The Charlotte Hornets kick off the season tomorrow. To get us ready, the At the Hive crew answered a few questions about how they are feeling heading into the season. As you’ll notice, our views differ a little bit.
The Hornets have a new coaching staff implementing a new system. What do you make of the new look offense and defense?
Nick Denning: At the very least, the offense should be fun to watch, but it’s too soon to call whether it will be effective or not. However, I’ll say this: Borrego wants to increase the amount of team assists per game and fast break points. They did that in preseason, so it’s reasonable to expect both to rise in the regular season. I just don’t know by how much or, more importantly, if it will improve enough to matter.
Defensively, I’m kind of worried. I’m on board with all the switching, but remains a work in progress. That’s not good news when they’re opening night game is against Giannis and the Bucks.
Dylan Jackson: The Charlotte Hornets offense under James Borrego is vastly different from the system used by Steve Clifford. There’s more passing, more 3-point shots, and a much quicker tempo. Borrego reminds me of a mini-Mike D’Antoni. A fast offense that prioritizes high-quality shots and lots of switching on defense. I’m very interested to see how everything meshes together.
Stephen Sears: Love it. The ball movement looks great so far and the way players are moving off screen and cutting to the basket worked really well during the preseason. Hopefully it continues like that and they can build even more off of it.
What is this team’s biggest strength?
Nick Denning: This won’t sound like a vote of confidence depending on how you look at it, but I like how easily the team has bought into the new system. It hasn’t been close to perfect, but there’s a genuine attempt to make things work, and the team is playing with a real sense of purpose. It may not contribute to wins, but I think it’s clear that this team was ready for new ideas and are committed to making them work. That could matter during the rougher parts of the season.
Dylan Jackson: I’d be lying if I didn’t say Kemba Walker was the Hornets’ biggest strength. The two-time All-Star is entering his eighth NBA season, and with a coach that prioritizes speed in the halfcourt, his numbers should continue to grow.
Stephen Sears: I think depth may be their biggest strength at the moment. It might be Charlotte’s best bench in years. They have a solid mix of veteran talent and young guys who can contribute. If Monk develops like we all hope and Bridges continues to build off what he did in the preseason, then they’ll have a really nice rotation.
What about biggest weakness?
Nick Denning: I think their defense is going to be iffy. The switching is a drastic change from before, and it’s going to take some getting used to. Plus, the Hornets don’t really have a lot of players you’d think as defensive minded. There’s Michael Kidd-Gilchirst on the perimter, Cody Zeller in the paint, and I guess Bismack Biyombo, but he’s not breaking into the rotation. That’s it.
Dylan Jackson: Marvin Williams — as solid as he’s been over the past few seasons — is the team’s biggest weakness. After upgrading the backup point guard spot with both Tony Parker and Devonte’ Graham, it’s difficult to see this title going to any other position or role.
Stephen Sears: The team’s lack of a pure second scorer outside of Kemba. That guy could end up being Bridges or Monk, but the uncertainty at the moment is questioning. At the moment that guy is Lamb.
Who is your one player to watch this season?
Nick Denning: Miles Bridges. The Hornets maybe, just maybe, have struck gold on a draft pick for the first time since Kemba Walker. He’s far more ready than the coaching staff predicted, and he has others covering the NBA paying attention as well (all off five preseason games, by the way). His growth and development this season could change the short and long-term projections of the franchise. It’s important we temper our expectations of Bridges, but at the same time it would be a really big deal if he turned out to be a stud.
Dylan Jackson: Malik Monk is going to be a fun player to watch this season. He’s a hyper-athletic guard who can shoot the ball with confidence. It also would not be surprising to see him take a major leap under Borrego (rather, with Steve Clifford gone). Even if he doesn’t shoot the ball efficiently, Monk alone could be a reason to tune into Hornets games this season.
Stephen Sears: I’ve hyped up Monk and Bridges enough so I’m gonna go with Willy Hernangomez. This could be a big year for him, and he seems to have transformed his body into a whole new physique. He’s looking like the Spanish Steven Adams and anything close to Adams play would be huge for us.
Andrew Waters: The player to watch is big man Willy Hernangomez. He provides the biggest leeway into determining the role on this team. If he’s able to continue to develop his outside shot while working to improve his presence down low, then there’s a strong possibility that he reaches the starting center spot before this year is over. If that is the case, expect the Hornets to be an even more versatile team offensively, and could flirt with five-out offensive sets.
Is Kemba Walker on the roster by the end of the season?
Nick Denning: Walker’s media day comments strategically put the final decision in the front office’s hands. A nightmare season could see him dealt in February, but beyond that, there is too much mutual interesting between Walker and the front office. He wants to be here and so does the team. This doesn’t guarantee a contract extension next summer, but it at least means they will get the chance to offer him one.
Dylan Jackson: At the end of the season, yes. By the start of the 2019 season, no. Kemba Walker has given his everything to Charlotte. However, giving him a maximum extension would be hard to justify given the team’s current money situation. This, on top of what will likely be a mediocre season, will likely drive Walker to another NBA team.
Stephen Sears: At this point I think so. I think we’re actually prepping for a solid run into the playoffs, and if that happens I think he last past the trade deadline. Only way I see him leaving is if we’re in really bad shape by the deadline.
Andrew Waters: Despite popular opinion, I am a believer in a long-term Kemba Walker. He has the charisma and deep passion for the city of Charlotte as a whole. That’s key into questioning if he wants to go play at another team in order to “win now.” However, I believe that new Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak will find a way to extend his contract, whether that’s through trades or another route. I just don’t see Walker in anything other than the purple and teal. He has proven to be the team’s all-time great, and management should reprehend that.
What is your season prediction? Are they a playoff team? Destined for mediocrity again? (Commit to one outcome, don’t give multiple predictions)
Nick Denning: Because I’ve found it much easier on my sanity to set the bar low, I think the Hornets will miss the playoffs. I like this team and the direction they are taking. I like how they’ve played in preseason for the most part. They may even have a good mix of young talent that could develop into good core later on. That said, this team has little room for error, and the NBA season is guaranteed to throw curveballs at them (it happens every season). Playoff teams can overcome injuries, bad stretches of play, and bad luck. The Hornets haven’t been able to the past two seasons, and the team isn’t improved enough to suggest they will this season. That said, I should enjoy watching them a lot more this season even if it results in 38 wins.
Dylan Jackson: While the amount of playoff-caliber teams in the Eastern Conference has decreased, the amount of talent in the NBA has increased. I think the Hornets take a slight decrease in wins and finish 10th or 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Nets, Heat, Pistons, and Wizards all have more potential than Charlotte, and in the end that talent will prevail.
Stephen Sears: I’ll go with, Southeast Division winners, 6-7th seed in the East, but a first round playoff exit. Overall a successful season.
Andrew Waters: I project the Charlotte Hornets to have a much-improved overall team over last year. Changes that have already been made in the starting lineup should lead to an increase of spacing on the floor. The younger players on the team, (ie. Malik Monk, Miles Bridges), look to be real contributors this season. This, on top of the fact that there’s a higher emphasis on a faster tempo and more three-pointers attempted, and I expect the Hornets to be the 6th or 7th seed come April.