Well that was certainly fun to watch.
The Charlotte Hornets opened their 2016-2017 season with a convincing 107-96 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Hornets got a strong jump out of the gate and never looked back, going up by as much as 24 points as their defense led the way.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of last season to make a huge impact. He was all over the floor, providing the Hornets with hustle and energy throughout the game. He was successful in driving to the basket and creating contact. He scooped up loose balls and crashed the boards. And with 23 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, he set the tone for a Hornets team that coach Clifford says will have to bring it on defense from day one.
Roy Hibbert signed a one-year deal with the Hornets in an effort to revive his career. Hibbert was a defensive force just a couple of years ago in Indiana, and he has one attribute that can’t be taught; size. The 7’2” center made his statement early and often, with a series of blocks and altered shots that made the Bucks think twice before going into the paint. You could see Milwaukee’s players second guess themselves on baseline drives after Hibbert accrued four blocks in the first half, ultimately finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds three assists and FIVE blocks. Heck of a debut for the Georgetown product, who looks to be playing with a tremendous chip on his shoulder this season.
Kemba Walker had a good game with 17 points and eight assists while Marvin Williams chipped in 13 points, 10 rebounds and one emphatic blocked shot. Nic Batum finished with nine points, six boards, seven dimes and two steals. The trio shot a combined 12-36, good for a 33% clip. The positive spin on that discouraging shooting percentage is the fact that the Hornets still dominated the game despite three of their starters struggling from the field.
Cody Zeller, who at one point was in doubt to even suit up for the opener, came off the bench and chipped in 15 points and two blocks in just 14 minutes of action.
It’s only a one game sample of this years Charlotte Hornets, so it’s still premature to make any assumptions of things to come but, why not make a few early observations anyway?
The Hornets lost some key offensive pieces from last season’s playoff run when they let center Al Jefferson and guards Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee sign elsewhere in free agency. They did, however, retain two key pieces to the team by resigning Batum and Williams. Their versatility and defensives presence made them the top priorities entering the summer and the Hornets were smart to keep them on the roster.
The ball moves so much better with a healthy Batum; his skill set is a rarity in the NBA and he is the motor that keeps the Hornets offense going.
In contrast, Kidd-Gilchrist is the middle linebacker of the Hornets defense. His return boosts the energy on both ends of the court but, with both MKG and Batum locking down the wings and Hibbert patrolling the paint, the Hornets once again can flex their muscles on defense.
The team experienced a renaissance on offense last year, spreading the offense out more while attacking from long range at a pace just shy of the three happy Warriors. The defense remained one of the better units in the league, but this year’s defense could be exceptionally better if we can stay healthy.
That’s always a mighty big “IF.” For the most part, the Hornets came out of the preseason healthy. Frank Kaminsky missed last night’s game, but after playing in 81 games last season don’t expect that to be an issue going forward. Starting the season healthy is paramount, allowing a team to build chemistry early on to set the tone for a long, grueling schedule so the team’s early health is certainly something to be thankful for.
Sadly, injuries during the season are inevitability, so the team’s depth will be tested whenever it comes time for our bench to step up. Both backup wings struggled early last night; Marco Belinelli finally settled down after a slow start, but he played a good bit in the preseason and seemed to find his groove in a few of the games, so I expected him to play well.
Jeremy Lamb had a handful of strong games after signing an extension early last season but then he faded and never regained the confidence he had showed early on. Last night he went 0-4 in just nine minutes and the Hornets are going to need a better effort out of him as the season progresses.
The three players at the end of the bench are relatively unproven, with undrafted second year guard Aaron Harrison, Treveon Graham and athletic forward Christian Wood rounding out the roster.
No doubt the Hornets depth will be tested at some point this season but for now it appears they have a solid nine or ten man rotation that Clifford can rely on.
All things said, last night’s victory over a talented, young Bucks squad was a good way to kick off the season. The Hornets travel to Miami next to face the Heat in an early divisional matchup. The Heat are playing their first season post-Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is unlikely to play this season due to blood clot issues. The matchup between giants Roy Hibbert and Hassan Whiteside will be a fun one to watch, as the Hornets struggled to find an answer for the Heat big man in last season’s playoff series.
The season is upon us everyone, let’s settle in and enjoy some Charlotte Hornets basketball. Till next time guys, KEEP BUZZING!!!