After a horrible 6 game losing streak, we have officially seen the highs and the extreme lows of the Charlotte Hornets. While the season is still early, it is fair to say that they will not get much worse than they were in those 6 games, barring a significant injury to a key player. This horrid stretch was riddled with stagnant offense, an incompetent defense, and much like last year a knack for blowing 4th quarter leads. Granted this did come at the hands of MKG and Nic being absent for a majority of the stretch, it was still very alarming to watch. With all this being said we have also been able to see a side of the Hornets that looks like it could compete for the Eastern Conference Finals. The difference in these two sides is night and day, Howard is putting up crazy numbers, the team is moving the ball, and the bench is providing instant offense. While we would all prefer the latter, is it fair to believe it can be sustained?
The first thing that needs to happen if the Hornets are going to reach the Eastern Conference Finals is more consistency, and not just with their level of play. The energy needs to be more consistent. At the start of the season you could feel the energy they were playing with almost every game, but during the last 10 games it has been stagnant. If they can sustain energy from game to game and more importantly for the entire game, it will be a huge step in the right direction. Another area the Hornets need to get more consistent in is Clifford’s rotations. The team has played well together, but it is harder for players to be prepared when they are exiting and entering the game at times they are not expecting. The biggest player having to work with this is Malik Monk. Clifford has been inconsistent with the minutes he has given to Monk and that lack of consistency can be crippling for a rookie. There have been games when Monk plays all the way to the end of the 4th like at the Knicks, and others like the two home games against the Clippers and Wizards where he did not touch the court. Monk also is not ready to play yet I personally believe, but in his defense when the minutes are inconsistent it is hard to always be prepared. All of the lineup confusion can be attributed to the erratic injuries that have plagued the team up to this point.
With a lack of all-stars in the east due to free agency, and no real impressive team other than the Boston Celtics who are without Gordon Hayward, the Hornets should be able to compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference. They have already beaten Milwaukee and Washington who are considered to be two contenders in the East, and they seem to be a different team in The Hive with a record of 7-2. The biggest problem the team has is winning road games, which can really haunt you come playoff time. They have only won ONE road game the entire season while losing 8, which is not promising for the rest of the season. Hovering around a .500 road record is good, but going 1-8 on the road to begin the season is horrendous. The deciding factors for if the Hornets can make the ECF will be determined by their ability to win road games, stay healthy, and play with consistency, not their ability to beat other teams in the east. We are capable of beating any team on any night. If we can progress in these three things we could be looking at a competitive series in the second round of the playoffs, and be fighting for an Eastern Conference Finals playoff bid.
We are five games into the NBA season and we finally have a good enough sample size of the team to formulate our opinions on the 2017-18 Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets are currently 2-3 and have shown tremendous upside, while falling just short to a very good team in the Milwaukee Bucks with potential future league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Through these first five games though, one thing has stood out: We are going to be one of the few teams to rely heavily on our big men. In a basketball era where every team wants to chuck threes we have accepted the fact that isn’t our identity. We haven’t been able to see Cody Zeller suit up but for one game this season so it is difficult to measure how he will mesh with Dwight Howard, but we do know he is not going to be a stretch center who launches threes. The big surprise though has been how well Frank Kaminsky has played during the absence of Cody, and how surprisingly well he has been able to fit alongside Howard this quickly. Howard himself has also been stellar early on, averaging 14 points a game to go along with 17 rebounds. Let’s dive into what kind of an impact these two have made thus far.
Dwight Howard has been dominant, to say the least. Howard has averaged 14 points and 17 rebounds, and not on bad competition either. Howard has been able to do this going up against Andre Drummond, Nikola Jokic, and Clint Capela who tailed 20 rebounds and 16 points against Joel Embid’s 76’ers. This is very promising and could be a sign Howard has finally found a place he is wanted and can be productive. While I do not expect him to sustain this level of play I do think it is reasonable to think he will be able to put up these numbers every few games. The most important factor Howard brings us though, is his presence down low. I remember during the “revenge game” against the Hawks, Dennis Schroder took several drives past Kemba only to meet Howard and throw up a floater before getting close enough to attempt a layup. While this may seem small it plays a huge factor into each possession, it now becomes how to I get to the basket, and when I do how am I going to put it in? This leads to many mistakes, bad shots, and the occasional D12 swat whenever they forget about his presence.
The problem with working a guy like Howard into your lineup is the same as every player, turnovers. This is not because he can’t hold onto the ball or makes bad passes, as the majority of turnovers come from the team being unable to make the entry pass often forcing the ball into a space that isn’t there. Another issue that has hurt us to begin the season is the change of our team when he comes off the court. We have yet to find an identity for our bench unit as it still looks just as pitiful as last year. Hopefully this will change with the addition of Cody Zeller back into the lineup Sunday night against the Magic
Frank Kaminsky has been a totally different player at the start of this season, compared to last season. For the majority of last year, I did not want him to touch the ball or even be on the court. This season has been totally different, Frank has been very impressive and has sustained this level of play for more than just a few possessions. I am still very nervous to see him attempting to handle the ball, but he hasn’t given me a reason to yell at the TV incessantly…yet. If Frank is able to continue this level of play I will definitely consider erasing how he performed last year from my memory. As long as he doesn’t fall back into his poor habits of taking bad shots and playing bad defense he should be able to find success the rest of the season.