The Eastern Conference was loaded last season with 10 teams finishing above .500. A lot of squads in the Eastern Conference made moves this off-season to load up to compete. Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets were relatively quiet when it came to making transactions, but made noise for other reasons.
After letting James Borrego go, the Hornets had a bizarre coaching search that led to Kenny Atkinson being hired, just for him to turn around a week later and go back to being the associate head coach for the Warriors. After spurning Mike D’Antoni for Atkinson, the Hornets brought him back, but they couldn’t agree to terms.
After all of that, the Hornets finally hired Steve Clifford. This is Clifford’s second stint with Charlotte after being fired in 2018. The Miles Bridges situation is also looming over the team as preliminary hearings are still underway regarding felony domestic charges against him. Now as the season quickly approaches here are some things to look for from the Hornets this season.
What Can LaMelo Do in Year Three:
Lamelo Ball has had quite the start to his young career. In year one, Ball was rookie of the year, and in year two he became an all-star player and one of the young faces of the league. In year three expect Lamelo to further his ascension up the NBA ranks. Coach Clifford has had a lot of communication with Ball and has stated that LaMelo has lived in the gym this summer. It’s time to give Ball the keys with no restrictions this season. Coach Clifford says he wants this team to continue to play at the same pace. In the half-court I would like to see Ball in more pick and rolls and let him attack defenders, using his passing ability to feed his teammates or going to his floater if larger defenders sag off. Expect a big season from LaMelo
More James Bouknight:
When James Bouknight played 19 minutes or more he showed why he was drafted with the 11th pick in the 2021 NBA draft. He averaged 13.5 points in those games. It was a small sample size, but Bouknight is a talented player who is entering his second season in the NBA. His skillset will be needed this season as Charlotte looks for someone to fill the scoring void left with Miles Bridges away from the team. Bouknight can create his own offense and should have a larger role this season. At times he seemed frustrated with coach Borrego during his rookie season. The Hornets need to give Bouknight opportunities this season to take the next steps forward in his development.
The Center Position:
The center position was an issue for the Hornets last season. Charlotte had trouble protecting the paint and getting rebounds at high leverage moments of the game. Mason Plumlee is the incumbent, but coach Clifford mentioned that Nick Richards had a great summer and is a player to watch this season. The Hornets also drafted Mark Williams with the 13th pick. Kai Jones is another candidate to play the five this season. Jones is raw, but has a ton of athleticism and at this point in his career he may be better suited to play the five than the four until he improves his ball handling and shooting. The Hornets will have to improve their paint defense, as they were near the bottom of the NBA in points allowed on drives in the paint.
Steve Clifford was brought in to improve this team defensively. The Hornets, under Borrego, were among the bottom twn teams in the league in defensive rating. Clifford has always believed in valuing the ball and defense. At his introductory press conference he mentioned wanting this team to improve defensively, while still being a top-ten offense. It will be interesting to see Clifford’s defensive schemes with this roster. If the Hornets can improve protecting the rim and the paint, that will be a way to get to the balance that coach Clifford wants this season.