2018-19 Preview: Charlotte Hornets

Team owner Michael Jordan, who comes from a lineage of dynasties with both the North Carolina Tar Heels and Chicago Bulls, has brought in some new faces from organizations with winning traditions.

Head coach James Borrego and point guard Tony Parker have been imported from San Antonio to support and grow All-Star Kemba Walker’s game and get the rest of the team to take advantage of the corporate knowledge so many Hornets already possess, after logging so much time here in Charlotte.

Executive Mitch Kupchak, who was the GM for most of the Lakers’ 21st century NBA championship teams, is here to help Charlotte capitalize on this roster of talent, whether that be through a trade, the draft or free agency next summer when most of the cap room will be available for whatever Jordan wants to do.

Front office moves might not be as sexy as a big free-agent signing, but to a franchise lacking cohesive vision in leadership, this will be key in laying the foundation for years to come.

 2018-19 Hornets  Ballhandlers  Wings  Bigs
 Returners  Kemba Walker, Devonte Graham  Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon  Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Willy Hernangomez
 Newcomers  Tony Parker  Miles Bridges  Bismack Biyombo
 Gone  Michael Carter-Williams  Julyan Stone  Dwight Howard, Johnny O’Bryant
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Offense: Coach Borrego is clearly defining the roles of his troops who have long played in Charlotte with overlaying skills that caused duplicity at various times. Do not get it twisted—all-around play is still applauded here in Charlotte. But Borrego want his shooters—Jeremy Lamb and Malik Monk—playing like shooting guards, and he wants last year’s two guard Nicoals Batum to be the all-encompassing wing he is, much like the player he was in Portland. As for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, his role will be the defensive stopper off the bench. Parker? Backup attacker to relive Walker. Williams, Zeller and Kaminsky? All-around bigs with enough minutes to go all-around, now that Dwight Howard has been moved elsewhere. By clearly differentiating their roles, the Hornets now are more inclined to relieve Walker of some of his overwhelming point guard duties. Lamb and Monk know they have the green light to take their man one-on-one off the dribble more frequently than in the past. Batum knows he can shift into Draymond Green mode anytime he wants. Parker, well, Parker will always attack the basket as long as he has life in his legs.

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All this help should only assist the two-time All-Star make it through another arduous season where Walker keeps his plate fuller than most, playing 240 regular season games the past three seasons in a cumulative 8,360 minutes. Expect the same attention to detail, where the Hornets continually rank atop the League in both turnover-free play and drawing foul calls on rim attacks. But hopefully now Charlotte can maintain a top 10 offense that does a better job of getting the ball in the hands of their best shooters at all times.

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Defense: When he was here, head coach Steve Clifford’s teams did a great job of protecting the paint and swallowing up rebounds, with Charlotte leading the NBA in defensive rebound percentage and opponent free throw attempts rate. Nobody got free points or second-chance points on Howard, Williams, Zeller, Kaminsky and company. But they often were exposed on the three-point line, where opponents lit up the Hornets for 11.3 three-pointers per game at a .375 rate, both statistics that ranked amongst the bottom five in the League.

Borrego comes from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s tree, which is famous for preventing open treys, which San Antonio did to the tune of 9.1 three-pointers allowed per game at a .348 rate, both statistics that ranked amongst the NBA’s top 5. Howard’s departure should not negatively affect the bigs. After all, Zeller uncharacteristically missed 49 games in 2017-18 and is healthy for the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, Parker’s addition should help the Borrego teach the Spurs way on D of both transition defense and pressuring the ballhandlers as they bring the ball upcourt. As Pop and now Borrego say, defense starts in the backcourt, not at the rim.

The Hornets’ defensive ace will be Kidd-Gilchrist. His offensive game might never advance beyond what it is now—open midrange jumpers and opportunistic forays to the basket—but he makes it up with simple man-to-man defense where he doesn’t cede and inch while forcing opponents out of their comfort zone.

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Upside: Twenty-year-old wings Miles Bridges and Malik Monk have the wherewithal to take this team to the next level if both can grow their games accordingly. Most NBA aficionados do not realize the potential that resides in Charlotte with a second-string unit that may already rank amongst the League’s best. If Bridges or Monk ever can crack the starting lineup, this team will only become stronger for it. It is already quite startling anticipating the Charlotte second unit of Parker, Monk, Bridges, MKG and Kaminsky. To think these reserves will only grow stronger as Monk and Bridges gain experience? It is really quite an intriguing thought.

Durability: The injury bug does not strike the Hornets organization as frequently as it might other teams. Oh, sure, Zeller may have missed his share of games the past few seasons. But outside of that, most Charlotte regulars have fine constitutions, emblematic of the example specifically set by Walker, Williams and Kaminsky. It does not hurt that 13 of the 15 Hornets are in their 20-something years, with only Parker (36 years old) and Williams (32) being in their 30-something years.

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Synergy: Only Golden State and Miami have as much synergy as these Hornets, who have six players logging 5000-plus minutes in Charlotte teal. The long-time North Carolinans include Walker (18,163 regular season and postseason minutes in Charlotte), Kidd-Gilchrist (9611), Williams (8900), Zeller (7219), Batum (7192), Kaminsky (5686), not to mention Lamb (4349). Borrego and Kupchak may be bringing in some new ideas here and there, but both plan to keep good Hornets culture intact.

Experience: As many years as half of these Hornets have spent together, they do not have much postseason experience to speak of. Half the squad either played on Charlotte’s 2014 and/or 2016 one-round-and-out playoff teams. But outside of that, they do not possess much postseason experience in Charlotte (in previous stops Williams played 42 playoff games in Atlanta; Batum, 34 in Portland; Biyombo, 20 in Toronto; Lamb, 11 in Oklahoma City). That was one of the reasons the organization pursued Parker, a four-time NBA champion and 17-year veteran of 226 playoff games—more than the whole Charlotte roster combined.

Win Frame: 42 to 46 wins