ONLY the New Orleans Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves have played in fewer postseason games than the Charlotte Hornets. The North Carolina based franchise has also recorded the 2nd worst postseason record since their introduction to the league back in 1988, owning a 4-10 series ledger in the playoffs. So yes, it’s fair to say that the Hornets haven’t excelled during their NBA tenure to date. With time comes change though and Charlotte is finally poised to turn around their misfortune.
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THE Michael Jordan owned franchise has a real chance to launch themselves into the postseason and stay there for at least a few seasons with their youthful core. Led by head coach Steve Clifford, first-time All-Star a season ago Kemba Walker, another slew of young picks and a former three-time Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) the East is wide-open and ready for Charlotte to cement themselves as a perennial playoff squad.
THE buck starts and stops with Kemba Walker. The former UConn Husky has been with the Hornets since they used the 9th pick on him back in the 2011 NBA Draft. Kemba has annually improved his scoring output and shooting stats across the board. Year six was easily his best pro season with Walker putting career highs in PPG (23.2), FG% (44.4), 3P% (39.9) and FT% (84.7), becoming not only one of the best point guards in the East, but one of the best in the league full stop.
HOW Kemba meshes with 8x All-Star and DPOY winner in three straight years (’09-’11) Dwight Howard. Don’t be fooled, Howard isn’t the same guy that put up 18 PPG and 13 RPG a game for his first eight years in the league with Orlando. On his fifth team in seven years Howard has battled back complaints and his own ego and struggled to experience success. Voted by ESPN as the ‘Worst Newcomer’ for the upcoming season I still think that Dwight can contribute in a meaningful way. After battling with the reality that he can’t be a team’s MVP or main option anymore, Howard has gone on the record stating that he is ready for the opportunity to ‘shut peoples mouths’ next season in Charlotte.
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NO team can compete with just two good players though and the rest of the Hornets squad will need to develop their young kids. With nine of their 13 players aged 25 or under the future is definitely bright. Studs like Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and rookie Malik Monk are all potential impact players and if they manage to stay together and string together some games they could develop into a stellar group. While many of them remain one-trick ponies they don’t all need to become superstars for the team to compete. Monk has his shooting, Kidd-Gilchrist has his lockdown defensive skills and Zellar has his hustle and rebounding. All three of these traits are required for a team to play well in the modern NBA. Mix that in with the versatility from Nic Batum and other players Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb, the skies the limit in Charlotte.
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WITH teams dropping off in the East playoff picture thanks to a handful of trades there is a wide open space for a team to announce their right to a to a consistent playoff berth. By no means am I under any delusions about the Hornets ceiling, the Cavs, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors are all better teams, but if Charlotte can qualify for 5th and potentially steal a series, don’t be surprised if they ride that momentum to greater things in the next 24 months. Dwight Howard isn’t as washed up as everyone thinks in my eyes with the former star forming a potentially imposing duo with All-Star Kemba Walker. The time for the Hornets to stand up as a franchise is now with plenty of young talents and level heads at the top of the food chain. How will they respond?
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