In about a week, the meaningless NBA preseason will come to a close. Then again, maybe the preseason isn’t totally worthless as an indicator of future performance for the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets dominated these exhibition contests that preceded last season’s 48-win finish, winning seven of eight.
Prior to finishing second-worst in the NBA with just 21 wins in 2012-13, the Hornets went just 1-7 in the preseason. Head coach Steve Clifford is surely hoping this is more coincidental than correlation, as he looks to build on the franchise’s best season since 1999. As we prepare for the “real” season to start, here is what’s currently buzzing in Buzz City.
All eyes on Frank
With Al Jefferson now in Indianapolis, the time has officially arrived for the 23-year-old from Wisconsin to show us what he’s made of. Center Frank Kaminsky averaged just 7 points and 4 boards per game last year, but is off to a solid start during the preseason thus far, posting averages of 12.5 and 7, as well as looking much more assertive on both ends of the floor. Kaminsky will need to continue this trend to enable the Hornets to play inside-out and create space on the perimeter.
The “offense will come”
Death, taxes and Steve Clifford loving the heck out of defense. It’s no secret Clifford favors a team built on fundamental, hard-nosed defense over a sloppy group purely focused on piling up points. Let’s be real, no championship contender is weak on the defensive side of the ball. But it’s still a bit alarming how reliant this version of the Hornets seems to be on their defense.
General manager Rich Cho essentially replaced the departed Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin and their collective 24 points per game with the defensive-minded Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions and their 16 points per game. The return of swingman, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is indeed a welcome sight, but he’s also not known for his scoring prowess (though Mark Price did improve his jumpshot!). According to Hibbert, “[the] offense will come”. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that’s true. (per the Charlotte Observer)
When you constantly play with the energy and scrappiness of a toddler who just chugged a Red Bull, an occasional injury is inevitable (see: Varejao, Anderson). Forward Cody Zeller found this to be true in Game 3 versus the Miami Heat, when he went down with a deep bone bruise in his knee.
The Big Handsome (no, really that’s his nickname according to Basketball Reference) is now cleared to practice, and that’s great news for the Hornets. Zeller runs the floor, jumps out of the gym, plays tough defense, shoots a high percentage and falls down more frequently than most. It’s good to see Charlotte will have their “glue” guy back for the start of the season.
The Hornets will kick off their 2016-17 season Wednesday 10/26 in Milwaukee before heading to Miami on Friday 10/28. Both will be winnable games versus young, athletic teams. Charlotte will face an early test when they return to North Carolina for their home opener against Al Horford and the Boston Celtics on Saturday 10/29. Many analysts are predicting the Celtics will finish as high as 2nd in the Eastern Conference this year.
Christopher Kreider | @krydr1