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The Hornets Might Be Better Than You Expect

Attached is a screenshot of when I first wanted to write this article. October 14, 2019. However, I thought I was maybe *too* optimistic. Ultimately, I decided to condense my thoughts into a Twitter thread posted October 22nd. Then opening night happened, and now I’m fully bought into it. Right or wrong I need to plant my flag in this.

The Charlotte Hornets might be better than everyone expects. First, we need to establish the facts. The Hornets won 39 games last season, which is a lot considering how many we had to slug through. Mainly those wins came off the back of franchise leader Kemba Walker and sidekick Jeremy Lamb. The two were one of the best backcourts in the league last year. As we all know, the Hornets lost both players this offseason. Not great, Bob. However, the Hornets began establishing “Kemba and the ‘Avengers'” last year. The “core four” as I like to call them: Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk, and Devonte Graham. These are indisputable facts of last season.

The Hornets brought in Terry Rozier to fill the starting point guard role. I truly don’t know how great, good, or bad Rozier will be during his first season as a full-time starter. In Boston, Rozier only started a few dozen games. From what I’ve seen of those games I am very much inclined to believe that Rozier will be a quality starting point guard in the NBA. Terry Rozier does a lot of things well and some things not so well. First, he’s a lightning bolt of speed. That was evident if you watched the first game versus Chicago. He is also a stat sheet stuffer. In my opinion he’s Russell Westbrook lite. In a bad game he had 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. He has the ability to do nearly everything which means the gap between Rozier and Kemba is not as wide as most people make it out to be (I REALLY don’t want to compare the two). There are two big issues in Rozier’s game. Shooting and defense. Let’s not get this twisted, Terry Rozier CAN score at will. He’s a wizard at breaking down defenders. However the question is can he become an effective shooter. Finally defense is where things get confusing. There was a point in time during his Celtics tenure when he was the team’s best defender statistically, but no one knows if that was a product of the Celtics’ system or if he’s legitimately good. We will get answers to both of these questions throughout the season.

Next, Cody Zeller is healthy. For now. It was evident in the preseason and in game one how important having a versatile big is for the Hornets offense (more on this later). Zeller moves extremely effectively on the court and more importantly knows where to move. He is without a doubt our best big man. Health is the only concern for him as he has shown to be made of glass. Also friendly reminder that he is only 27 years old.

Thirdly, we all expect the Avengers to take a step forward, right? Then shouldn’t that equate to more wins, logically? This is the point that makes me laugh the most. We all saw how good Dwayne Bacon played last season. Miles Bridges showed flashes of being a cornerstone. Devonte Graham can be a very good back up point guard (especially if he shoots the three ball like he did against the Bulls all season). I think we all want Malik Monk to be good, and the front office seems committed to him by not trading him at last year’s trade deadline. Lastly, bring in PJ Washington who my goodness is one of the most fundamentally sound rookies I’ve seen. I disliked the selection during the draft for being a “safe pick.” Note to self: Safe can be good. From what we’ve seen so far, Washington can shoot the three, score around the rim, and defend. I’m so impressed. The problem with last year’s team is that players didn’t step up and contribute consistently. But now having the now “core five” seeing extensive minutes to learn and improve, they will have the opportunity to do so and I think we all expect them to.

Finally, the Hornets installed a brand new offense and it’s a good one. I loved the action that we ran during preseason and the pace we played during opening night. The new offense works perfectly with our roster. We run a five-out system that revolves around the big with everyone else working off of him. Out of this new system we get pick and rolls with Rozier and Zeller, DHOs or curl screen slashing with Bacon and Zeller, screen and replace with wings, and threes and layups. Coach Borrego talked about threes and layups a lot this offseason. This offense utilizes everyone on the roster effectively. We have a team of athletes that need to be in constant motion to see success. We’re going to need that kind of ball movement to create open shots. The assist numbers were crazy in Wednesday’s win against the Bulls: Rozier – 6, Graham – 8, Bridges/Bacon/Monk – 3 each, It honestly reminded me a lot of the Spurs. While the Spurs certainly had more talent than the Hornets, it’s the system that maximizes everyone on the court. I’ll do a full offensive tape breakdown later.

The over-under in Vegas this season was 23.5. This just felt low. I mapped out Charlotte’s schedule initially and I had them at a minimum of 21 wins. That is only assuming that we beat up on teams at the bottom. There are obviously plenty of games December through March that the Hornets can win based off of other team’s schedules (back to backs, for example), injuries, and flat out effort. All of these things in conjunction with the points I just laid out make it easy for the Hornets to smash the over.

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