2017-18 Preview: Charlotte Hornets

By Josh Eberley #41

There was a time where adding Dwight Howard would’ve been the news of the offseason. It wasn’t too long ago that Howard was perhaps only second to LeBron James in terms of overall value to a franchise. However, in 2017 and with the tsunami of movement we received this summer, at best it’s an afterthought and at worse it is Howard’s last chance at redemption. The Hornets ended last season in NBA purgatory, not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to add a probable future star. The 36-46 record put the Hornets 11th in the conference and they are hoping a busy summer by most regular standards will put them back in the thick of it this year.

Hornets 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Kemba Walker, Treveon Graham Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, Johnny O’Bryant
Newcomers Malik Monk, Michael Carter-Williams, Terry Henderson Dwayne Bacon Dwight Howard
Gone Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli Aaron Harrison Miles Plumlee, Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: First time All-Star Kemba Walker carried this unit last year. He scored 30 percent of his team’s points when he was on the floor, a mark that put him 18th in the League. For context, fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard averaged 30.3 percent and 32.8 percent respectively. Four of the top five three-man lineups (minimum 400 minutes) the Hornets had offensively last year had Walker inserted. The only three-man combo in the top five offensively to not have Walker was also the only one to have a negative net rating. On a whole, the Hornets had the 14th ranked offense and defense last season but their net rating was the 12th best of all NBA teams. A mark that lands you in the playoffs most years, so where do the Hornets turn from here?

Dwight Howard hasn’t been much of a difference maker on offense of late but pairing him with either of Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky keeps the team spacing such that Howard crashing the glass doesn’t clog things up. Walker ranks in the 86th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball handler, Howard’s willingness to set screens and be an active roll man could pay off immensely. That said, there were rumors out of Houston and Atlanta that Howard wanted post-ups and didn’t like how often the ballhandlers called for him to come up and screen. Howard might be on his last NBA team if things go poorly in Charlotte, it’ll be interesting to see how well he meshes with his new teammates. Hopefully Malik Monk is the steal many believe him to be. A sniper who can pull up regularly off the dribble would open things up immensely for either of Walker or Nicolas Batum to run things while the other is sitting.

Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: Here’s the trickiest part of the Howard acquisition—Cody Zeller is good. He was the most important player for them defensively and when he missed time the defense literally crumbled. Zeller missed 20 games last year and the Hornets went 3-17 without him. (33-29 with him.) When Zeller was on the floor the team enjoyed a net rating of +5.5, when he sat they were a -3.6. Now if you’re head coach Steve Clifford, how do you use arguably your second most valuable player last year (Zeller) while also making use of the big name acquisition you made in Howard. All the while knowing full well the locker room could suffer if you botch the management. The good thing is that Clifford is very familiar with Howard, having been part of Stan Van Gundy’s coaching staff during Howard’s zenith in Orlando. The Hornets aren’t particularly deep, unlike say the Miami Heat. There’s little question to the team pecking order short of Howard and Zeller. Walker, Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have their roles etched in stone.

If Howard comes into camp motivated with a new attitude and gets back to anywhere near where he was his first year in Houston, the Hornets defense could be elite. If Howard lacks the awareness to give Charlotte his full attention, well, the Hornets have a solid fall back option in Zeller.

Upside: Two years ago, the Hornets were in a white-knuckle first-round series with the Miami Heat after winning 48 games. Last year, they caught some bad breaks but played better than their record showed. It’s hard to see a situation where the additions of Howard, Monk and some luck with injuries don’t make them a better team this season. As mentioned above, Howard’s attitude will be the main factor in how far they jump. But if any of the Hornets main crew steps up that should buy them a playoff ticket in a weak Eastern conference.

Durability: Zeller missing time was the killer last year but Batum seems to be ailed by minor injuries constantly. If Batum got a clean bill of health it’d go a long way in bringing stability to an offense devoid of secondary creators. When Walker sits and Batum out of the lineup, the Hornets can’t manufacture much offense.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Synergy: Howard, look at Howard. It’s maddening to be so focused on a new addition when the position is already a place of strength for the team but you can’t look past Howard’s last three stops: Kobe Bryant and Howard failed to click in Los Angeles; Howard and James Harden were mismatches in Houston; Dennis Schroder and Howard were never on the same page in Atlanta. Is Walker next? Walker, Batum, Williams, Kaminsky, Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller know each other, there’s chemistry there. Howard is the new guy in town and there are a lot of skeletons in the closet. If Howard fits in this should be one of the league’s tighter units, if he doesn’t, look for an unnaturally high amount of news stories out of Charlotte this season.

Experience: This team is probably middle of the pack experience-wise. Walker has limited playoff run but Batum, Williams and Howard have all been there enough to steer the ship. Should the Hornets get back to the postseason there are enough veterans in-house to steady the younger players.

Win frame: 40-45 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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