The All-Star break is officially here, and as the Boys from Buzz City take a break, now seems like a great time to look back on this season so far. Lets be honest here folks, it hasn’t been pretty, but let’s breakdown the players and performances as we figure out where the Hornets train went off the tracks. I will touch on my biggest positives and negatives from this season, highlight some big wins and complain about a few season altering losses. Just be prepared…..this might get UGLY.
My biggest disappointment this season has been the play of Nic Batum. What the hell happened to him after signing the big contract? I understand he had the injury and knew he would be behind to start the year, but this season looks more like a continuation of last years struggles than his first successful season in Charlotte. It seems to me that the pressure that big money contract came with has been very difficult for Nic to deal with. When he was quoted in an article in the Charlotte Observer as saying “I don’t really care about it”….in response to the criticism by fans in mid January, I knew something was up. As a part of “Hornets Twitter” I saw him engage Jeremy Lin fans when the were critical of his play. Usually when a player starts saying things like that, it means they do care. When he decided to not play for France he took a lot of criticism from fans in his native country, even to the point where some were happy when he sustained the elbow injury that caused him to miss time. He was quoted in a Associated Press article from Oct 7th as saying, “Really, for real. I got on stuff (Social Media) and people are happy, like I deserve it” No one deserve to have that stuff said about him, and I have been critical of Nic’s play since he got here, but I can’t imagine cheering him getting hurt.
The reason I have been so critical is because the talent and skill are there. He has all the tools to be a 18/6/6 guy every time he puts on the jersey. If there is any hope for the Hornets these last 25 games to sneak into the playoffs, we are gonna need to see Nic play to his full potential. We need him to make plays and hit shots in order to win, if that happens he won’t have to pretend he doesn’t care about the critics, because they (myself included) will be hard pressed to find something to talk about.
Disappointment number two is Frank Kaminsky. I have seen enough folks, he hasn’t improved on either side of the court and its time to move on from him. After hearing of the health issues he had last off-season I gave him a clean slate coming into this year, and all I am seeing is the same guy I saw in the first two years of his NBA career. He is never going to be a plus defender in this league, his physical limitations are just too much to over come. His only hope to win me over was to become a real plus on the offensive end, and that just isn’t happening. His shooting percentages are nearly identical to his rookie year, and he just cannot find a way to be consistent. The Hornets were relying on him to be a big part of the bench, and that killed them early in the season. Its not only the fact that he is a career 40% shooter from the floor, its that he has no middle ground in what he brings every night. He can have a great game like he did on Dec 12th against the Knicks where he goes 10-13 for 24 points, or he can have a game like on Jan 29th versus the Pacers in a game the Hornets really needed to win when he shot 1 of 7 for 2 points and 1 rebound in 23 minutes. That is the problem with Frank, on those nights where he struggles offensively, his defense makes him unplayable, and the bad night far outnumber the good ones. Hopefully in these last 25 games he plays well in order to make a trade possible, because with them bringing in another young big in Hernangomez, I don’t see Frank being a part of this roster next year.
Finally, I have to say MCW, good lord he is hard to watch at times. I understand what he brings on the defensive end and his ability to run the offense, but lets just say I think its gonna be a one year experiment with him. I seriously would like to find someone to back-up Kemba who can stick around for more than a year, because this is the second year in a row where our bench unit has struggled with below average point guard play, and I don’t think my blood pressure can take another year.
Despite the Hornets record there have been some players who have had really good seasons this year. Quickly on a few first then more in-depth on others.
Kemba Walker has been great again this season, dragging this team with him at time trying to keep them in the playoff race. Without him this team may be the worst in the NBA, and that is both very sad and impressive.
Dwight Howard turned back the clock and has quieted some of his haters this season with solid play and a positive attitude. He also is the only Hornet to play in every game so far.
MKG has quietly had a solid season both offensively and defensively. Not flashy but his energy had been needed on the floor this season and he has stayed healthy.
Jeremy Lamb has finally put together the season many thought he was capable of this year. He has found ways to impact the game with his length and shooting while shoring up some of his mental lapses on defense that often caused him to spend time in Clifford’s Doghouse. His finishing at the rim has been great, and his mid-range game has been consistent and effective all year. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 9th among qualified shooting guards and his 13.5 ppg off the bench is among the best in the East. If he can find way to improve his passing skills he will be well on his way to being a highly coveted free agent after next season.
Treveon Graham is the guy that you can’t help but cheer for, he is the underdog story who knows he has to play nearly perfect to get time on the court over guys making more money who were drafted high. This season has been a break-out year for the undrafted second year player from VCU. He has gone from a bench-warmer on an un-guaranteed contract to a consistent role player who will likely get a long-term deal after this year. He is a true Swiss-Army knife on defense, defending guards and forwards, by using his combination of strength and quickness. His offense is still a bit limited, but as his role grows so will his confidence. He is perfect for the Hornets system as he rarely turns the ball over and seems to always make the smart play. He also is deadly from 3, shooting a smooth 45% from behind the arc. These last 25 games for him will be huge, because if he continues to play well, it will not only pay off in more playing time next year, but a nice little payday as well. Hopefully the Hornets can scrape together enough cap space to resign him, because as rare as it is to find a guy like Treveon, you have to keep him in Charlotte.
Best Win So Far
This is an easy one, the Hornets kicked off a 4 game west coast road trip on December 29th with a huge win over the defending champion Warriors 111-100 for only their third road victory of the season. Dwight Howard had a huge night with 29 points, 13 rebounds and a career high 7 assists. The Hornets out hustled the Warriors all night and really gave us fans some hope. They managed to win 3 of 4 on that trip.
Worst Loss So Far
This choice isn’t nearly as easy, because let’s be honest here folks, this team has lost some games late that should never have happened. I keep coming back to the game in Chicago where Kemba Walker dropped 47 but the entire Hornets defense looked like they could not have defended a Rec League team. They gave up 123 points and let the Bulls shoot 52% led by guys like Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine. It was ugly, and it came at a time when the Hornets really, really needed a win.
What to watch for in the last 25 games.
Who knows with this group, am I right? This team could come out rested and refreshed and win 8 of 10, or they could throw in the towel and lose 8 of 10. They do have a favorable schedule on the way out, 13 of the 25 games are against lottery teams, some of which will be collecting wins like they are kids collecting candy on Halloween. However with the news of Rich Cho being fired, the whole organization could be in a weird position of an unknown future with front office and coaching staff. This last sprint to the finish will have so intrigue for individual players though, can Kemba break the all-time Hornets scoring record, can Dwight Howard reach 13,000 career rebounds (becoming only the 16th player in NBA history to achieve that).