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2021-22 Hornets Preview

The Hornets enter the season with the burden of unfamiliar expectations.

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets enter the 2021-22 season carrying the weight of expectations heavier than any the current iteration of the roster has ever felt. Head coach James Borrego has felt that pressure in Charlotte once before in his first year. That team was led by veterans like Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb who have long since departed. They fell short, and the roster was stripped down to its bones that summer.

The only player remaining on the Hornets from that 2018-19 season is Miles Bridges, who was a rookie that year. Everyone else on the roster played elsewhere if they were even in the league yet. None of them have played a season in Charlotte where playoffs were the expectation rather than a lofty goal.

The success of the Hornets this year is multifactorial. They need the young players to continue to develop and the veterans to keep the ship steady while that happens.

LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges are the two biggest factors when it comes to the youth developing. Ball is coming off an incredible rookie year that saw him win Rookie of the Year honors. He looks taller and stronger, and the outside shot looks cleaner. With Devonte’ Graham gone, the Hornets need ball to mature into a floor general while maintaining his flair and exuberance that make him so great.

Miles Bridges took a leap form role player to cornerstone last season, and that development along with his burgeoning chemistry with Ball make him vital to the Hornets success this season. When the Hornets are healthy, they won’t need Bridges to score 20 points per nights like they did down the stretch last season. But having that tool in the toolbox is huge and makes the Hornets incredibly difficult to guard. His continued improvement as a play maker and scorer unlock this offense, and if he stays locked in defensively, he’ll be a two way star for this team.

The development of Ball and Bridges will be a major swing factor in the success of the Hornets. The play of the veterans will determine the starting point of that swing. Gordon Hayward needs to stay mostly healthy, and the Hornets have built up their depth to help better manage his minutes and weather any absences that may come. He and Mason Plumlee are the old heads in this group, and the Hornets will need them to play consistently in their roles each night.

Terry Rozier enters the season with more money and more responsibility. There is less firepower in the back court without Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham, so Rozier is going to get ample opportunities to fill it up. Ish Smith fills Graham’s role off the bench, but he’s going to be a connector, not a weight bearer. James Bouknight is a rookie that should be reasonably expected to need time to get his feet under him.

The rest of the group needs to fill in the gaps. PJ Washington needs to take a step forward as a small ball five given the lack of proven centers behind Mason Plumlee. Kelly Oubre is going to be counted on to spell Gordon Hayward and provide wing depth the Hornets have badly missed in recent seasons. Bouknight needs to be a reasonable facsimile of Malik Monk to keep the bench from going dry.

The challenge for James Borrego will be balancing lineups to keep the team cohesive and competent on both ends of the floor. A pure bench unit of Smith, Bouknight, Oubre, Jalen McDaniels/Cody Martin, and Washington is almost completely devoid of reliable shooting and pretty thin on play making. Based on the first preseason game, it looks like the plan will be to take Hayward and Plumlee out first so they can sub back in to provide stability on the second unit. Meanwhile Washington and Oubre will check in to create a breakneck lineup of Ball/Rozier/Oubre/Bridges/Washington. On paper, that looks like it’ll be fun to watch if nothing else. The hope is that the productivity matches the entertainment value.

Barring another catastrophic spell of injuries, the Hornets should make the playoffs this season. Anything short of that is a disappointment. But hitting that goal is going to take a collective effort. The talent is here. The players need to maximize their talent, and James Borrego needs to make sure all of the pieces fit together.