February 23, 2017
The Charlotte Hornets are having a mid-season crisis; torn between positioning for more lottery balls and a good draft pick, or fighting through the season in hopes of making the playoffs. Possessing a playoff spot appeared to be certain just a few weeks ago, but they have now lost 20 of their last 27 games, a slump that is reminiscent of the Bobcats. Cody Zeller is hurt, and his absence has distressed an already lethargic offense. Nic Batum is struggling to create the type of offense expected from a two guard, and his turnovers have been as frequent as they are costly. Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball, but in spite of all this, the Hornets are still only two games out of the Playoffs. This leads to the question: Where do the Hornets go from here?
The option that is becoming more attractive as the season drags on, is to tank. This years draft appears to be deep, with promising prospects at every position. More importantly, Charlotte could use some offensive firepower, and there is no shortage of it among the 2017 draft class. Jonathan Isaac, Malik Monk, Josh Jackson, Lonzo Ball, and Jayson Tatum would all be welcomed additions to Buzz City. The Hornets only have one consistent scorer at the moment, and that is teams only All-Star, Kemba Walker. Walker is averaging an admirable 22.5 points a game, a career high. The problem is that the high-volume scoring starts and ends with the five year veteran from Connecticut. No other player for Charlotte has scored over 28 points once this entire season, while Walker has done it ten times. That offensive disparity needs to get addressed, and many fans believe that the draft could be the answer. But in order to get one of the aforementioned quality scorers, the Hornets need to get a lottery pick, and preferably one within the top ten. Fans in the “it’s time to tank” camp will also point out that even if the Hornets make the Playoffs, it would likely be as a seven or eight seed. They would also be quick to point out that this would likely lead to a series against Cleveland or Boston, teams that are far more complete and have the depth that Steve Clifford’s team yearns for. Is it worth giving up a chance at a great player in order to make what would likely be a short playoff run?
If the Hornets are to make the playoffs, they must discover an offensive chemistry that has been completely missing so far this season. Batum will have to find ways to drive into the paint more, Williams and Kaminsky will have to be more reliable scorers from the perimeter, and Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts will have to improve at holding the one spot when Kemba isn’t on the floor. It’s going to take a lot, but a post All-Star break run is not unprecedented for Charlotte. In the two seasons Coach Clifford has taken the team to the Playoffs, they went 20-9 and 21-8 after the All-Star game.
The lack of activity at the trade deadline has led many fans to feel a sense of resignation from the front office towards this year’s playoff hopes. It is ultimately uncertain what the Hornets will try and make of the 2016-2017 season, but what is certain is that Charlotte will have plenty of work to do once it’s over.