The Charlotte Hornets landed LaMelo Ball in the draft and Gordon Hayward in free agency. What does the 2020-21 season have in store for them?
1. Who is the Hornets’ third-most important offensive player?
P.J. Washington. The Hornets‘ offense is going to rely heavily, on the talents of their individual shot creators and, when healthy, they’ll almost always one at least two of the Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward quarter on the floor. Those ball-handlers all fit together in slightly different and interesting ways, based on their size, shooting and passing profiles. But in any of those combinations, Washington is the crucial third leg of the stool.
All due respect to Cody Zeller, but Washington is the only big man with any real versatility in his offensive skill set. As a rookie, he averaged 12.2 points per game knocking down 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers and adding another 2.1 assists per game. He’s still growing into himself as a multi-faceted threat in the pick-and-roll but he gives the defense more to think about than any other Hornet big in those situations. He has the flexibility to adapt to whatever the ball-handling combination calls for and he can elevate whatever actions the creators are running.
2. LaMelo Ball will be in his first NBA season.
Ghost pepper hot sauce. If his preseason performance is any indication, Ball is going to be bringing the heat. Whether or not the heat is called for, or appropriate for the specific situation, is another matter altogether. He’s going to make you sweat. He’s going to make you cry. He’s going to make you feel alive and a few seconds later he’s going to make you feel like you’re wandering the underworld, conversing with shades and specters.
3. The Hornets need some frontcourt depth. Would they be better off adding Prime Alonzo Mourning or Prime Larry Johnson to this roster?
Prime Alonzo Mourning was a Hall-of-Famer and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Prime Larry Johnson was a force of nature. Given the relative dearth of size on this roster, Mourning probably has a bigger impact but my vote is for Johnson. The most intriguing thing about this roster is its potential for energetic chaos. Johnson’s personality seems like it would be a perfect fit and his offensive power and versatility would be a lot more interesting than watching Mourning post-up in slow motion. The Hornets aren’t going to be very good this year, so let’s make them as fun as possible.
4. Lightning and Lightning sounds dumb, so what’s the perfect paired nickname for Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham?
From the cutting-room floor: Tango and Cash, Franklin and Bash, Smash and Grab, Grahams and Rozes, Raoul and Gonzo…
Lightning and Lightning it is!
5. How much (if any) buyer’s remorse will the Hornets have on Gordon Hayward at the end of this season? At the end of the contract?
First of all, it’s Michael Jordan’s money not mine — who am I to express regret over other people’s spending habits? I will say there is almost no way Hayward is worth $32 million a year from a pure production standpoint. But that doesn’t mean it winds up being a bad value for the Hornets. If he scaffolds things for Ball, Graham and Rozier, helps keep them in the playoff race and letting the young players unlock the best versions of themselves, that has value. If the team moving towards competitiveness helps convince some other future free agent that the Hornets deserve consideration, despite their legacy of losing, that has value. If it gets fans excited and builds more local enthusiasm for the team, that has value. Again, the contract seems like a loss from a pure production perspective but that’s not all the Hornets are buying.