Kemba and the Promised Land

New Faces: Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions, Brian Roberts, Marco Belinelli, Christian Wood,

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 48-34

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 4th: Defensive Rebounding. 5th: Free Throw Percentage. 8th: 3-Point Percentage, Defensive Raiting. 9th: Offensive Rating.

Leading Scorer: Kemba Walker: 20.9

Leading Rebounder(s): Al Jefferson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams: 6.4

In response to their 28th ranked offense and missing out on the playoffs in 2015, the Charlotte Hornets restructured their entire team out of necessity. They dumped Lance Stephenson who was a colossal failure and Gerald Henderson who was an underachiever. They added Nic Batum from the Blazers and failed Los Angeles Clipper, Spencer Hawes. Jeremy Lin came on board after a disastrous season with the Lakers. They picked up Jeremy Lamb from Oklahoma City. All four players were quality perimeter scorers but only Batum was a solid defender.

How did it work out?

The Hornets won 15 more games. Kemba Walker began the journey into stardom, his first 20 point year. But the Hornets offense remained stuck. They were 27th in field goal percentage, 28th in two point attempts, 24th in two point percentage. They scored 103.4 points which ranked them 11th but they scored only one way, on the perimeter. They were one of the worst offensive rebounding teams because they just don’t have a lot of explosion in the front court. That limits second chance opportunities.

The Hornets big man, Al Jefferson, had a terrible year and he is gone (Pacers). Jeremy Lin, a free agent signing, had a bounce back year even as he suffered through slumps. He is gone too (Brooklyn). Replacing Jefferson is an even worse player, Roy Hibbert. Hibbert played like his legs were filled with cement last season. With the Lakers, a team with no size so Hibbert had free range around the rim, he had a career low in points (5.9) and rebounds (4.9). He played 23 minutes a game and couldn’t grab 5 rebounds. He looked slow and plodding and unable to adapt to faster actions when the floor was spaced so he is  a huge question mark this year. Hibbert was a project when he entered the NBA and it is a strong possibility he reached his ceiling with the Pacers and it’s all downhill from here on out.

Defense has always been Steve Clifford’s calling card. He has three very good defenders in Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. They brought back to Charlotte Brian Roberts, a decent defender, and signed Ramon Sessions, an awful one.

Besides getting to the playoffs last year, the Hornets finally saw their lottery pick thrive. Kemba Walker was sensational in 2015-16. He proved he was a NBA scorer. He dropped 50 points against Utah and 40 points against Orlando. He had 11 games of 30+ points, 28 games of 20+ points. Only 6 times did he fail to score in double figures. He had a career high in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, 2-point percentage, free throw attempts, free throw percentage, total rebounds, steals. He had the highest PER of his four year career: 20.8, and the highest offensive rating. It was a breakout campaign and now the  question is how much better can he become?

As his offense hit the stratosphere, his playmaking took a step back. For Kemba to be a top-5 point guard he is going to have to learn the balance between making others better and getting his.

The Hornets didn’t add much in terms of high quality free agents this summer but the East is weak. They should come close to what they did last year, that is if Kemba has a similar season. If he doesn’t, the Hornets are doomed. There isn’t much playmaking on the Hornets outside of Kemba, no one who can really create their own shot or make others better.

The Hornets have a shot at winning the division. Miami is in rebuild mode and the Hawks have to learn to play with Dwight Howard. The plus side of bringing back a nearly identical team is that they already know how to play together.

The Hornets open up on the road before coming home and playing a tough Celtics team in the season opener. The first month they play the Pacers, Raptors, Hawks, Grizzlies, Spurs at home and have to deal with the Cavs, Knicks, Grizzlies and Pistons on the road.  The Hornets still haven’t made it to elite fan base status yet; they are not on television Christmas Day, but they are building their team the right way. Defense. A hyper energetic, offensively skilled point guard.

It’s no longer about fitting all of the pieces together. Now it’s about taking the next step.

Prediction: 46-36

photo via llananba