As the season of madness known as “Free Agency” continues to ware on, the potential rumors that surround the Charlotte Hornets have been pretty barren. While the likes of Lance Stephenson and Gordon Hayward have been linked to Hornets since the start of the month, those rumors haven’t quite gone past that initial phrase. Despite the fact that the Hornets will more than likely make some sort of move before the season opens up in November, there has to be some kind of outlook on how the team would look if Hayward, Stephenson, etc don’t make their way to the Queen City.
Coming off the heels of an extremely successful 2014 NBA Draft that followed one of the better seasons in team history, the overall landscape of the Hornets franchise is looking more promising than ever. During that Draft, the Hornets filled some of the more gaping holes (I.e front-court and backcourt depth) that they had during the previous season.
After the acquisition of Noah Vonleh during the Draft, Charlotte has more depth and flexibility in their front-court than they’ve in franchise history. While that is more than likely the product of Charlotte spending three of the past four years by using their lottery pick on a front-court player (Vonleh, Zeller and Biyombo), it’s finally become apparent that their front-court depth has become more of a strength than weakness. With that in mind, Charlotte’s front-court (and roster in general) is still dominated by Al Jefferson which will be the case until one of the aforementioned trio reaches their full potential or Big Al starts to break down.
Despite being a late-1st round pick, UNC and D-League alum PJ Hairston will probably have an initial role in Charlotte’s backcourt. The main reason for that is Charlotte’s real lack of depth in their backcourt. Despite the solid play of Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker, there really isn’t any real solid reserve backcourt players that Charlotte can depend on for a consistent basis. While players like Gary Neal and Jeff Taylor (when he was healthy) did have their moments of being solid offensive weapons, they really haven’t showcased an ability to be consistently solid on a game-by-game basis. Hairston might not be able to come in and be the next great 6th-man but he definitely has the offensive tools to be an extremely solid reserve guard for the foreseeable future.
If Charlotte were to enter the 2014-15 season without making any noteworthy moves, their biggest flaw would probably be the aforementioned lack of backcourt depth or the overall outlook of the Small Forward position. Since his arrival during the 2012 NBA Draft, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been recognized as the young, athletic forward that could help lead Charlotte into the future. While he hasn’t totally flamed out, and still has a ton of potential as a 20-year-old prospect, Kidd-Gilchrist overall development definitely isn’t at the level that many expected when he was selected with the 2nd pick in the aforementioned 2012 NBA Draft.
Even though his skills on the defensive end was one of the main factors behind Charlotte’s playoff run, MKG’s abilities on the other end of the court is still extremely flawed. Despite his athleticism, MKG comes off as extremely tentative as an all-around ball-handler. That’s a huge flaw because Kidd-Gilchrist has a noteworthy history as an extremely raw and below-average shooter. Has his shooting stroke improved since his rookie year? Absolutely. But it’s still incredibly raw and it probably won’t be totally improved for the foreseeable future.
Besides MKG, the Small Forward position for Charlotte is in a pretty questionable state. While both Anthony Tolliver and Chris Douglas-Roberts were both considered to be “diamonds in the rough” for Charlotte during the 2nd half of the 2013-14 season, they’re both currently unrestricted free agents which means that they aren’t members of the Hornets roster.
If Charlotte were to enter the upcoming season with the same roster that they currently possess, they’d still be an improved team from the previous season. The additions of PJ Hairston and Noah Vonleh combined with the potential improvements of Kemba Walker, MKG and Cody Zeller should offset some of those aforementioned flaws. Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston are definitely huge additions because of how they’re two solid offensive weapons that can work with an improving Kemba Walker. Even though Zeller might be pushed aside because of the addition of Vonleh, he’ll still have an opportunity to showcase the continued improvements that we saw during the 2nd half of the season.
With that in mind, the Hornets are a piece or two away from making that next step up the ladder of the Eastern Conference. Despite the Vonleh and Hairston additions, Charlotte still currently lacks that solid, perimeter option that can work with Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Could Vonleh or Hairston eventually be able to fill that role? Of course. However, the Hornets will likely be in pursuit of the playoffs during next season, so it probably wouldn’t be the best idea to immediately insert a rookie into that role.
Could the additions of Gordon Hayward or Lance Stephenson put Charlotte into that upper echelon of the Eastern Conference? While it may appear to be unlikely, the Eastern Conference is in a strange, unpredictable place so it wouldn’t exactly be out of the question to see Charlotte climb that ladder, if the offseason turns out in a particular way. Despite the team being more than solid in its current iteration, the Hornets can definitely be an extremely special team, if they make one of those aforementioned moves.