Expectations for the Charlotte Hornets couldn’t have been any lower coming into the 2019-20 season. Most sports books set the Hornets win total as the lowest in the league. Some of the hotter takes had this year’s Charlotte team competing with its 2011-12 iteration as the worst team in NBA history. After all, the franchise’s best player walked out the door and was replaced by a career backup. The team’s second best player departed as well. There was no clear path to buckets for this team.
Rookie forward PJ Washington missed the summer league, dulling what was already regarded as a pretty bland pick by the Hornets in the 2019 NBA Draft. Expectations for his rookie season were modest, even after a strong preseason. Devonte’ Graham was expected to be a steady hand running the second unit. Both players blew those expectations out of the water in a wild season opening win over the Chicago Bulls.
Dwayne Bacon opened the Hornets scoring for the season tipping in his own wild miss. Then the fun began. PJ Washington walked into a trailing 3-pointer just over two minutes into the game. About three minutes later, he hit two more threes on back to back possessions to give him nine points in just five minutes of court time. Devonte’ Graham, who started the season as the team’s sixth man, checked in a short time later and dropped his first dime of the season to Cody Zeller, who threw down his second thunderous dunk of the first quarter. He got his first bucket by splitting two defenders with a behind the back dribble and finishing at the basket through contact. He hit his first three off a nice find from Malik Monk. After one quarter, the Hornets led 37-28 and had hit six 3-pointers. PJ Washington finished his first professional quarter with 11 points.
The first six minutes of the second quarter were rather uneventful. At the midway point, Devonte’ Graham took what seemed like a harmless defensive rebound and dribbled straight into what would become his trademark pull-up three. Then Miles Bridges bullied his way for a couple buckets. Then PJ Washington hit yet another three. And then another, his fifth of the half. That 3-pointer tied the record for most 3-pointers made in a player’s debut, and it wasn’t even halftime yet. The Hornets led by as many as 16 points in the first half, all on the backs of their young players.
Luari Markkanen and Zach LaVine quickly erased the Bulls deficit to start what would be a very even and high scoring third quarter. Back to back 3-pointers from Marvin Williams around the four minute mark of the quarter were a precursor to an explosive end to the quarter. The Hornets hit 3-pointers on each of their last four possessions in the last two minutes of the quarter (one by Graham, one by Washington, and another two from Williams), setting up what would be a spectacular fourth quarter.
An exciting start to the fourth quarter turned sour as the Hornets turned the ball over repeatedly and struggled to get stops on the defensive end. What was once a double digit Hornets lead turned into a double digit deficit with just seven minutes to play. With his team reeling, James Borrego took a timeout.
Then the threes came back again.
Miles Bridges found PJ Washington in transition for his seventh 3-pointer of the night. LaVine hit a three of his own, but that was answered ten straight Hornets points. That included back to back 3-pointers by Devonte’ Graham to give the Hornets 22 made 3-pointers on the night, tying the franchise record for 3-pointers made in a game. Cody Zeller gave the Hornets the lead with another driving dunk after Graham found him with a nice pocket pass. Dwayne Bacon hit a three on the next possession to give the Hornets a four point lead and their record setting 23rd 3-pointer of the game. They iced the game with free throws.
When all was said and done, PJ Washington scored 27 points while hitting 7-of-11 3-pointers. Devonte’ Graham scored 23 points with six 3-pointers made and dropped eight dimes to go along with it. Dwayne Bacon scored 22 points of his own, but it took him 21 shots to get there. Though he did hit clutch shots down the stretch.
Graham, Marvin Williams, and Malik Monk combined to shoot 12-of-15 from three off the bench, which seems like it should be some sort of record.
After an offseason of talking about the how bad the Hornets were going to be, it was incredibly fun to see the Hornets win their first game while playing a wildly entertaining brand of basketball. The win set the tone for a prolonged stretch of overachieving basketball for the Hornets. It also introduced Hornets fans to two new fan favorites.
Terry Rozier was expected to shoulder most of the offensive burden this season. A rather large contingent of people thought Dwayne Bacon might emerge as a go-to scorer. Very few foresaw Graham and Washington as focal points of the team’s offense this season. It only took one game for them to announce to the NBA that they had arrived.