If all goes as it has so far, the Charlotte Hornets will win the Southeast Division for the first time in their history. That is a historical achievement for a team that five years ago was a depressing 7-59. It was a lockout season so only 66 games were played in 2011-12 and in those 66 games the Bobcats could do nothing right. They were coached by Paul Silas and were last in field goal percentage, last in three point percentage, 29th in rebounding, 29th in steals, last in points scored, 29th in field goal percentage defense, 22nd in 3-point defense. The leading scorer, Gerald Henderson, averaged 15.1 points a game. The leading rebounder, Bismack Biyombo, averaged 5.8 rebounds a game. Kemba Walker was a rookie and had quite the NBA introduction.
Five years later the world has turned. Because of shrewd deal making, trades, player development, defense and Walker establishing himself as a star, Charlotte has the fifth best record in the east and should make the playoffs, barring a catastrophic injury. They have the 7th best defensive rating. They are 11th in points scored. Kemba Walker is shooting 41% from three. They are further helped by a weak division, the only team with a winning record. Dwyane Wade left Miami plunging them into the lottery. Al Horford left Atlanta plunging them into mediocrity. John Wall and the Wizards are a mess. Orlando is Orlando, meaning not ready for prime time. So Charlotte should win the division.
But they have their weaknesses. They are 26th in fast break points, 23rd in field goal percentage, 28th in offensive rebounding. They lost to the Wizards because they couldn’t make the right play at the right time. Shots were missed. Rebounds were missed. They gave up 38 points in the third quarter on their way to a three point loss and third straight “L”.
Kemba Walker: He is on track for his All-Star game debut. He is making more shots than he ever has in his career, both two point and three point shots, even as he is rebounding less. His assists are near the same as last year, 5.2. His defense has been extraordinary and consistent these last four seasons as his offense has climbed. The weakness in his game is a lack of versatility. He scores at the rim or long ball. He doesn’t offer much in the midrange. He has a higher +/- on the road (+6.1) but his offense is electric at home. He is ranked 5th among point guards (Real Plus-Minus) only trailing Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Steph Curry. Grade: A
Nic Batum: After signing a big deal, Batum is struggling so far with his shots, a career low 39.0%. His three ball is comparatively anemic too, 34.1%, the second lowest of his career. Batum leads the Hornets in rebounding, a problem for the Hornets long term. They don’t have much explosiveness up front. Batum is it. He is a great ball mover, leading the team in assists as he has morphed into a Draymond Green do everything player. But his 13.6 points is a drop off from last season’s 14.9 points. Batum is a defender and he hasn’t disappointed on that end of the floor, better than he was last year. But his offense is stuck in the mud. 36.5% on catch and shoots. 35.0% on pull ups. Outside of 10 feet he has been a 35% shooter. In those same areas last year he was making 40+% of his shots. He is better on the road than at home, a higher +/- (6.0) but his three point shot making on the road is abysmal, 29.0%. He is ranked 8th among shooting guards, just behind Norman Powell (Toronto), Dwyane Wade (Chicago), and C.J. McCollum (Portland). Grade: B-
Marvin Williams: He also re-signed with Charlotte after a nice 2015-16 year. He can’t seem to find his shot. Similar to Batum, he is struggling putting the ball in the hole. He has never shot under 40% but he is doing exactly that this year, 35.2%. His three ball is okay but nothing like last year’s 40.2%. His rebounding is down from last year as are his assists and his blocks and it makes you wonder was last year a career year for Williams never to be duplicated again? His 9.7 points are two points less than last season. But his defense remains strong. As far as efficiency with the rock, not so much. 34.2% on catch and shoots. 35.7% on pull ups. He is an anemic 21.7% 3-10 feet. Last year from that same area he was 52.7%. On the road his three ball is 29.2%. He is ranked 47th among power forwards, just behind Jabari Parker (Milwaukee) and Julius Randle (Lakers). Grade: C-
Cody Zeller: A career high 25 minutes is producing a career high shot making number, 60.8% but his free throw shooting has taken a turn for the worse, 64.8% and he missed some crucial ones late against Washington. The big man is scoring 10.9 points a game, more than he has ever scored but his boards are less, 5.9, pretty pathetic for a seven footer. He should average more than 1.8 offensive rebounds. His defense is stellar, as it has been his entire career and he is exceptional in the midrange. On the road he is fed the ball more and thus shoots better. His road free throws are up to 72%, all this playing four less minutes on the road. But he does more with less. He is ranked 6th among centers which is why he was handed a contract extension. He trails DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Rudy Gobert (Utah), Al Horford (Boston), Marc Gasol (Memphis) and Lucas Nogueira (Toronto). Grade: B+
photo via llananba