Hornets will need more from their starters

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With the key losses of Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson, the Hornets have a tall task on their hands to repeat their 48-win total from last season.

The Eastern Conference has been shaken up like a martini since Lebron James hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in Oracle Arena on June 19, and many pundits expect the competition in the East to now be even stronger.

The Cavaliers remain atop the mountain in the East. Last year’s second seeded Raptors lost playoff-marvel (and former Charlotte Bobcat) Bismack Biyombo, but resigned DeMar DeRozan while adding Jared Sullinger to the fold.

The Hawks should be improved with Dwight Howard, and some are predicting Brad Stevens’ Celtics make the leap to the 2-seed with newly acquired big man, Al Horford.

Oh, and don’t forget about Dwyane Wade now wearing a different shade of red in Chicago with the Bulls.

In short, if last year's path to the playoffs for the Hornets was fairly smooth, then this season there are multiple gullies, a slew of tree branches and a lurking grizzly bear in their way.

But rather than envision a Bob Ross painting, let’s get down to the brass tacks of what the Hornets need from each member of the starting rotation to return to the postseason in 2017.

Kemba Walker – PG – With just journeyman Ramon Sessions (the Toyota Corolla of NBA point guards) and Brian Roberts behind him on the depth chart, Walker will need to improve his all-around game for the second straight year if Charlotte expects to play basketball in May. Kemba set career-highs last season in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounding and scoring, but Steve Clifford will likely ask even more of the former UConn Husky this time around. It appears that ESPN analysts are also expecting big things for Walker, selecting the point guard to a list of First-time All-Star candidates.

Nicolas Batum – SG – After apparently going into chill mode during the Olympic games, Batum will need to refocus for the start of the 2016-17 season in Charlotte. The versatile swingman was held to single digits multiple times in Rio, which places him just behind Ryan Lochte on the “Worst Trips to Brazil” list. Batum needs to refocus in order to start earning the $24M check Michael Jordan will be cutting him this season.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – SF – Ah yes, the X-factor of the Hornets entire season. OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are still very high expectations for the return of MKG in Charlotte. The small forward only finished six full games last season before re-injuring his shoulder, but during that short stretch posted two double-doubles in addition to a 20-point, 7-rebound night in a victory over the visiting Bulls. Kidd-Gilchrist won’t turn 23 until the end of September and has the opportunity to be both the best defender and fast-break threat in a Hornets uniform this season. His health remains the primary obstacle to accomplishing those two feats, however.

Marvin Williams – PF – Yes, he was drafted ahead of Chris Paul, and probably hasn’t had the prototypical career of a number two overall pick. But ever since joining the Atlanta Hawks in 2005 the former North Carolina Tarheel has been nothing but consistent. The Hornets need more of the same consistency from the tough-as-nails power forward this year, as his blue collar, hard-hat mentality has been invaluable to Steve Clifford’s team identity. Marvin is like your car’s air conditioning in the middle of summer. You don’t brag about it to your friends when it is functioning properly. You basically take it for granted until the day it stops working, and suddenly you are showing up places a sweaty mess, wishing you had your car’s Marvin Williams back.

Cody Zeller – C – The seven-footer is now joined by only Roy Hibbert and sophomore Frank Kaminsky on the depth chart at the center position. With Al Jeffersonnow in Indianapolis, this trio will need to generate some offense for the Hornets to compete with the East’s finest. Cody shot a career-high 53% from the field last year, which was predominantly a result of two-handed dunks, awkward put-backs and the occasional baseline jumper. Zeller has always hung his hat on the defensive side of the ball (see below), but this is shaping up to be a season where every Hornet will need to wear multiple hats.

Cody Zeller Denies Kristaps Porzingis at the Rim

Cody Zeller rises up to deny the Porzingis dunk attempt. About the NBA: The NBA is the premier professional basketball league in the United States and Canada. The league is truly global, with games and programming in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages, as well as NBA rosters at the start of the 2014-15 season featuring a record 101 international players from 37 countries and territories.

Christopher Kreider | @krydr1