Charlotte Hornets: It’s important not to settle for mediocrity – again

NBA Charlotte Hornets Terry Rozier (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
NBA Charlotte Hornets Terry Rozier (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

As the Charlotte Hornets are rebuilding around their young core, it is important for them not to settle for mediocrity again

When casual NBA fans think about the Charlotte Hornets, it is rare to hear many positive memories, emotions or takes connected to the franchise. As a team that has been either mediocre or bad for most of its existence, the Hornets have failed to establish a culture that they are associated with around the league.

They have not seized the opportunities they had to escape the league’s no man’s land in the past, a mistake they can’t make again this time around.

After losing Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics and acquiring Terry Rozier in the offseason as well as drafting Kentucky’s P.J. Washington, Cody and Caleb Martin from NC State and Jalen McDaniels from San Diego State University, the Hornets’ roster was considered to be among the worst in the NBA.

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The Hornets, however, came out of the offseason strong and shocked many when they started the year 4-3 and looked like they were ready to make some noise around the lower playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. We now know that a playoff push will most likely not be the case for the Hornets, but the narrative of an overperforming Charlotte team remains.

Let’s take a look at the faces defining this year’s Charlotte Hornets team and dive into how good they are this season, what might come in the future for them and what their front office can’t allow to happen going forward.

The conversation about the 2019-20 Charlotte Hornets begins and ends with their surprise of the season, Sophomore Point Guard Devonte’ Graham. The Hornets selected him with the 34th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but behind the Hornets’ franchise player Kemba Walker and the veteran Tony Parker, he was unable to establish himself in the rotation on a night-to-night basis and played a small role in his rookie season.

Although he averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 assists in just under 15 minutes per game on poor efficiency that year, he already gave Charlotte a small sample of what was about to happen in his second season with the team by shooting a high volume of 3’s and distributing in an unselfish manner by racking up a decent number of assists in limited playing time.

After the loss of Kemba Walker, Tony Parker’s retirement and the signing of Terry Rozier, Graham started the year out as the team’s backup point guard. He started the first 10 games of the season from the bench before moving into the starting line-up because of his strong play.

His averages this year have increased to 17.8 points and 7.8 assists in over 35 minutes per game while staying true to his playstyle. His efficiency has improved alongside the volume of his shots, which is impressive and shows that Devonte’ needs to get into a rhythm offensively. He’s in the Top-5 in 3-pointers attempted per game this season and one of only six players to take more than nine 3’s per game. His company? James Harden, Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, Trae Young and Luka Doncic.

Terry Rozier, who many considered to be a bad signing in the offseason, has more or less functioned as the team’s starting shooting guard after Graham joined the starting five and has exceeded expectations doing so. Similar to his backcourt partner, Rozier is averaging 17.8 on improved efficiency and volume compared to previous seasons. Scary Terry might not be the Hornets’ next franchise Point Guard but he has already shown that he can be a serviceable scorer for his new team.

Similar to Rozier, their first-round pick of the 2019 NBA Draft will not be the first option on a championship team in the foreseeable future but helps the team already with his ability to space the floor and a well-balanced game on both ends of the floor. P.J. Washington, a 6-foot-7 power forward out of Kentucky, seems like a great piece to start a rebuild with and is an ideal forward in the modern NBA.

In his rookie season, Washington has shown that he has all the tools to have a long career in the NBA. Aside from a good 3-point shot (37.5 percent on 3.3 attempts per game), Washington has shown the ability to beat defenders on the perimeter and drive to the rim at the right time. He’s a capable and willing passer who looks to make the right play for his team most of the time and shows glimpses of a good skillset on defense. He is averaging 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Another forward on the Hornets very similar in looks to Washington is sophomore Miles Bridges. He’s a 6-foot-6 hyper-athletic small forward who has shown great improvement from his rookie campaign who could be a nice role-player going forward. Bridges gets most of his 13.2 points per game in the paint and are at his best when limiting his attempts from 3, which puts a ceiling on him in the modern NBA if he doesn’t improve in that area.

These young cornerstones are surrounded by veterans such as Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo. While these veterans are not players who will help you win many games this season, they are mainly around to help the young core of the team get a foothold in the NBA.

A big part of the youth movement in Charlotte is the team’s coach, James Borrego. Under Borrego, the Hornets are shooting significantly more 3’s than they did under Steve Clifford and have adapted a modern playstyle that fits the roster. If Borrego sticks around for the entirety of the rebuild, he could be an important factor in establishing a culture and identity in Charlotte.

That culture should and must be different from what the Hornets’ franchise has gone through over the last two decades. Since the turn of the millennium, the Hornets have only gone past the first round of the playoffs twice in 2001 and 2002. Even with a franchise point guard in Kemba Walker, who is now playing winning basketball in Boston, the Hornets have found themselves stuck in mediocrity.

While the Hornets have exceeded expectations and will most likely beat the estimated win total many had set for them before the season started, they should be patient and not make the mistake of getting into a “win now” mindset too fast considering that only two of their 19 wins have been against teams with a winning record.

As exciting as Charlotte’s young core but is, the Hornets are lacking a transcendent talent who has the potential to be a top-10 player in the NBA. To ultimately contend for a championship in the future, a player of that caliber is what you need. Due to their small market, the Hornets will not able to recruit an elite player in free agency, which is why they need to stay patient and continue rebuilding through the Draft.

Unlike their drafting in the past, the Hornets have drafted well in the latest drafts (Graham in the second-round, P.J. Washington late in the lottery) and they need to continue doing so in order to become a winning basketball team.

With Biyombo’s $17 million contract running out after this season and Batum’s expiring in 2021, the Hornets should look to add roleplayers to their roster that complement their core instead of throwing big contracts at mediocre players the way they did in the past.

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Charlotte’s future looks brighter than expected as of today and after many seasons of winning 40 games and not going anywhere, they have a chance to break the loop they have created for themselves. It’s now up to the front office, the coaching staff, and the players to use this opportunity and make the Charlotte Hornets of the 2020s a team to remember. They best not blow it.