NBA Season Preview: Charlotte Hornets

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 23-42 (.354%), 9th in Eastern Conference, Missed Playoffs
Head Coach: James Borrego

The Hornets had a tough year in 2019-20, as the end of the Kemba Walker era produced a 23-42 (.354%) season, and left the franchise without a star player. There were a couple of bright spots to speak of though, as 2nd year man Devonte' Graham made an impressive leap from 2nd round draft pick to averaging 18.2 ppg, 7.5 apg & 2.4 3-balls per game. Terry Rozier had a similar season, averaging 18.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.1 apg & 2.7 3-pointers per game on 40.7% shooting. Miles Bridges and rookie PJ Washington stepped into more prominent roles once Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were moved, which aided them in their development. Unfortunately, the result was the team's 15th post-season missed this century. 

How Will LaMelo Ball impact the Hornets

LaMelo Ball was drafted 3rd overall by the Hornets and is expected to do big things in the NBA, and is one of the pre-season front runners for Rookie of the Year. As noted in our draft preview, Ball has great size for a point guard at 6'7", with excellent vision and ball handling skills. He should be able to play in 3-guard sets with Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier, both of whom are more than capable catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters. His rebounding ability will allow him to hit Miles Bridges for alley-oops in transitions as well as PJ Washington for trailing 3balls and slashes to the basket. Unfortunately, Ball doesn’t have a reliable jumper, so in the pick-and-roll teams will go underneath screens and play the pass. He will also have to guard against fatigue, as he hasn’t played anything close to an NBA schedule – not that any NBA rookies have – but LaMelo less so.

Besides the on-court tangibles that LeMelo brings to the Hornets, he is already one of the most high-profile players to wear a Hornets jersey in recent memory. He’s already created a buzz (no pun intended) around the team that hasn’t previously existed, and he should sell a lot of jerseys, especially if he can get the Hornets off to a hot start. Look for LaMelo to impact winning in Charlotte and end up in the top 3 for ROY voting.

What type of impact will Gordon Hayward make on the Hornets?

One hopes that for $120M over 4 years, Gordon Hayward will lead the Hornets to the playoffs every year and be the best player on the floor. Unfortunately for Hornets fans, Hayward is on the wrong side of 30 and on downside of his career. The nasty leg injury he sustained five minutes into his first game as a Celtic was a shame, and accelerated his decline as a player. He’s simply not the player he once was, and he certainly isn’t worth an average of $30M a year. Will he help the Hornets? No doubt. He brings a veteran presence and 29 games of playoff experience to a franchise that is thirsting to make the playoffs. Will he be the reason they succeed? More than likely not. It’s pretty easy to imagine a scenario in three years where the Hornets are trying to unload Hayward’s exorbitant contract to a team looking for an expiring salary. Although Hayward may be a serviceable player during his Hornets tenure, don’t expect him to play like someone earning superstar money.

Will the Hornets compete for the playoffs?

Given the new format for teams seeded 7-10 this year in the NBA, it’s safe to assume the Hornets will be looking to get into a play-in game. Of course, once into that single elimination game, anyone can get hot and anything can happen. However, apart from the addition of Ball and Hayward, this team is the same that 23-42 and was not invited to participate in the bubble. Will they even make it to the play-in game? 

Tom's Take: The Hornets will be a lottery team once again. 

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire