“I told you it would be OK,” shooting guard Nic Batum recently mentioned to Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer in the home locker room. This statement of reassurance could have been regarding many different facets of the team, as the Charlotte Hornets entered the season with a myriad of question marks.
How will Michael-Kidd Gilchrist look in his long-awaited return from a shoulder injury? How will the Hornets compete for a playoff position in a seemingly strengthened Eastern Conference? When will the HoneyBees swimsuit calendar finally be released? We need answers!
After roughly a month into the season it looks like we’ve found resolutions to nearly every important Charlotte Hornets question currently in existence. Here’s a look at each major preseason question, and how the Hornets have responded thus far.
THE OBVIOUS QUESTIONS
Can Kemba Walker take another step forward?
Improved field goal percentage, improved three-point percentage, more rebounds, more steals and almost four more points per game. That’s what Kemba Walker did last season. With backcourt counterpart Jeremy Lin now in Brooklyn, the expectations for Walker are even loftier this year, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. Averaging career bests in points per game (25), field goal (47.5%) and three-point shooting (43.5%), Kemba is currently on pace to make his first All Star Game. At this rate the only thing we’ll be missing about Jeremy Lin is his cool hair.
What can be expected of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist upon his return?
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or “MKG” as the kids call him, is the perfect glue guy. He’s a gifted athlete with a motor that never stops. Perhaps this non-stop hustle has played a role in his recent injury concerns, but coach Steve Clifford wouldn’t have it any other way. Kidd-Gilchrist is a winner and is already making an impact on both ends of the floor. Only time will tell whether he has the durability to play at this level for 82 games.
Will the defense be as good as last year?
Yes. Better actually. Steve Clifford’s guys rank fifth in defensive efficiency in the infancy of the 2016-17 season, which can be compared to their already-stout tenth place rank last year. Don’t overlook the aforementioned MKG either, as he routinely covers the opposing team’s best player and recently forced a guy named LeBron James into his worst shooting night of the season.
THE UNDER-THE-RADAR QUESTIONS
What does Roy Hibbert have left in the tank?
It feels like yesterday that the former Indiana Pacer was blocking Carmelo Anthony's dunk attempt in a pivotal Easter Conference playoff game. Hibbert has always been a daunting presence under the rim, but just hasn’t seemed like the same dude since leaving Indianapolis two years ago. After a brief hiatus in Los Angeles, Hibbert is looking to bounce back to his old self in Charlotte. Thus far the former Georgetown Hoya has been steady, providing important physicality and defense to the otherwise perimeter-focused frontcourt.
Can Marco Belinelli provide the perimeter scoring threat this offense needs?
It wasn’t a popular move when General Manager Rich Cho and majority owner Michael Jordan decided to part ways with the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft to land a 30-year-old role player from the Sacramento Kings. I’ll admit, I was skeptical as well. If you consider the team’s core as Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky and Nicolas Batum, the average age is under 25. Remove Batum from the equation and this age drops to 24. Why add a seemingly one-dimensional journeyman in exchange for potentially another key building block of the future?
Fast-forward to late November and Belinelli looks like much more than a role player. The Italian sharpshooter has proven to be a huge component of the pace and space offense Clifford loves to run, drilling 48% of his three-pointers. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the Hornets would have landed a star with the sacrificed draft pick. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush… or three in the hoop in Belinelli’s case.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY...
When will Michael Jordan stop wearing those baggy jeans?
The real victory in Charlotte this season will be when “His Airness” finds a way to replace the denim disaster that seems to be occurring on his legs. You’ve all seen it. Arguably the greatest basketball player in the history of planet Earth, MJ insists on sitting courtside in enough denim fabric to shield the BB&T Ballpark infield during a rain delay. C’mon Mike. Give Gheorghe Muresan his dungarees back and we’ll all go home happy. Sincerely, textile mills across the world.
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1