The Charlotte Hornets: A Quick Season Preview

LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and the offseason that was in the Queen City

Thank you once again for joining me here at Sports Obsessive. Today, I’m going to run through the Charlotte Hornets offseason moves and provide a quick preview of the upcoming 20-21 NBA season. Without further ado, lets get into it.

2019-2020 Charlotte Hornets

23-42 (9th in the Eastern Conference), Off Rtg. 106.3(27th), Def Rtg. 113.3 (24th)

Offseason Recap

2020 NBA Draft: LaMelo Ball (#3 pick), Vernon Carey Jr. (#32 pick), Nick Richards (#42 Pick), Grant Riller (#56 Pick)

Free Agency/Trades: Gordan Hayward (sign and trade, 4yrs 120 million), Bismack Biyombo (re-sign 1 yr 3.5 million)

Draft analysis

Charlotte entered draft night fully prepared to package the necessary assets in order to move up to number one and secure LaMelo Ball. The fact that they were able to select the closest thing to a consensus top player by doing nothing more than simply staying put, makes them one of the clear winners of draft night. LaMelo gives the Hornets an aspirational figure and potentially in the long run an identity. Sure, they’ll likely be more downs than ups as Ball develops but Charlotte fans will be grateful to finally have a roller coaster worth riding.

In an effort to self-correct or perhaps just to keep up appearances, M.J. went with two blue-blood big men with the 32nd and 42nd picks. Vernon Carey Jr. (32nd pick) was a big-time back to the basket, strength-based finisher. Also, a rebounder in his one year at Duke and at 6’10, 270 he’ll remain a physical presence at the next level. The problem is without an unexpected developmental trajectory I’m not sure Carey Jr. will ever offer more than matchup dependent, 2nd or 3rd, drop big who is relegated to the dunker spot on offense. Richards (42nd pick) has the physical tools to be a neutral to positive defender but he will need to continue to improve his technique and awareness. He did make strides in his Junior year at Kentucky. Offensively, Richards does run the floor well and put pressure on the rim. I suppose the logic of the front office was to get two bites at the apple in the hopes of developing at least one rotation level big on a good contract, with both Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo will be unrestricted free agents next summer.

Grant Riller

Finally, we come to the 56th pick Grant Riller, who the Hornets have signed to a two-way contract. I would expect Riller to see minutes for Charlotte this year and not just because of the increased uncertainty that comes with conducting a season during a plague. I had Riller at 20 on my 2020 big board, just behind players like Josh Green and Malachi Flynn and right ahead of R.J Hampton and Xavier Tillman. The reasoning was simply, that despite his cited “weaknesses” ( principally his age, 23 and the level of competition he faced at Charleston) Riller had the most fully realized offensive scoring package of any guard in the draft and he showed it night after night with high usage, all while opposing coaches schemed to stop him and him alone. If the Hornets choose, or Maik Monk chooses for them, Riller should be able to give the Hornets 4th Guard minutes before the year is out.

Gordon Hayward

The Hornets seem absolutely determined to give somebody 120 million dollars. Sure, they just were forced to waive Nicolas Batum, the last recipient of the Charlotte mid-career stimulus package but that doesn’t necessarily make the Gordon signing a mistake. Unlike with Batum, the Hornets actually find themselves in a good position to overpay. Cody Zeller will come off the books at year’s end leaving Charlotte with a cap sheet full of rookie and team-friendly deals. Also, unlike Batum, Hayward will be the Hornet’s best player, whose versatility and steady playmaking to give the coaching staff confidence to experiment. Gordon can be your stretch four, your jumbo playmaker, your leading scorer, and most importantly for this young Hornets team a safety net beneath the high wire act of LaMelo’s development.

What To Watch For Early

The pieces are in place for second-year coach James Borrego to confidently open the offense up, as he should be able to chart rotations that keep at least one quality passer on the floor at all times. Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier fit easily into their more natural roles as score-first guards. While Graham, in theory, should really benefit from of year of heavy, above his head usage if he’s able to find a rhythm as an off-ball/tertiary playmaker alongside Ball.

The Hayward signing might have grabbed the headlines during free agency but the real storyline in Charlotte will be internal development. Miles Bridges and P.J Washington stand to gain the most from Ball and Hayward’s playmaking, as both have shown intriguing potential as pick n’ roll/pop partners. Will we see more Bridges at the four and P.J at the five next season? Borrego will likely start the season with Cody Zeller reprising his role as starting center, but how the Hornets close games and what contexts fuel those line-up decisions will be something to watch for early on in the season.

What do you think? Drop a reply in our comments section below and let me know!

Written by Shay Youngblood

Shay lives in New Orleans and writes about Basketball and other American arts.

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