The Charlotte Hornets had one of the worst off-seasons imaginable in 2019 because they were not willing to pay Kemba Walker, their All-Star Point Guard, the money he wanted. When Kemba Walker left, the Hornets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the East. Although that ended up being true, as the Hornets have a record of 16-36, just two games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks, the Hornets are having a much better season than expected.
The Hornets have quietly gathered a lot of valuable assets. Four of their five starters are no older than 25, and no starter is older than 27. They managed to acquire a young core throughout their painful rebuilding process that looks like it’s almost done. The Hornets roster consists of:
Note: Bold = Rookie
* = All-Star
^ = Two-Way Contract
- PG: Terry Rozier (25)
- SG: Devonte Graham (24)
- SF: Miles Bridges (21)
- PF: PJ Washington (21)
- C: Cody Zeller (27)
- Malik Monk (22)
- Bismack Byombo (27)
- Dwayne Bacon (24)
- Willy Hernangomez (25)
- Cody Martin (24)
- Nicolas Batum (31)
- Jalen McDaniels (22)
- Caleb Martin (24)
- Kobi Simmons^ (22)
- Ray Spalding^ (22)
The Hornet’s young players have shown great improvements this season. Without Kemba Walker on the roster, the scoring has been spread around a lot more. The young players have a lot more opportunities to score and learn on the fly. Not to say that Kemba is a bad teammate, because he is anything but that, but he was the #1 option on a team that clearly wasn’t going to do better than the #8 seed.
Terry Rozier III was acquired out of Charlotte’s disparity to receive something for the departing Kemba Walker. Rozier was given a massive 3-year $56,700,000 contract. It quickly became known as one of the biggest overpays of the off-season. Despite the initial criticism of the move, Rozier has managed to prove that he was just a moderate overpay, instead of a massive one. Rozier has been averaging a career-high 18.0 pointer per game on 42% shooting and 38.9% from deep. The Hornets signed him with the intention of having Scary Terry be their Point Guard of the future, and his stats appeared to be answering that call.
That is, until the breakout of Devonte Graham. G-League alum, Devonte Graham, came out of nowhere, and is now in the candidacy for Most Improved Player. Graham worked his way into the starting lineup this season, and is now averaging 18.0 points on 37.8% from the field. That may seem inefficient, but his field goal percentage isn’t as bad as it looks. He is shooting 37.7% from deep, and 9.4 out of his 15.2 shot attempts are from beyond the arc, giving him an effective field goal percentage of 49.5%. To put this into perspective, Trae young also shoots 9.4 threes per game and has a percentage of 37%, so yeah, Graham is a good three-point shooter. His playmaking has also been a huge part of why he’s so valuable to the Hornets. His 7.7 assists per game is going to be vital to the Hornets this rebuild because it shows the Graham is capable of making players around him better.
Second-year player Miles Bridges has also shown improvements in his all-around game. Bridges, 21, has improved in nearly every category. He boosted his scoring from 7.5 to 12.8 points per game, his rebounds have gone up from 4.0 to 5.6 and his assists have gone up from 1.2 to 1.7. Bridges’s steady improvement this season will provide Charlotte with a very solid role player. Bridges likely won’t become anything more than that, but solid role players are key to any team.
Rookie PJ Washington has been quite the pleasant surprise. Washington, drafted 13th overall, is one of the most consistent rookies in the NBA. The 21 year-old has averaged 12.0 points on 47.1% shooting and 38.8% from long range. He also pulls in 5.4 rebounds and dishes out 2.0 assists. His defense is also pretty solid, averaging 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks. From the first game, Washington was put into the starting lineup, and has more than exceeded expectations for his rookie season. Young, versatile Swing Forwards is arguable the most valuable position to have. Washington is the definition of an all-around player. He will become one of the most valuable swing forwards in the league.
27 year-old Cody Zeller’s days as a Hornet are likely limited. Zeller is widely known as a draft bust. Drafted fourth overall by the Bobcats, hopes were high for the seven-footer. Unfortunately, he failed to answer the call and nothing has gone his way. Zeller hasn’t played 50 games in a season since 2016-2017. He has been healthy this season, but with the way the NBA is changing, Zeller doesn’t fit in with the rest of the exciting, young players.
Charlotte’s bench is highlighted by Malik Monk, and a bunch of overpaid vets. The bench shows lots of the shambles of the Kemba Walker era. Desperate to surround Kemba with stars, the Hornets massively overpaid players like Bismack Biyombo and Nicolas Batum. Along with those two, are a bunch of unpromising young players, but hey, Devonte Graham was ‘unpromising’ as well, so who knows? Still, Malik monk is a bust and the rest of those young players are late either late Second-Round picks or undrafted free agents.
Trade Deadline Moves:
Charlotte did not make any trades before the deadline. They were likely hoping for some suitors to take Zeller, but nothing happened with them. The Hornets are not in dire need of a trade because they have a lot of young players to build around.
Although not as promising as the Hawks, Charlotte does have some light at the end of the tunnel. They surprised everyone by being only a bad team instead of a terrible team, and the development of Graham, Bridges and Washington are going to be key pieces in their rebuild.
Bismack Biyombo is on an expiring deal and he will likely be going elsewhere next season as the Hornets no longer have a use for him.
Cody Zeller and Nicolas Batum will both have expiring contracts at the start of next season. Cody Zeller, at 27, may be able to be traded in the off-season as his three-point shooting did improve a bit and could provide a team some nice production off the bench. Batum, at 31, may be seeing his final season in the NBA. Batum’s injury is going to severely hurt his chances at finding another NBA home.
In the 2020 NBA draft, the Hornets could benefit from a player like Onyeka Okongwu. Okongwu has been averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 rebound per game. He is more of an old-school Center, but his athleticism sets him apart from players like Biyombo and Zeller. He would make a great fit along with the young roster and they should look at him in the draft.
Charlotte may never truly compete for a championship in the decade, but they have the potential to be a solid playoff team. If development continues and they draft well, the Hornets could end up being a very good team in the future.