With the amount of moves made this offseason, the East closed the talent gap between them and the West ever so slightly. The Wizards brought in a former MVP, the Hawks made moves to improve depth, and the Nets are finally healthy. On top of that, there’s also the fact that the younger teams are getting better internally as well. That being said, Charlotte made some moves of their own.
The addition of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward this offseason should not be understated. The Hornets added one of the most promising young players in the league, as well as an All-Star caliber forward. Add on the improvement of the young guns on the team and the Hornets are legit contenders for a play-in spot. The real question is, though, how well do they stack up against the other teams in that area.
As it stands right now, the 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, Heat, Nets, and Raptors should all be a lock for the playoffs. Barring any major injuries those teams are the clear top dogs in the East. That leaves nine more teams fighting for four play-in spots. Of those teams the Cavaliers, Knicks, and Pistons are seemingly a tier below the rest, leaving the Bulls, Hawks, Hornets, Magic, Pacers, and Wizards to fight for the four spots.
The starting lineup for the Hornets (to start the year) will most likely be Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward (when healthy), PJ Washington, and Cody Zeller. This means the bench will most likely consist of LaMelo Ball, Cody Martin, Miles Bridges, Jalen McDaniels, and Bismack Biyombo. Before even examining the other teams there are some obvious questions with Hayward’s injury and the consistency of certain guys, but the team looks solid overall. However, let’s take a look at Charlotte’s competition.
Projected starters: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.
Projected bench: Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacano, Chandler Hutchinson, Otto Porter Jr., Daniel Gafford
Ages in this photo: 19, 22, and 20. pic.twitter.com/QdTTOtK7a5— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 21, 2020
The Bulls are one of the younger teams in the league, with their entire projected starting lineup consisting of guys who are 25 years old or younger. LaVine is their star player and while he can really fill up the stats sheet, he also leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end. They did revamp their staff this offseason, however, hiring Billy Donovan and bringing in Artūras Karnišovas to their front office. I think this team is a year or two away from making a real shot at the playoffs, though they do have the potential to do so as soon as this year if their star young players take a leap.
Projected starters: Trae Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
Projected bench: Rajon Rondo, Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari, Bruno Fernando
The new look Hawks spreading the wealth tonight:— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 14, 2020
Trae Young - 21 PTS - 7 AST - 4 REB
De’Andre Hunter - 15 PTS - 7 REB - 2 AST
John Collins - 13 PTS - 11 REB - 4 AST
Clint Capela - 12 PTS - 12 REB - 1 AST
Gallinari - 17 PTS - 7 REB - 3 AST
Bogdanovic - 18 PTS - 2 REB - 2 AST pic.twitter.com/TaO75Ctkhf
The Hawks are an early candidate for most improved team this offseason, at least on paper. Young is coming off a season where he was an All-Star starter, and Collins is a double-double machine. They were one of the worst teams in the East last year, but with all the moves they made they have to be favorites to make a huge jump. They added a quality center in Capela, reliable secondary scorers in Bogdanovic and Gallinari, and a veteran point guard to mentor Young in Rondo. This team has the ability to make a splash in the East this year and for many more to come.
Projected starters: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, Dwayne Bacon, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Projected bench: Cole Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Terrence Ross, Chump Okeke, Mo Bamba
Up next, our first regular season game! pic.twitter.com/dKNe0PuDyz— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 20, 2020
This team has been a consistent 7-8 seed for the past few years, but has never been able to get over the hump and do anything once they got there. Unfortunately, their defensive star Jonathan Isaac will be sidelined yet again this season after tearing his left ACL. This leaves an interesting mix of youth and veteran leadership on the Magic going into this season. It’s well-known that coach Steve Clifford loves playing veterans over younger guys, but we’ll have to see how this season shakes out as both Anthony and Okeke were playing great during the preseason. There’s definitely a ceiling on this team without Isaac, it’s just tough to tell what that ceiling is.
Projected starters: Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner
Projected bench: TJ McConnell, Aaron Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday, Goga Bitadze
Domantas Sabonis is glad to see Victor Oladipo back to his old, dominant self pic.twitter.com/cOjMraLq8t— Pacers Nation (@PacersNationCP) December 20, 2020
The Pacers have been a playoff team for the past five seasons, but have also lost in the first round of each of those years. Despite this lack of success, Pacers ownership has publicly expressed their desire to never tank and always remain competitive. They have the talent to be a playoff team, but it’s questionable whether or not they have the talent to be more than that. In addition to that, they’ve had their own internal turmoil this offseason with both Oladipo and Turner showing a desire to leave Indiana. It’ll be interesting to see how that situation plays out.
Projected starters: Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant
Projected bench: Ish Smith, Troy Brown Jr., Davis Bertans, Mortiz Wagner, Robin Lopez
The Wizards rotation could vary depending on who they decide to start, but the one thing that is clear is that they have two All-Star quality guards who are more than capable of bringing this team to the playoffs. Last season Beal was stuck on his own and got snubbed from the All-Star team whilst averaging 30 points a night. He and Westbrook are going to make a lethal combo on the offensive end, and Westbrook’s solid defense should help out the Wizards on that end, too. Washington was invited to the bubble last season but only managed to win one game before their exit. With Westbrook on the roster now, though, anything is possible.
So that’s what the Hornets’ competition is looking like this season. If Buzz City wants back in the playoffs those are most likely going to be the teams standing in their way. Out of those five squads, the Hornets are probably only better than one or two on paper, but have the potential to be near the top. With the incredible youth movement going on in Charlotte, it’s all going to come down to if the young guys can take that next step.