Charlotte Hornets 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 33-49, No. 4 Southeast Division, No. 11 Eastern Conference
Frank Kaminsky (PF) – Drafted No. 9 overall
Jeremy Lin (PG) – Signed as free agent
Tyler Hansbrough (PF) – Signed as free agent
Aaron Harrison (SG) – Signed as free agent
Nicolas Batum (SF) – Acquired via trade from the Portland Trail Blazers
Spencer Hawes (C) – Acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Clippers
Jeremy Lamb (SG) – Acquired via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder
Mo Williams (PG) – Signed with Cleveland Cavaliers as free agent
Bismack Biyombo (C) – Signed with Toronto Raptors as free agent
Gary Neal (SG) – Signed with Washington Wizards as free agent
Jason Maxiell (PF) – Signed with Tianjin Steel as free agent
Jeffery Taylor (SF) – Signed with Real Madrid as free agent
Lance Stephenson (SG) – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers
Gerald Henderson (SG) – Traded to the Portland Trail Blazers
Noah Vonleh (PF) – Traded to the Portland Trail Blazers
Notable staffing changes
Dell Curry – Hired as Ambassador and Special Projects Advisor
SBN Affiliate: At The Hive
2014-15 Season In Review
The Hornets had one heck of a rough year as far as injuries are concerned. Outside of Henderson, now a Trail Blazer, none of the starters played more than 65 games. Team leader Kemba Walker missed 20 games with a torn meniscus, Al Jefferson missed 17 games with groin and knee injuries, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed 27 games with rib, foot, and ankle injuries, and Cody Zeller missed 20 games with a shoulder injury. That is excluding the glut of bench players that dealt with their own misfortunes. Amazingly, despite all this, the Hornets remained in the playoff race until April 10th. It is fair to say that with better luck, they could have been a playoff team in the East last season. After all, they finished just five wins behind the eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
It is not unprecedented for a team to hold onto this middling level of success amidst such adversity, but it is at least a minor miracle that they were able to do so without much creativity on offense, healthy or otherwise. Their basic game plan was designed around getting Jefferson touches in the low post, often with two or more teammates idly spectating from the perimeter. Although Jefferson is one of the most skilled offensive post players in the league, this is not a recipe for success when no one is a shooting threat. The Hornets were No. 29 in field goal percentage (42 percent) and dead last in 3-point percentage (31.8 percent). Almost every player contributed to and suffered from a lack of real help. Eight of them shot below 40 percent, and only bygone center Biyombo shot above 50 percent. Ouch.
That being said, this is a tremendous credit to the Hornets’ defense. No team with those offensive numbers should be remotely sniffing the playoffs in April, and yet, there they were. Head coach Steve Clifford placed a heavy emphasis on clogging the interior, so much so that opposing teams were frequently forced to settle for jumpers. Since the defensive wall was formed in such close proximity to the rim, and the Hornets explicitly do not leak out in transition, they became the best in the league at preventing second-chance points off of offensive rebounds. In a league that is trending toward analytics and 3-point shooting, the Hornets’ philosophy was surprisingly effective. Of course, it helped that Kidd-Gilchrist and Henderson were able to somewhat control the perimeter, even with less focus there.
While the Hornets are rightfully discontent with missing the playoffs last season, they did learn a lot about their strengths and weaknesses. There is still reasonable potential for growth in Charlotte with conscientious adjustments. Balance was the biggest issue within their control.
Perhaps properly billed as addition by subtraction, the Hornets began their summer makeover by dealing the failed Stephenson experiment to the Clippers. In return, they received Hawes and Matt Barnes, the latter of which was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies in the 3-team trade that brought in Lamb. Given the Hornets’ relatively minimal compensation for Stephenson, it is clear that offensive fit was a huge priority for them after the underwhelming product of last season’s gamble. The allure of proficiency on paper has been forgone for more deliberate teambuilding, for better or worse.
The Hornets’ underachieving in the short-lived Stephenson era landed them in the lottery, where they received the No. 9 pick of the 2015 Draft. They spent that pick on Kaminsky, who they were particularly high on. Given the perceived opportunity cost of passing on Justise Winslow, chosen No. 10 by the Miami Heat, there is incredible pressure on Kaminsky to perform. Historically speaking, Charlotte is terrible at drafting. It is worth noting that, excluding 2010, Charlotte has had a lottery pick every year since the 2004 expansion, and the only standout player yielded in 11 tries so far has been Walker (though the jury is still out on Kidd-Gilchrist). Kaminsky has the stretch-4 potential Charlotte desires, but he has his work cut out for him to validate the Hornets’ selection in tomorrow’s retrospect. With that in mind, there are others that have more on their shoulders.
"Nic has always been 3rd or 4th option. Now he's going to be 2nd or 1st option" offensively. -- Clifford.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) September 25, 2015
Batum was far and away the main prize of Charlotte’s summer dealings. The Hornets intend to start him at shooting guard in order to have a two-facilitator backcourt and take pressure off of Walker. Since Batum is a respectable shooter, albeit inconsistently, this should go a long way toward solving the Hornets’ aforementioned "no real help" problem. On top of all that, he is a gifted perimeter defender that could pair well with Kidd-Gilchrist on the other end. It is a bit concerning that the Hornets see him as a first or second scoring option when he struggled at times to be the Trail Blazers’ fourth last season, but he still makes the team better. At the very least, his addition to the roster solidifies this year’s group as the most talented to surround Walker since he entered the league.
PG: Kemba Walker | Jeremy Lin | Brian Roberts | Aaron Harrison
SG: Nicolas Batum | Jeremy Lamb | Troy Daniels
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist | Marvin Williams | P.J. Hairston
PF: Cody Zeller | Frank Kaminsky | Tyler Hansbrough
C: Al Jefferson | Spencer Hawes
Almost bright, depending on how you gauge success. They certainly have a shot at the playoffs, which is their short-term goal, so it is hard not to be optimistic. Yes, trimming Vonleh and Henderson could be deemed shortsighted, but it made sense. By moving Vonleh (an unused piece) and Henderson (a piece in need of an upgrade) for Batum (the upgrade in question), they filled a major need at a minimal cost in their eyes. They then got exactly who they wanted in the draft to replace any loss. It is going to be interesting to see how this team performs as a unit after a considerable overhaul; especially since they seem to have a specific direction in mind. However, other teams in the East have improved as well, so success is far from guaranteed.
The Hornets do not move up in the Southeast Division, but still compete for low seeding in the Eastern Conference due in large part to the weakness of the Atlantic Division. Kaminsky challenges Zeller for the starting power forward slot and narrowly edges him partway through the season. Kidd-Gilchrist continues to grow and is selected to the All-Defensive 2nd team for the first time in his career, but is the only Hornet to receive an accolade. Hawes abandons the topknot for cornrows.