At Christmas last year, the then Bobcats were 14-15 and there seemed to be more optimism and momentum around a team that had just signed its biggest star in Al Jefferson, and that was about to take on a significant change in going back to the Hornets name. Finishing 43-39 and making the playoffs, everyone was excited about what this team could become in the future. Turn the page and the Hornets are now 7-18 and looking for someone at which they can point the finger.
The same coach is in place. The same system is in place. On paper they are arguably better than they were last year. The additions of Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, PJ Hairston, and Noah Vonleh should’ve been moves that catapulted this team to the middle ranks of the Eastern conference. Instead, this team looks like one that seriously over achieved last year. The East has gotten better, but so should have the Hornets. They have problems they won’t address and they have created some issues down in Charlotte.
First of all, Lance is not the problem. He was the biggest move for the Hornets this offseason and has become the scapegoat of all their issues. It’s rare that you see a team not even 30 games into the season ready to give up on their big offseason acquisition, but the Hornets need to place the blame. They knew Lance’s game before they signed him. He has to have the ball in his hands. Lance is a playmaker, a rebounder, and a solid defender. Yes, he can over dribble but that’s his major flaw. Maybe there are some chemistry issues with him and the rest of the team. Maybe he doesn’t fit into Clifford’s system. That all could be true, but you knew what he was before you brought him in and if Clifford’s system is the issue, the best coaches know how to adapt to their personnel. For Lance to work here, he needs to have the ball in his hands we all know this, but for some reason the Hornets don’t understand that.
The biggest piece missing from this team from last year is Josh McRoberts. McRoberts is a role player, albeit a solid one, he is a role player. You can’t tell me his 9 points and 5 rebounds in 30 minutes of action meant this much to the Hornets. This year with the Heat McRoberts is averaging a whopping 4 points and 3 rebounds. I know, stud. Yes he was able to provide some valuable minutes down low and provide some energy for the team but he can’t be this important to the Hornets. With McRoberts gone, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, and Noah Vonleh should be able to provide what McRoberts provided between the three of them, yet the team does not have the same feel.
So what is the problem? Well they don’t guard well at all, especially on the perimeter. With Gerald Henderson and MKG, this should be the least of their worries. They get burned from the three point line and if the drivers get into the lane, we all know Al Jefferson isn’t blocking any shots. They played solid defense last year and added a solid defender in Stephenson, yet the output is much worse.
The other problem is Kemba Walker. He isn’t a point guard. This team needs a true, pass first point guard and that’s not Kemba’s game. Walker seems to think he is Allen Iverson at times and tries to do too much out on the floor. After getting a huge extension, which he didn’t deserve, the Hornets are stuck with him running the point. In him lies the problem of this team. Walker should be coming off the bench as a 6th man to get a few buckets and then sit back down. He is not the answer for running a team. To be a shoot first point guard and start in the NBA, you need to have the skills of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, or Kyrie Irving. Walker isn’t and will never be any of those guys. He is a fine player, but those guys he is not and the Hornets just gave someone who should be a bench player, 4 years at $48 million.
They shouldn’t get rid of Clifford. He has done well in turning this team around. General Manager Rich Cho does have some moves to consider. Does he bring in a real point guard and move Kemba to the bench? Does he find a way to bring in a defensive center or power forward to play alongside Al Jefferson? Does he go out and try to acquire another perimeter scorer? Those are all questions he needs to ask himself. One thing that is for sure is that Stephenson wasn’t a mistake and if the Hornets want to realize some mistakes they’ve made they should consider moving MKG and releasing Bismack Biyombo for starters. They are a team that can’t afford players that are projects – just wasted two lottery picks on a guy that won’t ever be more than a role player and another that shouldn’t be in the league. The season has become frustrating for fans that expected so much out of the team this year. It’s still early, and they are still in the mix for a lower seed, but they better make some improvements to this team sooner than later.
Check out more of Nick’s writing at NBAOnlineBlog.com.