The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Charlotte Hornets pegged at 300-1 odds to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the 2016-17 season.
The same sportsbook has the Hornets' estimated win total set at 39.5, which would be a decrease of 8-9 wins from last season’s finish. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know these aren’t encouraging numbers for head coach Steve Clifford and crew.
For context, a 39-win season last year would have slotted the Hornets in the 10th spot, missing the playoffs by five games. The departures of Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson will provide vacancies the coaching staff will surely need to address, and the loss of late-season spark Courtney Lee will indeed be felt as well. But will the Charlotte Hornets miss the postseason altogether? That’s one of a few questions surrounding the team in Buzz City that I'll attempt to answer.
Who’s going to score in the paint?
To say the Hornets are offensively incompetent in the paint last year would be a compliment. Last season’s frontcourt was by no means ineffective on the offensive side of the ball, but were not the most prolific inside scorers either (I'm being generous, look at the numbers!). Though today’s faster-paced NBA game inevitably demands a proficiency in perimeter scoring, the lack of a complimentary inside threat has been the missing link in creating such perimeter opportunities for this Charlotte team.
Though clearly entering the sunset of his career, 31-year-old Al Jefferson did provide an inside presence that had to be respected when the ball was in his hands. With Jefferson now in Indy, 23-year-old Frank Kaminsky will need to take a big step forward this season. Kaminsky has already looked comfortable splashing home three-pointers, but this team needs him to be an inside presence on offense as well, similar to the “Frank the Tank” we saw at Wisconsin.
Who runs the offense when Kemba sits?
It’s not far-fetched to think Kemba Walker will remain the scoring leader of this Hornets team. The exodus of former backup Jeremy Lin creates a fairly large void in terms of backcourt scoring and playmaking, however. Now a Brooklyn Net, both Jeremy Lin’s evolving hairstyle and exciting late-game heroics continually kept Hornets fans on their toes.
With the Harvard graduate now joining his 6th team in 7 years, the likes of Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts will be asked to carry a decent share of the scoring load when Kemba needs a breather. Both are competent point guards in this league, but neither provide the innate ability to put the ball in the hoop that Lin did. It also wouldn’t be a total shock if Coach Clifford asked his $120 million point-forward, Nic Batum, to be a little more “point” a little less “forward” in these situations. Lastly, the return of swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could also provide an offensive spark in the absence of Walker.
Jeremy + ball = points:
But can he do this?!?
So… Will the Hornets make the playoffs?
Yes, but it won’t be easy. With teams like the Cavaliers, Raptors, Hawks and Celtics all expecting to return to the postseason, we are left with 4 open seats to the party. Last-year’s eighth-seeded Pistons look like a scrappy young team destined to improve, while the self-proclaimed “superteam” Knicks indeed have an increase in talent with the additions of Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. Let’s also not forget about the new-look Chicago Bulls, who added an elderly-but-capable Dwyane Wade and coach-kryptonite-but-talented Rajon Rondo to Jimmy Butler’s team. Though likely the worst jump-shooting team to play the game since players wore slacks and shot into peach baskets, the Bulls will still be a threat to the Hornets in the playoff race.
The continual growth of Kemba’s game, the return of MKG and the development of Frank Kaminsky will all be key factors in whether Charlotte returns to the postseason in the Spring of 2017.
Here's hoping Kidd-Gilchrist picks up right where he left off:
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1