The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.
Last Season: 36-46, missed the playoffs.
I know what you did last summer: Thanks to some circumstances in this year’s draft out of their control, the Hornets sort of fell into the lucky spot of drafting the University of Kentucky’s Malik Monk. Monk is an excellent 3-point shooter and should be a useful scorer for Charlotte off the bench. Meanwhile, the team also drafted Dwayne Bacon at No.40. Oh, and they traded for Dwight Howard. A 31-year-old Dwight Howard, but still.
THREE QUESTIONS THE HORNETS MUST ANSWER:
1) What is the identity of this team? Under head coach Steve Clifford the Hornets have traditionally been a good defensive team. Save for last season, each full year under Clifford the Hornets have been a Top 10 team in defensive rating. But last year it was a bit of a disaster, and Charlotte dipped to just 19th overall.
They could not play their most effective lineups due to injuries, and now with a revamped roster they will have to see if they can make it work. Al Jefferson has been gone for a full season now — long the offensive pacesetter for this team — and this is Kemba Walker‘s squad more than ever. He took a huge leap forward last season in efficiency, and it will be interesting to see where they go with a mix of veterans and young players as they try to fold Howard into it all.
2) Can Howard help a floundering defense? I sort of feel like people forget that the Atlanta Hawks finished with a winning record last season and fifth in the Eastern Conference. That counts for something, especially when you go back and remember that Dwight Howard had one of his best seasons in recent years on that squad. Howard also has the benefit of being familiar with Clifford, who helped coach him when he was a member of the Orlando Magic. Combined with Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky, it will be interesting to see how much Howard makes a difference to last seasons injury depleted squad.
Health alone won’t set Charlotte straight, and on offense it will still be the usual suspects carrying much of the load. Defense is where the Hornets have the most to make up in order to reach the playoffs next season, and Howard will be a critical part of that.
3) Is there a clear line between starters and role players in Charlotte? Kemba Walker, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb. This is the list of players who hit 1000+ minutes last season in the NBA on this roster. Walker is set to be a starter, as is Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, and Howard. Williams will likely be the fifth starter as a shooting presence — needed especially as MKG returns and with Marco Belinelli in Atlanta.
But where things could get muddy is if there is are jumps from the young scorers and simultaneous dips from the aging veterans. Charlotte seems open to that — especially when you look at players like Williams and Howard — who will have both Zeller and Kaminsky nipping at their heels. While the starting lineup could be what we’ve seen from Clifford before, the rotations could easily get tricky in Charlotte pretty quick. They’ll need to quickly figure out what those rotations are in order to win games.