After making the play-in tournament last year, the Charlotte Hornets figure to be a contender for a back-end playoff spot. Last year, the team was the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. This year, the team brings back the bulk of last year’s team with a few interesting additions in Kelly Oubre Jr., James Bouknight, and Mason Plumlee.
The team lost Cody Zeller to free agency, but it appears they filled in their holes with the right pieces. Assuming LaMelo Ball can stay healthy, the team might have their first true superstar since Kemba Walker. The Hornets may not have a flashy lineup, but it might be enough for the team to make a dark-horse playoff run during the regular season.
Point Guard - LaMelo Ball
Ball became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double last season. He averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. The 20-year old may not be ready to compete for an All-Star appearance, but he is one of the most entertaining up-and-coming youngsters in the game.
The Hornets haven’t had a superstar in the area since Kemba Walker, the team’s all-time leading scorer, played in Charlotte. Ball appears to be more of a complete player than Walker, which makes his development so interesting. We have seen players like Trae Young and Zion Williamson take massive turns in their second year. Can Ball replicate this success?
Shooting Guard - Terry Rozier
Remember when Terry Rozier signed a large contract that made the fan’s side-eye the contract details? Remember when he averaged 18.4 and 20.4 points the last two seasons? Rozier has established himself as a strong shooting guard in the league. He has hovered around 40% shooting from three, while his rebounds and assists have been around four per game.
On a contending team, Rozier would be your sixth man. For the Hornets, he is someone that has to be shooting the ball to help the team climb to 100 points. Rozier recently accepted another contract extension with the team, so it's clear they appreciate his worth. Rozier is just 27 years old and is coming off a career-season, so one has to believe the best is still on the way.
Small Forward - Miles Bridges
Bridges joins the starting lineup after working his way up the ladder. He averaged 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and shot 50.3% from the field. Bridges and LaMelo Ball have amazing chemistry with each other. There were nights that the two looked like they had played together since their diaper days. If you don’t believe us, check out some of the alley-oop passes Bridges through down from lobs by Ball.
The Hornets haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 (the play-in game doesn’t count). Bridges is going to be a central part of that success. We should expect to see Bridges on the Sportscenter Top 10 more frequently this season.
Power Forward - Gordon Hayward
Everything boils down to health with Gordon Hayward. In 44 games, Hayward averaged 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and shot over 40% from the field and three-point range. The problem is that Hayward can’t seem to stay on the floor. Hayward has played over 70 games once since 2016.
This lineup can’t afford to lose one of its better players. Hayward was given a max contract to lead a group of younger players. He has to be the go-to option or secondary. If he plays a full season, the standings might see a jump from the Hornets.
Center - Mason Plumlee
Essentially, Mason Plumlee is replacing Cody Zeller in the lineup and fans are asking themselves what they would rather have. Zeller never lived up to expectations as the No. 4 overall pick. He was not a strong rebounder and could not shoot anywhere outside 10 feet from the basket.
Granted, Plumlee is not all that better of a shooter but did shoot 61.4% from the field with the Detroit Pistons last year. He is also a better rebounder, averaging 10.4 points and 9.3 rebounds. Zeller’s career-high in boards at 7.1. Plumlee will provide more strength and stability in the middle.
Ishmael Smith, DJ Carton, James Bouknight, Wesley Iwundu, Scottie Lewis, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cody Martin, Arnoldas Kulboka, PJ Washington, Jalen McDaniels, JT Thor, Kai Jones, Vernon Carey, Nick Richards
The bench has some valuable pieces in Ish Smith, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cody Martin, Vernon Carey, and PJ Washington. Oubre comes to town after a complex season with the Warriors, where he's averaged 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Assuming Oubre comes off the bench, he could make a run for Sixth Man of the Year if he plays a similar role.
Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds as a stretch four. He is entering his third season. Smith is a capable backup point guard, while Carey was once heralded as a top prospect just a couple of years ago. Bouknight averaged 18.7 points in college for UConn last year and was the team’s first-round pick. Look for an early shooting performance from him to stand out.
A Dark Horse Playoff Contender
The 2015-2016 Utah Jazz finished the season 40-42 and ninth in the Western Conference. This team has similar comparisons and not just because Hayward played for that Jazz team in the past. Hayward was joined by Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, and a young Rudy Gobert. There wasn’t anything special about this team, but they competed.
The West was deeper back then, while the East is deeper this year. The Hornets have a ceiling as high as a six seed but a floor as low as the 10th seed. This all rides on the development of Ball, who has a superstar ceiling with what was briefly displayed last season. A big three of Ball, Rozier, and Hayward may not sound sexy, but it’s enough to compete for a back-end playoff spot.