With Charlotte Hornets media day scheduled for next Monday and training camp starting on the Tuesday, let’s dive into some of the biggest questions which need answering this pre-season.
1) Who starts at Power Forward?
The number one question on everyone’s mind, especially PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who both look poised to battle it out for the starting power forward spot. Last season PJ Washington started all but three of the 64 games he played in (Out of 72), however, after a ankle tweak which side lined PJ for 3 games in mid April Miles Bridges took full advantage having a breakout end to the season which left the majority of Washington’s minutes the rest of the year coming at center. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Borrego experiment in pre-season with both in the starting line-up and see how the team fairs. Perhaps the biggest external factor that could impact on this decision is the backup centre position, if Borrego can’t trust any of Jones, Carey or Richards then he might have to bring PJ in as the backup five which would likely rule him out at starting alongside Plumlee.
Prediction – Miles Bridges starts, I believe the jump Miles made last year is real, and apparently so does Gordon Hayward.
2) Are there any lasting effects from LaMelo’s wrist injury?
It was clear that LaMelo’s wrist although clinically healed was not back to 100% when LaMelo came back in the latter half of the season, looking at the percentages from before the injury (37.5%) and after (35.2%) it wouldn’t give you much concern. However, looking deeper at the games there were some really bad misses and too much wrist flexing/mobilising during timeouts to waive it off as general shooting variance. Then to everyone’s dismay this summer when LaMelo was shown on the NBA Summer League broadcast he was flexing his wrist still. Has this now become a habit LaMelo has even though there’s no need? Has the wrist healed fully between summer league and training camp? Will he always have some form of wrist stiffness? Is this just general good practice for rehabbing a wrist to ensure it doesn’t become stiff in the future? I have so many questions and so few answers, if there are any physios reading this please comment below!
Prediction – No lasting effects, as a Hornets fan I’m conditioned to see the worst possible scenario in everything, but medically speaking there’s no reason why a broken wrist doesn’t fully heal and recover in a 19 year old with five star medical care.
3) What will the backup wing rotation look like?
Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward are starters, you can put that in permanent marker, after that you can jot Kelly Oubre’s name down in ink as a back-up wing. However, after that? Best to leave that blank until after training camp and the pre-season. Oubre is flexible enough to play either wing position which gives a lot of line-up flexibility either side of him. This is perhaps the most intriguing rotation battle I foresee in camp, the two obvious standout candidates are James Bouknight and Jalen McDaniels. It’s likely that only one of them will crack the regular rotation alongside Oubre, the most obvious candidate is Bouknight, he projects to give some scoring punch that Smith/Oubre line-ups might need. McDaniels strengths as a long wing defender overlap somewhat with Oubre and neither are great passers, something Bouknight showed flashes of in Summer League to a very high level. On the other hand just think about the wing defense with Oubre and McDaniels out there, for a team which needs to improve defensively that would go someway to helping.
Prediction – James Bouknight, this could change depending on match-ups but by the end of the year I’d hope JB backs JB.
4) Will anyone emerge from the glut of unproven big men?
Vernon Carey Jr, Nick Richards and Kai Jones, will any of them make a claim for the back-up center minutes? They all have their warts and from what we collectively saw in Summer League, don’t look ready to be back-up center’s in the NBA on a non-tanking team. However, NBA players make unexpected jumps all the time, just look at Devonte Graham and Miles Bridges over the past few years. Until Kai Jones fills outs and better understands the game I think he’s likely to be seen as a power forward, Carey Jr has to improve his defensive communication to give himself a chance and Richards just needs to be less mistake prone on both ends.
Prediction – No, I just don’t see how Carey fits this Hornets system, the idea of Richards is actually more of what they need but he was seemingly behind Carey Jr in the pecking order last season. Give Jones a full season in Greensboro and some spot minutes in Charlotte later in the year, that’s the likeliest road for him.
5) Can Charlotte take a step forward defensively?
Charlotte finished 20th in defense last season per Cleaning the Glass , they used the most zone in the league and switched up their coverage more than most to mask their individual defensive deficiencies. Can the new additions of Mason Plumlee and Kelly Oubre make enough of an impact for Charlotte to be a top 15 defense? Although the advanced statistics don’t suggest either are major upgrades on Zeller/Biyombo and Malik Monk, the eye test suggests different and I trust that much more when analysing defense. What can fans expect from LaMelo on the defensive end, he showed impressive instincts but also displayed the self control of a drugged up Armond from “The White Lotus” of when to help off his man. However, with his length, basketball IQ and rebounding ability I don’t think it’s crazy to think he could develop into an above average defender, but he will need to commit on that end for it to happen.
Prediction – Factoring in general player development for the young core and the defensive minded veterans I think Charlotte are well placed to take a step forward. The Hornets have been “Small” for a number of years which has limited their defensive ceiling, this off-season they’ve definitely got bigger and longer adding collectively a total of 10” inches in height and 9” inches in wingspan across their 7 roster additions.
6) Which Miles Bridges will show up for 21-22?
Miles Bridges started last year as Charlotte’s sixth man, bringing defense and rebounding off the bench and was in the running for 6MOTY recognition before forcing himself into the starting line up. As a reserve Miles averaged 10pts 6reb 2ast 0.6stl .6blk, as a starter he upped his usage without compromising his efficiency averaging 20pts 6.7reb 3.4ast 0.6stl 1.2blk. Which Miles will show up? Energy/role player Miles or self-creation, ball handling Miles?
Prediction - The truth is likely somewhere in the middle of those two stat lines which would still be a fantastic result for a late lottery pick who had a shaky first two years in the league.
7) Can Gordon Hayward stay healthy?
If you’re the religious type, please see a prayer for Hayward’s ankles. The last time Hayward had a completely injury free off-season where he was able to workout and not rehab was 2016-17 which ended up leading to his lone all-star season. Could this mean good omens for the 21-22 season? Hayward mentioned over the summer he’s been working on his pull up three, I bet in large part that’s to lower the number of risks he has to take driving to the basket, as well as adapting to the modern NBA. The Hornets director of healthcare and sports performance Joe Sharp is well known as one of the best medical directors in the NBA having been selected as Team USA’s team doctor in past Olympic cycles. With the quick turnaround last season the impact of the medical and training staff on Hayward will have been minimal, but now with the entire summer to get onboard there’s fresh optimism he could put his injury concerns behind him.
Prediction – Nobody can predict injuries, but I think there’s a real reason for optimism. Hayward will undoubtedly miss the odd game here and there with small injuries, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he rarely played in back to backs this year, he referenced that and last season’s congested schedule as a potential contributing factors to his injury last year.
8) Who can we expect to play with the Greensboro Swarm?
The Greensboro Swarm’s newly appointed Head Coach Jordan Surrenkamp recently ruled out speculating on who from the main roster might be in Greensboro for the upcoming season on the Hornets Hive Cast podcast with Sam Farber. However, unsrprusingly he did confirm that both two way players Arnoldas Kulboka and Scottie Lewis will spend large parts of the season with the Swarm. After that, I think Kai Jones, JT Thor and one of Nick Richard or Vernon Carey Jr should familiarise themselves with the I-85 (I hope you appreciate the effort of googling that from the UK). However, can Charlotte really afford to send three of their 15 man roster during a gruelling NBA season? I imagine there will be a rotation policy in place of sorts with only two of that group in Greensboro at any one time.
Prediction – I think JT Thor will play the majority of the season in Greensboro, followed by whoever is further back in the rotation out of Richards/Carey and then finally Kai Jones who by mid-way through the year might be with the main roster.
9) Can LaMelo emerge as a leader?
LaMelo has been well praised after his historically strong rookie season, however most of that has been focussed on his play on the court. We’ve not heard much about “LaMelo the leader”, not that we would expect to as a 19 year old rookie. However, moving into his second season he is now the team’s starting point guard and with that comes a league wide expectation that you start to lead both on and off the court. There are different ways to lead, you have the Draymond Green style, shouting at everyone in the huddle, then you have the Tim Duncan style, leading by example. What type of leader will LaMelo be? I honestly have no idea, he’s not shy or bashful that’s for sure, it will be an interesting area of development to watch.
Prediction - He will take a step in the right direction, but nobody can just turn up and decide to be a leader, it’s something that has to be earned from their peers. Terry Rozier seems to have stepped up as a leader organising a summer training week in Miami, so it’s not all on LaMelo like it was on Kemba Walker at times. However, if you look at the top point guards in the NBA such as Curry, Lillard, Paul, they are all known as leaders on their team, it simply comes with the territory as an elite NBA point guard.
10) Who won’t make the final roster?
I felt bad making any one player the feature image for this point so I went for a Sam Vincent training camp throwback. I already touched on this in an earlier article this summer “The Hornets Roster Spot Deathmatch”. However is there a wildcard to make the mix? Charlotte have signed Xavier Sneed, DJ Carton and Cameron McGriff to Exhibit 10 contracts, could one of them emerge? Unlikely, but maybe instead of cutting a player will Charlotte look to make a consolidation trade? You could pair up any of Carey Jr, Richards, Iwundu, Martin, McDaniels into a package deal for another player, none outside of McDaniels likely have any trade value so don’t expect much back but it could make some sense.
Prediction – I think the team are most likely just to cut one of Iwundu/Richards, but I don’t think the team themselves even know yet, everyone is going to get the chance to prove themselves in training camp.