Three Offseason Takeaways
1. The Charlotte Hornets want Kemba Walker for the long haul
People around the league thought the Charlotte Hornets would trade their star point guard to start the rebuilding process. Charlotte could get something in return instead of losing him for nothing in the summer of 2019 when he is a free agent. Well, Kemba is still a Hornet, and it looks like new general manager Mitch Kupchak wants to hold on to him. They had a chance to trade him either at last year’s trade deadline or during the draft, but they didn’t get an offer they liked and are confident they can keep him. Charlotte’s cap situation is a mess, so signing Kemba to the money he deserves won’t be easy. Still, it looks like Charlotte will do everything they can to keep him, and it sounds like Kemba wants to stay as well.
It’s a risk for sure, and if things start poorly this year, it is possible Charlotte trades Kemba at the deadline. For now, though, Charlotte wants to contend for the playoffs and keep Kemba a Hornet for his entire career. Charlotte needs to show signs of improvement this season to show Kemba that it is worth sticking around in Charlotte.
2. Change of style
Last year was tough. Steve Clifford had done a good job in Charlotte, but last year he struggled with health, and the players for the first time started tuning him out. What he was preaching wasn’t working as Charlotte finished 36-46 for the second year in a row. A change was needed, and owner Michael Jordan brought in a new GM in Mitch Kupchak and head coach in James Borrego. Borrego was an assistant in San Antonio and will bring a change of philosophy. He is already making changes by moving Nicholas Batum back to the three spot, and moving Jeremy Lamb into the starting lineup.
Borrego wants more ball movement, something needed as Charlotte finished 27th in assists last season. More threes for efficiency and spacing and a faster pace are also staples of Borrego. Finally, expect more focus on the development of young players.
3.Development of young players
The focus will be on second-year players Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon especially. Monk was in and out of the rotation last year mainly for poor defense, but at the end of the season last year he caught fire, averaging 20 points per game in the last six games. Monk projects to a combo scoring guard coming off the bench playing 20-25 minutes per game. He looked more filled out and better in Summer League and is poised for a breakthrough season. Monk can shoot and is a great athlete; I am high on him this year being able to average 12-15 points per game. Defense will likely still be an issue, but his offense is good enough to justify a defined role.
Bacon, on the other hand, showed great defensive promise, but his offense needs more work. At the end of the year, last season Bacon was playing in crunch time over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to his excellent defense. For him to succeed offensively, the key will be his three-point shot. Last year he only shot 30% from deep, but his shot looked improved in Summer League. Bacon one day projects as a 3-and-D starter at the three spot, but this year he will come off the bench and likely play 15 to 20 minutes per game.
Hernangomez and the Rookies
Then there is Willy Hernangomez, the third-year center who Charlotte traded for at the deadline last year. He was a beast in Summer League this year, dominating. He looks much stronger, and he showed off his new three-point shot. Offensively he is very skilled with great hands, is a great pick-and-roll player and has touch around the basket. With a new three-point shot, he can be a great scorer coming off the bench that the Hornets can run the offense through. Adding strength will help him on defense, where he was a little below average, but expect him to have his best year yet.
The rookies are first-round pick Miles Bridges and second-round pick Devonte’ Graham. Both will come off the bench and early on Bridges will play both forward spots, probably getting around 15 minutes per game. He is strong and athletic and showed great defensive versatility in Summer League. On offense, he can finish around the rim and is a strong rebounder. Charlotte will bring him along slowly increasing the load on his plate little by little.
Graham may not play much at first with the addition of Tony Parker behind Kemba, but if Parker gets hurt expect Graham to get playing time as the season goes on. He showed great passing ability and defensive competitiveness.
Next Up: Three Goals