The Charlotte Hornets are in the very early stages of their rebuild, and they have some promising young pieces to go forward with.
Rebuilding teams are fun to discuss, their blank canvasses leave so much open to interpretation.
That’s where the Charlotte Hornets are today. Following years of middling trades and overpays, the Hornets chose not to retain Kemba Walker last summer, beginning the tear-down that was expected for years.
Losing one of the greatest players in franchise history was a blow but Aw the other end of that loss are a few small victories. For one thing, head coach James Borrego has a solid system in place for the young Hornets to grow. Charlotte took the ninth-most 3s, fifth-fewest mid-range shots, and fourth-fewest long 2s per possession this season. Their shot selection was on the right path.
At the epicenter of that offense was Devonte’ Graham, another bright spot from this Hornets season. In his second season in the NBA, Graham averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. His 3-point shooting was particularly impressive — as he hit 37.3 percent of his 9.3 attempts per game from downtown. His backcourt mate, Terry Rozier, somewhat exceeded expectations himself. Rozier averaged 18.0 points and 4.1 assists per game and made 40.7 percent of his 6.7 3-point attempts a night. He built on his strengths as an offensive creator both on the ball in spurts, and off the ball next to a high usage player.
Charlotte’s backcourt tandem exhibits promise, but not without warts. Graham is not much of a finisher at the rim; only 54.3 percent of his attempts within three feet went in, a figure that ranks 236th in the league out of 259 qualifying players. Of those same 259, he ranks 256th in overall 2-point percentage. He’s a good shooter both in quantity and quality but doesn’t pressure the defense inside the arc.
As for Rozier, his limitations were known from his time with the Boston Celtics. His irrational confidence is both a blessing and a curse; one night he can be “Scary Terry” and win a playoff game, and the next day he can go 3-for-20 with six turnovers.
They also both share a weakness on the defensive end. They each stand at 6-foot-1″ which puts them at disadvantages, especially when played together. They each have plus wingspans (6-foot-6 for Graham, 6-foot-8 for Rozier), so they can each be at least average defenders on the perimeter, but that hasn’t been the case for either player the past two seasons.
To be frank, neither guard can be the best perimeter guy on a winning team. Charlotte needs to acquire a high-level guard who can be, because then Graham and Rozier can be put in more specialized roles that cater to their strengths.
The Hornets’ frontcourt is even weaker. Miles Bridges has an NBA body and great athleticism, but the production simply isn’t there. P.J. Washington was a surprisingly good defender as a rookie. He also hit 37.4 percent of 4.0 3-point attempts a game and had an assist-turnover ratio above 1.0. He’s a good ceiling raiser for a contender, but he’s not good enough to carry the Hornets back to legitimacy.
Where do the Charlotte Hornets go from here?
Simply put, the Hornets need high-end talent. But that will be difficult to obtain from the No. 8 spot in this year’s lottery. Unless they get very lucky, they’re looking at cogs in the machine rather than engines; in other words, the Hornets are likely to add another role player from this draft instead of a star.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The Hornets will probably still be bad in 2020-21, and they can take strategic routes to keep their lottery odds high while still developing youth. In addition, they are finally going to see cap space over the next few seasons. As long as the salary cap doesn’t go down for next season, the Hornets could have up to $20 million in space. Going into 2021-22, they expect to have around $40 million in room.
There’s also the chance of internal improvements. Washington and Bridges are both 21, Graham is 24 and Rozier is 25. The chance that one of those guys becomes a star is nonzero, though slim.
Like many rebuilding teams, the Hornets need a star, regardless of position. Getting one of those in free agency will be difficult without overpaying though, especially in their market. And since they’re short on really attractive assets, a trade probably isn’t the best route either. The draft is the most ideal path to an effective player.
If Charlotte can get some lottery luck and move into the top four, they can get a solid chance at a star among one of the top prospects in this draft. Think LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Onyeka Okongwu or Killian Hayes. If they remain at No. 8, they’ll have to rely on someone blooming from the next tier. Maybe James Wiseman, Tyrese Maxey or Cole Anthony gets closer to their ceiling than expected.
Regardless of who they add, the Hornets will likely be the same thing next year: a lot of young guys, some lifting heavier loads than they should, and lots of losing. It won’t look great, and progress may seem slow, but proper rebuilds often do. That is, until a star is born.