There is a lot of hype surrounding the Charlotte Hornets this season. Will they live up to it? What are their best and worst case scenarios?
The past four seasons for the Charlotte Hornets have gone as such: 2013-14 – Playoffs (43 wins), 2014-15 – No Playoffs (33 wins), 2015-16 – Playoffs (48 wins) and 2016-17 – No Playoffs (36 wins). As I’m sure most of us already know, they’re a tough team to figure out. To be fair, parts of the down years can be attributed to injuries. Other parts, can just simply be attributed to erratic play and not being able to finish close games.
This up and down trend between seasons makes them a tough team to predict for. Generally speaking, it seems most fans do have fairly high expectations for the team this season. Not making the playoffs would be looked at as a failure. In fact, a lot of fans expect the team to win a playoff series.
That would, of course, be a great thing, but you also have to prepare for the worst. That being said, I’m going to be looking at the best and worst case scenarios for how the Hornets season will go. We might as well get the bad news out of the way first, so let’s start with that.
Worst Case Scenario: Finish 36-46 and Fail to Make the Playoffs
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There are plenty of varying opinions on how the Hornets offseason went. One thing is to be said though, they will NOT be worse than last season. At worst, they should finish with the same record.
A lot of things have to go wrong for this outcome to occur, hence “worst” case scenario.
One of those things would be a starter missing major time. By major time, I mean 20 games or more like Cody Zeller did last season. Steve Clifford is notorious for being strict with his rotations, and whenever an injury forces the starting line-up and rotations to be changed, the team tends to struggle. Last season, the Hornets were 26-19 with their five normal starters. They were just 10-27 without.
Players need rest from time to time, and minor tweaks happen, that won’t be the downfall of the team. It’ll be if a guy misses such a large portion of the season, the team has to get used to playing with them again once he comes back when problems could arise. Perhaps if some injuries do come over the Hornets, they will be more prepared with their added depth over the offseason.
An additional problem that could lead the Hornets season astray is Dwight Howard. Saying this fan base is excited to see him here in Charlotte is an understatement. We’ve seen the work he’s put in over the are. We’ve seen his statements on how he believes he can turn his career around with Coach Clifford.
Only what if that doesn’t happen?
What if Dwight really is just too far past his prime to help lead a team with playoff aspirations? Or worse, what if he really is the “locker room cancer” some people seem to think he is?
The Hornets have always been one of those teams where everybody seems to get along well, even in their struggles. It goes without saying that if Dwight messed up that team chemistry, it could seriously derail any goals the team has.
Realistically, so many other things outside of that would have to go wrong for the Hornets to be that bad in a weakened Eastern Conference. An aging Marvin Williams would have to drastically regress. Malik Monk would have to start showing early signs of being a bust.
Long story short, a 36-46 outcome is very unlikely for the team. Sure it’s possible, but let’s move onto a more positive note.
Best Case Scenario: Finish 50-32 and Earn the East’s 3rd Seed
Before anybody thinks I may be getting ahead of myself, just remember this is the “best” case scenario.
The talent is certainly there for the team to be this good. Getting that talent to project onto the court and avoid injuries? That’s another story.
A significant thing that needs to occur for the team to reach its full potential is the clear establishment of a second best player. Last year it was statistically Nic Batum. If you watched the games, however, other than Kemba Walker nobody else consistently stood out.
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The great teams in the NBA generally have at least two guys that are either at an All-Star level or right below it. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. John Wall and Bradley Beal. Some teams even have more.
The rest of the league needs to look at the Hornets and not just think of Kemba. They need to think “Kemba and Dwight”, “Kemba and Nic”, whoever it may be, one of the other guys need to step up as well. If one of them steps up, the Hornets could become a force around the league.
This next point may be beating a dead from the entire offseason. If the Hornets get back to being an elite NBA defense, success will come easy. While I think they are on the better half of the league in terms of offensive talent, that alone won’t give them maximum success compared to other teams.
We’ve seen as recently as last year of a team making a living on defense successfully. The Utah Jazz was not a bad team offensively. Gordon Hayward is a great scorer like Kemba Walker, but that’s not the main reason they won 51 games. It was defenders like Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles that brought that success.
With Dwight Howard, the Hornets now have a rim protector like that. They’ve always had the perimeter defender in MKG. There are no excuses when it comes to the team’s defense this season.
That, along with the emergence of a true sidekick for Kemba could take the team to new heights. Even with that, it will still be tough to reach 50 wins for the first time since 1998. The Wizards may have to struggle if the Hornets want to finish with a better record than them. There’s a lot of evenly matched teams in the midst of the East, the Hornets just need to separate themselves.
Aside from the good record, the third seed would be great for the Hornets. For this team to get to host a home playoff series, the city would be ecstatic.
It goes without saying that in this scenario the team not only wins a playoff series but competes well in the second round.
Not everything will work out the way the Hornets want them to this season. It’s pretty likely the team has a season in the middle of these two scenarios (hopefully on the better side).