January 11, 2023
Photo: Morry Gash / AP
Life as a Charlotte Hornets fan is much better with LaMelo Ball on the court. Though the Hornets are still not fully healthy, having the franchise’s young star back in the lineup for an extended stretch has brought an air of positivity into the fanbase.
Though he made just his 18th appearance of the season against Toronto, Ball has wasted no time racking up the accolades. Last week against the Grizzlies, he became the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to total 1,000 assists. He also notched 14-straight games with at least 20 points and two three-pointers (the most in franchise history), and has made the most threes in the entire NBA since his return. Foul trouble has limited his impact down the stretch of a few games, but Ball has established an elite floor-spacing ability to pair with top-flight playmaking. His 11.1 three-point attempts per game (shooting 38%) are also the second-most in the league behind only Steph Curry.
The unfortunate injury luck of the Hornets this season has continued. Gordon Hayward suffered a hamstring injury after returning from a fractured scapula in December and has been listed as doubtful before each game, subsequently being downgraded to the bench since January 2. Kelly Oubre Jr., who revealed he had been fighting through an injury to his shooting hand all season, had surgery on a torn ligament and will miss four-to-six weeks. Hopefully, Hayward can get healthy sooner than later so the Hornets wing rotation can be mostly intact. Oubre’s timetable slates him for a return sometime around the February 9 trade deadline. Perhaps the assurance that a nagging injury won’t affect his performance could entice teams to make more competitive offers if Charlotte wants to make a move.
Sources: Hornets forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will undergo surgery on a torn ligament in his left hand and miss 4-to-6 weeks. Oubre – averaging a career high 20.2 points – suffered the injury in the first week of the season and has been playing through the pain on his shooting hand.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 3, 2023
On the flip side of the bad injury luck, Cody Martin and Dennis Smith Jr. have both returned from extensive absences. The reintegration of the team’s two best perimeter defenders is surely a welcomed challenge for head coach Steve Clifford, as the Hornets have fallen to 26th in defensive rating. Bolstering the team’s ability to get consistent stops will help the offense as well; having to start the majority of possessions after made shots slows down the pace, and we know how dangerous the Hornets offense can be when playing up-tempo.
It hasn’t been all bad for the Hornets this year, though. Apart from Ball, Hornets fans have had something else to be excited about since Mark Williams worked his way into the rotation. The rookie center logged 17 points and 13 boards on 7-7 from the field in a win over the Thunder and has grabbed at least six rebounds in each game up until Tuesday night’s game against Toronto. He currently ranks 12th among all players (minimum 10 games played) in rebounding percentage (18.7%), a commendable feat for a rookie even in a small sample size.
Trades Deadline Moves?
At this point of the season, most fans might be less concerned with trade talks and hoping for lottery luck this spring; rightfully so when the team is sitting at 11-31 in January. Some Oubre rumors surfaced that there was interest from the Cavaliers, Raptors and Suns prior to his surgery, and the elevated play of Mason Plumlee in recent weeks, certainly boosted his stock. The two veterans on expiring contracts are targets for playoff-bound teams, but even Jalen McDaniels has been in the rumor mill. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Suns, among several other teams, have emerged as suitors for the fourth-year forward. McDaniels is 6’9”, a versatile defender and confident three-point shooter due for an extension this summer.
A franchise record-setting 51-point first quarter powered Charlotte to a surprising win over Milwaukee on January 6, and they followed that up by allowing a franchise record-low 15 points in the first quarter against Indiana. Though the Hornets still rank dead last in offensive rating (108.7), in the 15 games since Ball’s return, they’ve improved to a 111.6 rating. The defense still ranks in the bottom-five of the league, but perhaps the return of some defensive stalwarts in Martin and Smith will aid the Hornets.
We’re less than one month out from the trade deadline, and it won’t be long before we get a better sense of the direction the organization is going after a rocky start.
Check out the remaining 2022-23 Charlotte Hornets season schedule.