Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Charlotte Hornets with Derek James and Bryan Mears of At The Hive. (Yesterday's preview: Atlanta Hawks)
Charlotte Hornets 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 43-39, No. 3 in Southeast Division, No. 7 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Justin Cobbs (rookie, undrafted), P.J. Hairston (rookie, No. 26), Dallas Lauderdale, Jason Maxiell, Brian Qvale, Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson, Noah Vonleh (Rookie, No. 9), Marvin Williams
Roster subtractions: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Josh McRoberts, Luke Ridnour, Anthony Tolliver, D.J. White
SB Nation affiliate: At The Hive
Blazer's Edge: Al Jefferson is one of the better low-post scorers in the NBA, yet he seems to fly a bit under the radar. Why is that?
Derek James: Well, I don't think his teams have helped him any. He hardly played in Boston. Then went to Minnesota where he began to breakout, then hurt his knee. Utah is also a fantastic place to be unheralded. I mean, he's a 20-9 guy on his career, but he chooses to keep a low profile in the league.
BE: What do you expect out of Lance Stephenson in a Hornets uniform? Do you think reports of his "character issues" are exaggerated?
Bryan Mears: Lance Stephenson's most famous moment last season was when he blew in LeBron James' ear during the playoffs. Which was unfortunate, because it has really shadowed his value on the court since. Stephenson just turned 24 last month and has begun to turn his flashes of potential as a two-way player into reality the last two seasons.
According to basketball-reference.com, Stephenson is only the 22nd player to have a season with at least 2.5 offensive win shares, 4.5 win shares, a PER of 14.5, and a TS% of .560 by 23 years old. On that list are names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Charles Barkley - pretty much, all the historic giants. That is not to say Stephenson is in that same stratosphere currently. And it's also not to say he's on track to become LeBron James. But historic company is historic company.
Stephenson will bring much needed shot creation on the perimeter for a Hornets team that relied much on Kemba Walker and Josh McRoberts - now gone to the Heat - to manufacture offense. And regarding the "attitude problems" that the media can't stop discussing? Perhaps an edginess will be good for a Hornets franchise seeking to re-invent their identity. The Hornets are trending up, and Stephenson is a big part of that.
BE: Kemba Walker puts up decent numbers, but like Jefferson, rarely gets national buzz. Do you think he's underrated? What will he have to do this season to get a bit of the spotlight?
DJ: Much like Jefferson, he's never played on a very visible team. But with more national attention more people should begin to take notice of what he's doing in Charlotte because he is still one of the league's young and exciting point guards. It also wouldn't hurt if he could get his efficiency back up while continuing to distribute as he has.
BE: Charlotte shut down the paint last year and prevented opponents from easily scoring within the arc, but had a rough time defending the three-point line. Do you expect anything different?
BM: Defending the rim and defending the 3-point line are the two holy grails of current NBA defenses, which have become much more complex in recent years. Teams have become much better at focusing their defenses on these two things. Unfortunately, it is very hard to do both simultaneously.
It makes sense when you think just about the structure of the court - if you're running players off the 3-point line, the only place to run them is inside, where the rim is. And when you focus on packing the paint and deterring players from that area, you're just asking for the ball to be whipped around the 3-point line to an open shooter. This is why a team that can simultaneously achieve both objectives often do very well, like the champion Spurs last season.
Obviously the goal would be to be great at both defensive aspects. However, it's probably much more realistic that only one happens. And rim protection has shown to have a strong correlation to how good a team defense can be. Steve Clifford has implemented a successful system; it's not very probable to see major shifts from it this season. Don't fix what's not broke, in a sense.
BE: What about the Hornets' offense? Last year, it was not much better than average in any relevant team statistics...will that change this year? How?
DJ: Charlotte's offense last season was a bit of a "chicken and the egg" conundrum: were they bad at shooting because they had bad spacing, or did they have bad spacing because they couldn't shoot? Whichever it is, the team has addressed this concern. They've worked the hitch out of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jumpshot. In free agency, they added Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams. And in the draft they selected PJ Hairston in hopes that he continues to be an above average shooter.
The Hornets could also see internal improvement if Gerald Henderson and Walker get their efficiency back up to the levels that we've previously known. Either way, the team is hoping this has a trickle down effect on the offense.
BE: How will Steve Clifford run his bench rotation?
BM: And here's the million dollar question that Hornets fans want to know. At Media Day, Clifford announced that both Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams would be starting for the Hornets. We can assume Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson will be in there as well, so that leaves us - Gerald Henderson or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
There are merits of both players and merits of which one to start. Typically, offensively-oriented players do better in a bench or sixth-man role than defensive-oriented players, so that thinking would say give Kidd-Gilchrist the start. And if this new jumpshot is legit, there's probably no more argument here.
Regarding the rest of the bench rotation, we will probably see a heavy dose of Gary Neal. He has arguably been the most impressive Hornet this offseason and preseason, and his best skill is something the Hornets badly need this year: outside shooting. Regarding the bigs, Zeller will likely be the first off the bench, and Clifford has said he's open to playing him at either the four or five position. It remains to be seen how much production to expect from the rookies - likely, not much this year.
Regardless, there is deeper talent at each position on this Hornets roster, and you can definitely expect to see some experimental rotations, especially since Clifford has said he would love to use Stephenson in a similar way Indiana used him, staggering his minutes so he can be the primary creator of the second unit.
Special thanks to Derek James and Bryan Mears of At The Hive for taking the time to discuss the Charlotte Hornets' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Derek can be found on twitter @DerekJamesNBA, and Bryan is @bryan_mears. At The Hive has you covered for Hornets news and analysis.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter