5 keys to the Charlotte Hornets making the playoffs

 By Cameron Lee 

October 22, 2017

The Hornets kicked off their 2017-18 campaign earlier this week with an unimpressive start against the Detroit Pistons. Perhaps it was Eminem (who was in attendance for the Pistons home opener) that gave last year’s 10th place Eastern Conference team, the Pistons, the edge they needed, but the Hornets looked sluggish with their new-look team to say the least.

They bounced back on Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks with an impressive 109-91 win. Down most of the game, the team rallied late in the 3rd quarter with an epic 24-0 run. Kemba Walker dropped 26 points and 9 assists, while Frank Kaminsky pitched in with 21 points, and Dwight Howard contributed 20 points and 15 rebounds with a couple rim-rattling dunks against his former team. 

Dwight Howard with 20 points and 15 rebounds against his former team, the Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Alex Cason for CLTure

Coming off a lackluster 2016-17 season (11th in the Eastern Conference), the Hornets are casually rolling into one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory. The additions of Dwight Howard, who once flaunted the “Superman” nickname similar to another star in the city, and a draft class that drew very little complaints from the Buzz City fan base, the city is primed for a playoff season. First-round draft pick and rookie Malik Monk’s athletic ability and versatility adds the potential for some much-needed energy on offense, while Dwayne Bacon has proven to be a worthy offensive threat and a very solid 2nd round pick, possibly one of the steals in the 2017 draft.

While the new faces and youth movement may get fans excited, the team still has some serious issues with the lineup rotation and chemistry on the court. The Hornets are equipped with the size and athletic ability of a Championship team, maybe in 2006. Unfortunately, the league seems to be shifting smaller, quicker, and more versatile, with an emphasis on the three-point shot. While Monk and Bacon may eventually add some value with their streaky three-point shooting and offensive prowess, taking some pressure off of Kemba Walker, team chemistry and spacing is often tough to figure out when you have a mixed bag of tricks on the court.

Hornets 1st round draft pick Malik Monk. Photo by Alex Cason for CLTure

Howard, in his early career was a Shaq-like dominant offensive machine in the paint, but the league has shifted pass the traditional half-court game. Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams are both two versatile big men who can run the floor, and have the ability to hit the three, but they often need help creating a shot. Finding the right balance and tempo for this Hornets team is vital to their pursuit in returning to the playoffs.

Here are a few keys and things to watch for this season:

Quickness on D

When playing against smaller teams with elite quickness, the Hornets can look lethargic and a beat slow on defense. While having athletic big men can be an advantage in a half-court slow tempo, when the game is fast and fluid, the defense can be exposed. As rookies Monk and Bacon get their legs underneath them, the Hornets may play with smaller lineups to keep up with faster teams without sacrificing defense and rebounding. Having Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back and healthy in the rotation will be vital for the smaller more athletic lineup.

Kemba Walker (L) and Dwight Howard (R). Photo by Alex Cason for CLTure

Kemba needs help

The Hornets have struggled over the years to find a scorer to help take the load off of Kemba Walker. The Charlotte Hornets first all-star since Baron Davis (2001-02) and the city’s first NBA all-star since Gerald Wallace (Bobcats 2009-10), Walker needs another all-star caliber scorer to give him more space to operate. He’s proved time and time again that he is a gamer with the penchant to hit clutch shots, but he’s still a 6′ 1″ scoring point guard, and it’s tough to drop 30 a night with a grueling 82-game season. While Nicolas Batum was re-signed last year with a contract that may be all-star worthy, Walker will need help with better scorers around him.

Dwight needs to get nasty on Defense

Despite his declining offensive numbers over the past four years, Dwight Howard is still a beast in the paint and on the boards. While the offense shouldn’t go through Howard on every possession, there will be plenty of opportunities for him on the offensive boards, and in transition to bend the backboard on some monstrous dunks. An emphasis on momentum-changing block shots and more aggressive defense can make guards second guess taking it to the rack, giving the team a better shot at defending the perimeter.

Dwight Howard on Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Photo by Alex Cason for CLTure

Trade?

With a solid draft class and a deeper lineup than most years, General Manager Rich Cho and MJ have assets to shake the team up, if they want. While Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky, and Jeremy Lamb may be the most appealing young assets on the team, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller may be of interest to teams seeking big men who can run the floor. Future 2nd round draft picks are more valuable than ever, and unloading some salaries to create more cap space may be beneficial in continuing to build through the draft.

Buzz City enthusiasm!  

There’s no doubt that Kemba Walker is at his best when the crowd is fully engaged and the pressure is on. Since his days in the Big East at Connecticut, he has always fed off the energy and enthusiasm of fans, giving us some classic hardwood moments.

While Dwight Howard’s smile may make Buzz City shine a little brighter, the success of this team will come from grit and tenacity. If Dwight wants to get back to his “Superman” pinnacle, crowd enthusiasm and Incredible Hulk-like energy may be more fitting. We need to get fired up!

Photo by Alex Cason for CLTure

Check out the full schedule for the 2017-18 Charlotte Hornets season.

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