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2018-19 Season Preview: In Between In Charlotte

Kent Smith-Getty Images

After a year just outside the playoff picture, the Charlotte Hornets might be destined for more of the same.

After a 2017-18 season that saw the Charlotte Hornets finish 36-46 and out of the playoff picture, the team decided to shake things up in their leadership. Namely, Charlotte parted ways with their head coach of five years Steve Clifford, in favor of former Gregg Popovich assistant James Borrego. Besides the coaching change, former Laker exec and current Charlotte president Mitch Kupchak has opted to keep the majority of the Hornets’ core intact. However, after several years of mediocrity, at what point to meaningful changes to the roster need to be made?

 

The biggest news of the Hornets’ offseason was the acquisition of Spurs legend Tony Parker. In his age 36 season, Parker will have primary backup duties for Charlotte’s All-Star Kemba Walker. In what could very well be the last deal of his career, Parker will be tasked with running the offense, dishing a few assists and providing veteran leadership over the next two seasons off the bench. He’ll probably see the floor about 20 minutes a game, and hopefully serve as a role model for some of the Hornets’ younger players.

 

One of the prominent young players in Charlotte is Malik Monk, selected with the 11th pick in last year’s draft. Highly touted after his one-and-done with Kentucky, Monk was expected to be an athletic three-point threat for Charlotte. While Monk was one of the youngest players in his draft, the Hornets may have hampered his development with some questionable minutes distribution in his rookie campaign. He averaged just 13.6 minutes with the team while playing only one game in the G-League. In order to develop into NBA players, young prospects need to play meaningful minutes in professional games. Luckily, new head coach James Borrego seems to have recognized this problem, as Monk played 34 effective minutes in Charlotte’s 113-112 loss to the Bucks on Wednesday.

 

Another player worth keeping an eye on is rookie swingman Miles Bridges. A draft night trade saw Shai Gilgeous-Alexander headed for the Clippers in exchange for Bridges and two future second-round picks. Bridges won’t necessarily put up big numbers in his rookie season, but he should thrive as a player that can do the little things for Charlotte. For Michigan State in his sophomore year, Bridges averaged 17.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. He brings length and athleticism with his game, two attributes that the Hornets could definitely use off the bench.

Like the past few seasons, Kemba Walker is the barometer for Charlotte’s success or failure. The team’s lone All-Star representative last year, Walker averaged 22.1 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.1 rebounds while leading the team in most offensive categories. Though he was a slashing guard early in his career that relied on two-point shots, he is much improved from three-point range, shooting above league average from deep last season (38.4%). On a roster largely devoid of offensive firepower, Walker will once again be the most important figure in Charlotte’s offense.

 

Frankly, the Hornets are the middling sum of their middling parts; they are in the middle of the pack offensively (13th last season) and defensively (16th last season), which means they are a fringe playoff contender, even in the weaker Eastern Conference. They will be fighting for a seventh or eighth seed, but to what end? They have a number of nice players like Walker, Nic Batum, and Jeremy Lamb, but Charlotte needs to decide whether to be content in mediocrity or attempt to deal their assets to legitimate contender.

Regardless of the win-loss record, it seems like it’s all about the offseason for the Charlotte front office. As has been the case for the last several years, Kemba Walker is the most important catalyst for Charlotte’s success, and the front office’s primary job in 2018-19 is developing a plan to bring back Walker or risk losing him to free agency. They have some nice young pieces in Malik Monk and Miles Bridges that can help them contend in the future, but Charlotte needs to realize that they are not accomplishing anything by existing ‘in between.’ In a tough league like the NBA, if you’re not seriously competing for a championship, you must rebuild.


Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
Prior to Kemba Walker's back-to-back All-Star selections, who was Charlotte's last All-Star?
Created 10/19/18
  1. Nicholas Batum
  2. Gerald Wallace (Bobcats)
  3. Baron Davis
  4. Gerald Henderson (Bobcats)

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