backup, missed the first seven games of the season. When third-string point guard Julyan Stone went down, the Hornets had to call up Marcus Paige from the D-League out of necessity. They tried rookie Malik Monk at point guard over that stretch and while he performed admirably, it was clear Monk was out of his depth.
Things really aren’t that bad.
Don’t get me wrong, being two games below .500 is not great.
The Hornets rank 12th in defensive efficiency so far this season—surely a little lower than they’d like, but respectable nonetheless—and rank 18th in offensive efficiency. They’ve managed to tread water thus far, and each of those figures should improve once Batum returns within the next week or so.
They also seldom turn the ball over, as is typical with Clifford’s Hornets. They currently have the second-lowest turnover percentage in the league. To top it off, the Hornets are second in the league in free throw rate. This is in large part because of Howard, who’s averaging 8.4 attempts per game. Of course, Dwight’s a, shall we say, mixed bag at the free throw line. But the fact remains that the Hornets are doing everything right given their circumstances.
Listen, I could satisfy our collective tendency toward self-deprecation, and frankly that fits right in line with my personality. However, I see how good this team is and I know you do, too.
They’ve given up games late in the fourth quarter, but they’ve also had gargantuan leads to give up in the first place. Jeremy Lamb is having his best season by far as a pro. Monk’s found his shot. Bacon’s a steal. Dwight single-handedly dictates what opposing offenses try to do. Frank continues to show flashes of sheer brilliance.
It’s all there.
We’ve just had a weird combination of terrible luck, players being out, and subsequently, a lack of perseverance.
Give it time. Everything’s going to be okay.