For the second season in a row, Charlotte underachieved in their number of games won in comparison with their point differential. In the 2016-17 season, they had a positive net rating but ended the season with a 36-46 record. One season later, the same story happened with another positive net rating and another 36-46 season record.
Even with Dwight Howard joining the team as their main offseason addition, the Hornets’ defense maintained the same style that their head coach Steve Clifford had implemented when he joined the team: a very conservative scheme that made the team an elite defensive rebounding unit, while refusing to foul their opponents to avoid sending them to the free throw line and also refusing to gamble on the passing lanes.
The problem was that the team was a disaster at guarding the perimeter for the second season in a row. Not only they allowed their opponents to attempt a lot of three-pointers, but also they were the second worst three-point defensive team in the league. Even with Howard guarding the paint, the Hornets were also a bottom ten team on interior defense. This combo of poor perimeter and poor interior defense made Charlotte’s defense a catastrophe throughout the season.
Kemba Walker had another solid season on offense, even with the Hornets’ offense changing their system because of Howard’s addition: they attempted a lot less three-pointers, as after having been #4 and #8 in three-point attempts in the two previous seasons, they were only #24 in this stat last season. Charlotte was also poor at finishing at the rim and overall, we can consider that Howard’s impact in the team wasn’t positive at all, so much that Howard has left the team and Steve Clifford was fired as well.
James Borrego is the team’s new head coach. He was an assistant at San Antonio in the past three seasons and he had also a short stint as Orlando’s head coach before that where he didn’t impress anyone even though the context wasn’t favorable for the team at the time. I believe Borrego will try to implement the same game principles that San Antonio uses, but there’s a big difference between trying and actually managing to do it…
Kemba Walker will once again be the main offensive focus of the team and his influence on the team is clear on his on/off numbers on the court: with him on the floor, Charlotte has a positive +3.5 net rating, but with him off the court, the Hornets have a -7.8 net rating. One of the reasons for that was Charlotte’s total inability to have a backup PG who could replace Kemba at times in the games without it being a disaster.
In order to solve this issue, Charlotte managed to get Tony Parker from San Antonio. If healthy, Parker should be able to contribute with a solid 15 minutes per game, while he should also become some kind of an assistant coach for Borrego, as he is also coming from San Antonio and should easily become a reference in the locker room given how respected he is in the league and also given his strong friendship with Nicolas Batum.
Maybe Parker joining the team will help Batum, who, after an interesting first season with the Hornets, has been disappointing and underperforming considering the payout he received two seasons ago. Batum is receiving over 24 million a season, but his shooting numbers of 40% FG and 33% 3pts are way too low for his position, while he is also struggling defensively, never showing at Charlotte why he gained the reputation of a good defender when he was playing at Portland.
The remaining projected starters of the team will be the same ones who were starting in the pre-Howard era: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller. These three players have played at Charlotte for a good number of seasons now, so the team knows exactly what to expect from every one of them. MKG provides solid all-around defense with zero shooting ability. Williams is a capable but not spectacular starting Power Forward. Zeller is an underrated Center who is prone to get injured given how intense he is in the physical battles against his opponents.
So, Charlotte will need their young players to develop well and be productive when coming off the bench. Jeremy Lamb had a breakout last season with a career high in pretty much every important aspect of the game. Malik Monk was unplayable at the start of last season given his horrible defense, but late in the season he gained minutes in the rotation again and showed that he has at least a lot of potential on offense. Frank Kamsinky also showed some improvements on offense last season, but he is also very poor on defense, showing that he just can’t be used at the Center position.
After Kaminsky’s disaster as a backup Center last season, the Hornets decided to get Bismack Biyombo, who is then rejoining his first NBA team. He is a mess on offense, but his effort and defensive intensity will allow him to provide something good to the team. However, I have to note that the Hornets will pay a combined of over 40 million to Batum and Biyombo in the next two seasons, a financial disaster.
With so many young players struggling on defense, Charlotte drafted Miles Bridges this offseason, whose defensive versatility should help the team on this area.
The Hornets have the expectation of fighting for a lower seed playoff spot, as they pretty much are keeping the same roster that won 48 games three seasons ago. Their head coach James Borrego will have a set of players who know each other very well and so, his main goal will have to be developing the young players and introduce them in the rotation without destroying the team’s chemistry, something that Steve Clifford unsuccessfully attempted last season.