Hornet Hoedown: Lance'll Make 'Em Dance in Charlotte
I'm extremely high on the upcoming season's Charlotte Bob-nets team.
As a Bulls fan, I was devastated we didn't go after Lance Stephenson after striking out on Melo, but props to MJ for snagging him at a good price and giving his team a solid, second scoring option to Big Al Jefferson.
I think this team has a reasonable shot at becoming a 4- or even a 3-seed if their potential is realized. The East is evenly matched right now; that's assuming injuries aren’t a factor, but of course they will be. Charlotte could even advance to the second round next spring, but their lack of depth most likely will put paid to that notion before all is said and done.
PG: Kemba Walker
Dude's a straight stud and has been a fantasy sleeper the last few seasons. In 2013-14, he averaged 17.7 PPG, and 6.1 APG. Although he wasn't a league leader or even a top ten player in any category, he's shown improvement every season and has all the tools to develop into a top-tier point guard.
Obviously, these days, the point is the hardest to play with an abundance of stellar players at that position. But Walker is only 24 and just entering his fourth campaign. I expect him to benefit from considerably more assist opportunities with Stephenson in the fold. Although Walker's defense has been sub par, you can bet it'll be something Coach Steve Clifford works on with him throughout the pre-season.
SG: Lance Stephenson
Ear-blowing aside, Stephenson is a Doberman on defense and finds ways to annoy anyone he guards. Offensively, his field goal percentage, PPG and APG have all gone up with every successive season. Now that he’ll be the main scoring wing, Stephenson will have even more opportunities to excel.
Landing Stephenson was a true coup for ownership, and his presence with the Hornets will open the floor and stop opposing teams from doubling Jefferson every time he gets the ball. Stephenson came to the team of his own free will, so he should be on his best behavior and thus less of a locker room distraction than he was with Indiana.
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
The drop off between Anthony Davis and MKG was unfortunately much greater than Charlotte had hoped when they drafted the Double-Barrel with their No 2 pick, especially considering Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and André Drummond were all drafted after him. Kidd-Gilchrist's shooting percentage is pitiful, which makes him a non-factor in the team’s offense. Unless, of course, he's within pounding distance of ground zero:
That being said, he’s an elite defender, and combined with Stephenson, will be part of one tough defensive tandem. The team hasn’t given up yet on his offense, though, and hopefully, he’s using this summer to work on his shot.
PF: Noah Vonleh/ Cody Zeller
The jury’s still out as to who plays the PF this season now that Josh McRoberts is with Miami, but if all goes well it’ll be a combination of these two with Vonleh taking the reins down the road.
Both compliment Jefferson well but in different ways. Vonleh provides the defensive presence that Jefferson sorely lacks and gives them another solid rebounder in the post. He’s athletic and will probably do much of the running around that Jefferson seems reticent to engage in. As a rookie, it’s unclear whether he’ll develop quickly enough to make an impact this year, but some scouts say he has all the tools to be a star.
Zeller, on the other hand, had a slow start last year but seemed to find a bit of a groove by the end of the season. Skillwise, he can shoot and run the floor well, but so far, his abilities haven’t translated to the professional level. Word out of summer camp is that he’s been showing improvement, but we’ll only know when the rubber meets the road.
C: Al Jefferson
Recently on a BS Report podcast with Bill Simmons, Boogie Cousins singled out Jefferson as the hardest center to guard. He cited the different looks Jefferson gives with his body to find daylight. High praise indeed, and a sentiment echoed by many other players around the league.
Jefferson's points and rebounds were the highest they've been since his Minnesota days, and it's clear that being the guy down low suits Jefferson well. He's currently the NBA's best scoring center -- a term that's become a virtual relic these days -- although that could change with the emergence of players like DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
Now, having Stephenson around will give him even more time in the post and further pressure his defenders.
Coach: Steve Clifford
Clifford made his head coaching debut last year to great success, relatively speaking. Mentored by the Van Gundy Brothers during separate assistant stints with the Rockets and Magic, Clifford’s considered a defensive ace. He finished fourth in Coach of the Year balloting after leading the team to a 43-39 record. That’s just barely over .500, but considering where the team was before, it was quite a feat.
Owner Michael Jordan is surely expecting Clifford to do even better this season, now that he’s gifted him Lance Stephenson at the 2-spot. Clifford’s looking forward to using Stephenson in late-game pick-and-rolls and making him a go-to dude in close games, the way Indiana did.
Charlotte's offense was ranked a measly 23rd last season, so Clifford has now made it a point to expand it beyond Jefferson’s post-up game. He thinks Vonleh is going to need a ton of development but likes the raw talent he possesses.
The sub list is definitely the most glaring problem with the Hornets v2.0.
Journeymen Jannero Pargo and Gary Neal are solid backup guards but a bit undersized when paired against most opposition. Adding Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts gives them more shooting off the bench, which is something the team definitely lacked last season.
If neither Zeller nor Vonleh pan out, though, the team will be weak on the inside, now that McRoberts is gone. Bismack Biyombo has been a disappointment, and it’s unclear what the team is going to do to shore up its rim protection.