After having one of the most active off-seasons in recent memory, the Charlotte Hornets appear to be geared towards a successful 2017-18 campaign. However, is the team built for success with the current roster?
A likely lineup of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard does seem good on paper for a disappointing Charlotte squad who missed the playoffs last year. Coming into this season the team has somewhat of a big three in Kemba, Nic and Dwight, but after that, the team seems to feel incomplete or void of the pieces needed to really establish itself as a dominant force in an ultra weak Eastern Conference.
After the big 3, the team has promising rookies Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon, rising star Cody Zeller, two-way forward Marvin Williams, defensive guru Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, former ROY Michael Carter-Williams, athletic wing Jeremy Lamb, big man Frank Kaminsky and former G-League players Briante Weber, Johnny O’Bryant and Treveon Graham. However, even with previously listed players, the team seems to be missing the necessary talent needed to compete with a Washington or Toronto team, let alone a Cleveland or Boston squad.
Even with a multiple All-Star in Howard, first time all-star in Kemba and French Army knife Batum, the Hornets sorely need more complimentary players. Although the 2017 NBA Draft seemed to be the first draft that fans generally thought the Hornets front office handled correctly, true fans still are able to see the weaker links that the team currently employ. Links that the front office seem heavily invested in. But what would it take to fix the nearly hard-capped team?
Firstly, a team built around Kemba, Batum and Dwight Howard seems better than almost every core the Hornets have run with since the days of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson. The Hornets are indeed taking a gamble with Howard, but the 3-Time DPOY is still a dominant force in the NBA that averages a double-double and still affects defenses throughout the league – something the Hornets haven’t had since Alonzo Mourning. Kemba, the rising star who has statistically gotten better every year in the league, is the unquestioned leader of this team. Earning a first All-Star appearance was long overdue for Walker, and he arguably could have been a two-time All-Star if not for a crowded point guard heavy Eastern Conference as well as playing for the smaller market team. He continues to be the heart and soul of the team while regularly leading them in points and skill. If not for Kemba, this team would consistently be a lottery bound mess. Now, Batum could quite possibly be the player most likely to average a triple-double consistently for the Hornets. Although he suffered in the first year of his five-year $120 million contract, Batum has shown that given the opportunity, he can contribute in more ways that one. Last year, Batum played the role of facilitator and saw a majority of assists rim out due to underwhelming teammates that frustratingly couldn’t knock down the shots needed to keep the game competitive. Thus, the pressure fell to the top players to attempt to consistently perform. The results, a 36-46 win-loss record with heavily fatigued players.
Second, the play of Marvin Williams and MKG has to be reevaluated. Marvin Williams played lights out for the 2015-16 NBA season, earning himself a four-year $54 million contract. The results, a season of decline that hampered the Hornets and allowed the team to give Frank Kaminsky extended play. Emotionally, Charlotte loves Marvin. The savvy veteran was often the defensive leader and has played with a genuine love for the game and for the state of North Carolina. Realistically, the money invested in the aged vet seems to hamper the team from making roster changes that could improve the overall quality of the team. And with the new players added in the offseason, Charlotte is clearly in win-now mode and can’t afford another decline. Now MKG, the defensive specialist who was drafted and developed by the Bobcats (current Hornets), is and has always been a defensively focused player. However, the offensive play has always been the issue. Unable to space the floor or shoot effectively from mid-range or three, MKG’s offensive handicap let’s the defense tighten up on the shooters as well as crowd the paint. Considering he’s only 23 years old, he still has time to improve, but is the defensive hype worth the lack of offensive talent and spacing? How many years do you give a player to develop an offensive talent beyond slashing? And is it time to move on or reevaluate one or both of these players?
Third and lastly, Head Coach Steve Clifford has always been known to play rookies less and overplay certain players. However, this may be the year that Coach Clifford has to bend that rule. After missing out on Devin Booker and Justice Winslow, Charlotte seemed to finally have a fan approved pick in Malik Monk. The 6’3 shooting guard and offensive specialist was THE premier freshman shooter for the 2016-17 NCAA season. Nearly leading Kentucky to the NCAA Championship, Monk was seemingly an absolute draft night steal for the Hornets at number 11. The skills shown throughout his lone college season seem to be a perfect compliment to Kemba and Batum. Here, have a look at some highlights of the new rookie:
However, Coach Clifford will most likely bring Monk off the bench and start MKG and Batum, making Monk prove himself and earn a spot in the rotation. Although that is probably the best plan of action for a 19 year old that has yet to prove himself against real NBA talent, the thought is that the skill Monk possesses will eventually lead to a starter’s position at some point in the year. But if history shows anything, it’s that Coach Clifford will go with a player he knows over a new acquisition. Where some fans may hope for Monk, Jeremy Lamb may be inserted… Or Michael Carter-Williams may be inserted to play beside Kemba. Leaving Monk starved of valuable minutes that young confident players need to survive in the league. The point is that at some stage the tough love that Coach Clifford shows younger players will have to vanish if he wants to put together the best lineup available. The favoritism has to vanish if he wants the young, potential filled, players to develop.
What say you?