Who are the Charlotte Hornets? Are they the team that went 5-11 in December, which included five double-digit losses? Or, are they the team that posted double-digit victories at Oklahoma City and Golden State? The likely answer is neither, as the Hornets are assuredly somewhere in between those two vastly different ends of the spectrum.
While playing without their head coach due to an undisclosed health concern, Charlotte’s only consistent trait has been inconsistency. After a very underwhelming start to the season, however, the Hornets have recently shown signs of life.
Below I’ll examine three key events that have contributed to where the Hornets are today, with differing viewpoints for each.
1. Hornets draft Malik Monk 11th overall 2017 NBA draft
PRO: The natural-born scorer left Lexington, Ky., with truckloads of hype surrounding him. Monk is a proven offensive asset that can get buckets anywhere on the court. Charlotte desperately needed an infusion of talent on offense to pair alongside Kemba Walker, and Monk’s resume fits the bill.
CON: While selecting Malik Monk, Rich Cho and the Hornets brass simultaneously passed on budding stars Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers. Sure, no one has a crystal ball in predicting how these teenagers will pan out in the NBA, but Cho’s track record in the draft has been far from pristine, leaving fans a bit cynical of the selection. Monk’s continued struggles, meanwhile, have led to a recent assignment to the G-League affiliate Greensboro Swarm.
2. Charlotte acquires Dwight Howard from Atlanta
PRO: After trading for the polarizing physical specimen that is Dwight Howard (a deal that was, by all accounts, driven by majority owner Michael Jordan), there was a predictable cascade of skepticism from the national media. Nevertheless, Howard has had an extremely productive year thus far on the court, “quietly” averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds while providing an invaluable toughness to the Hornets frontcourt.
CON: Despite the added muscle, the Hornets actually rank one spot lower in defensive efficiency (14th) versus last season (13th) and five spots lower in opponent shooting percentage (9th) versus last year (4th). The most glaring number, however, is the diminutive figure in the win column. After 37 games last season the Hornets stood at 20-17 compared to just 14-23 this year.
3. Nicolas Batum tears ligament in elbow in preseason, misses 12 regular season games
PRO: Well, there’s never a “pro” to a player being injured, but as a consequence of the swingman missing time it did open up valuable minutes for Jeremy Lamb. The fifth-year shooting guard posted averages of 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range during Batum’s absence.
CON: The Hornets missed Batum’s stability at the position, winning just five of the 12 games he sat out. To make matters worse, it doesn’t appear the 29-year-old from France is fully recovered from his ailing elbow, posting a career-low 3-point shooting percentage and his lowest rebounding totals in eight years. Most concerning, however, is his ongoing passiveness on the court as well as the growing concern that he’ll need an additional offseason procedure for the elbow to fully recover. Is this a good time to also remind you that Batum is still owed roughly $77 million over the next three years?
While these three events certainly do not define the Charlotte Hornets' 2017-18 season, they are absolutely playing a role. If the Hornets are able to keep their recent momentum while continuing to build chemistry on the court, they could be fighting for a playoff spot once again.
If the team does not improve defensively, however, and continues to slide without Steve Clifford on the sidelines, it very well could be another year of missed opportunities in the Queen City.
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1