Basketball Insiders continues their foray into the lottery-bound squads with the next installment of our “Fixing” series. Today, the focus will be on the Charlotte Hornets, who currently reside at the 10-spot in both the Eastern Conference and the Draft Lottery with a record of 29-39.
The Hornets have dealt with a litany of issues this season; key contributors Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller have both missed significant time at different points this season.
Rookie Malik Monk continues to inexplicably receive little-to-no playing time from Steve Clifford. Monk has played in just 48 games this year and averages just 11.8 minutes per contest.
All-Star Kemba Walker, who has averaged 22.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists this season, isn’t doing their draft pick any favors, either. The team had an opportunity to move Walker at the deadline but chose not to.
Lastly, Michael Jordan may own the team, but the success of His Airness hasn’t exactly rubbed off on the Hornets. Charlotte last made the postseason during the 2015-16 season and haven’t advanced past the first round since 2001-02.
So, what have the Hornets done right, and what exactly can they do to improve their situation?
What is Working
A major plus for the Hornets is that Walker continues to play like an All-Star, even as the team has gone nowhere this season.
Charlotte failed to move Walker at the Trade Deadline, but they could certainly grab a haul for him in the offseason or in the build-up to the NBA Draft. Whether on the court or in trade talks, Walker is an asset, a major one to boot, something that is invaluable to the Hornets in their current situation.
Jeremy Lamb, who was acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2015, has had a breakout season of sorts. Lamb finally seems capable of the instant offense off the bench that he was pegged to produce back in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Across 24.5 minutes per game, Lamb has averaged a career-high 13.2 points to go along with four rebounds while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 36 percent from three, also a career high. Just 25-years-old, Lamb could remain a nice anchor on the Charlotte bench should they retain his services past next season and through a rebuild.
Charlotte also has a nice stable of young bigs to build around. While Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Willy Hernangomez aren’t exactly elite, but all three are certainly capable of playing quality minutes for a competitive squad should Charlotte turn its fortunes around in the future.
What Needs to Change
The Hornets need to accept the fact that they aren’t very good. Slated for their second straight losing season, Charlotte needs to take account of the current roster and determine who will and won’t last through a rebuild.
All of that should start with giving Monk more minutes.
The Hornets invested the No.11 overall pick in Monk last June; at this point in the season, he should be averaging more than 11.8 minutes a night. The team has taken a step in the right direction over the past four games — Monk has averaged 17.3 minutes over the last four — and needs to heap minutes onto him. It may seem obvious, but young players need time to mature and develop, and it’s integral the Hornets get an extended look at Monk as they begin to plan for the 2018 Draft.
The same could be said for Hernangomez and fellow rookie Dwayne Bacon. Acquired from the Knicks near the Trade Deadline, Hernangomez has averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes this season and is certainly capable of contributing, but has averaged just 5.3 minutes across eight games played with the team. Bacon, a second-round pick, could stand to play more than 11.6 minutes per game as the Hornets look to sort out the future of the roster as well. With the team going nowhere, why not see what Bacon can do?
Focus Area: The Draft
As things currently stand, the Hornets are poised to miss out on the “can’t miss” prospects of the 2018 class: DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Mo Bamba, Michael Porter Jr. and Luka Doncic are all likely out of reach for Charlotte, barring a major shakeup in the standings or on draft night.
Still, the 2018 Draft is loaded with upside and has more potential stars than any draft in recent memory.
Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Villanova’s Mikal Bridges all present intriguing options at the guard position that could be available to Charlotte. Monk would fit nicely next to any of them at the two-guard spot should Charlotte choose to go in that direction. Drafting a guard doesn’t make much sense as long as Walker is still entrenched in the starting lineup, but things can change quickly in the NBA.
As for frontcourt players, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox are all versatile, impact players that could make some noise for Charlotte. All of them could push the aforementioned trio of Zeller, Kaminsky and Hernangomez from the outset and would have an interesting potential mentor in former All-Star Dwight Howard.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The Hornets, who are currently over the salary cap, are projected to have nothing in terms of cap space next season. While most big-name free agents probably weren’t headed to Charlotte anyway, their lack of financial flexibility essentially takes them out of the free agent running before it even starts.
In terms of their own free agents, Charlotte doesn’t have to worry much. Julyan Stone and Treveon Graham can easily be replaced, while Michael Carter-Williams will hit the market coming off of season-ending shoulder surgery.
There aren’t too many enticing names that the Hornets could add on near-minimum deals, but handing out short-term “prove-it” deals to reclamation projects and other similar players a la Tyreke Evans could be something Charlotte pursues, (hopefully) with the intent to eventually flip them at the deadline for draft collateral. Avery Bradley, Willie Reed and Shabazz Muhammed are some players that come to mind.
The Hornets haven’t been the best version of themselves over the last two seasons and they seemingly have a long road ahead of them. Their conduct throughout the remainder of the 2017-18 season, into the offseason and up to the draft could go a long way in shortening the potential rebuild that looms over Charlotte.
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