The season has ended early for some of our beloved NBA franchises. Here at The Playgrounder we decided to do a postmortem of sorts. Specifically, we wanted to focus on five categories: what the team did well, where they struggled, free agency needs, 2020-21 expectations and a final prediction.
What did Charlotte do well?
The Hornets were well-coached. James Borrego stayed poised and optimistic throughout a rollercoaster of a season in Charlotte. A former video coordinator and assistant coach under Gregg Popovich, the 42-year-old is lauded for his basketball know-how and ability to connect with players. The Hornets could’ve just given up from the jump, but they didn’t, due in large part to Borrego’s presence on the sidelines. This team competed night in and night out.
Borrego gets the most out of what he has to work with, and in this season’s case he wasn’t given much. But despite the squad’s glaring absence of premier talent, Charlotte finished with a superior win/loss mark than seven franchises (23-42) and were just one game away from receiving an invite to Orlando this summer. Borrego inspires his guys to play with infectious effort and energy whenever they take the court, which makes him a terrific long-term fit for this youthful, rebuilding Hornets club.
As I previously alluded to, Charlotte isn’t exactly a roster flushed with potential game-changers, but members of their nucleus took encouraging steps forward in 2019-20. Two names in particular that come to mind are Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges. Bridges, a second-year forward out of Michigan State, was rewarded with a starting role this season and as a result achieved career-highs across the board.
Admittedly, his 42.4 field-goal percentage is subpar. But do you know what else is subpar? Charlotte’s offense. So Bridges is undeserving of ire for his less than ideal accuracy. Also, it’s not like he was ice cold from all over. Bridges exhibited the potential to one day be a multi-dimensional scoring threat, as he actually fared decently well from both at the rim (62.1 percent) and beyond the arc (33 percent). His strength, athleticism, and shooting touch makes him only an improved handle away from bridging the gap between up-and-comer and future offensive star.
While Bridges enjoyed an impressive season, he wasn’t even the best sophomore on the team. This title belonged to point guard Devonte’ Graham. After riding the bench behind Kemba Walker as a rookie, Graham was handed the metaphorical keys to the car practically right away in 2019-20, and he made the most of it. Devonte’ led Charlotte in points (18.2) and assists (7.5). Not to mention he transformed into a high-volume three-point marksman who nailed 37.3 percent of his three-pointers on 9.3 attempts nightly.
Yes, Graham was tremendously inaccurate from the field (38.2 percent), but he’s still an above-average offensive talent with room for growth. Devonte’ may never be a franchise-caliber floor general, but he’ll continue to produce as a scoring facilitator should Charlotte decide to reward him with a contract extension in the future (he’s set to hit restricted free agency in 2021).
What did Charlotte struggle with?
The Hornets were far and away the worst offensive team in the NBA this season. They ranked dead last in points (102.9) and field-goal percentage (43.4 percent). What this group’s lacking first and foremost is consistent and efficient scoring. Say one of Charlotte’s outings goes down to the wire, who exactly is going to take that big shot? Graham? Bridges? What about Terry Rozier or P.J. Washington? You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, they’re solid pros, but not quite good enough to elevate the Hornets out of the NBA’s cellar. The team’s dire lack of offensive weapons was their Achilles’ heel.
Free Agency Needs
Offense, offense, and more offense. In all seriousness, DeMar DeRozan should be Buzz City’s primary target. Charlotte will have enough cash to offer anyone a near max deal, so why not try for a legitimate scoring threat (if he opts out of his deal.) The former all-star’s skill set will instantly address two of Charlotte’s glaring needs — shot-creation and playmaking. As far as secondary targets go, the Hornets could benefit from picking up a three-point specialist or two. Wayne Ellington comes to mind as a cheap option. Or, if the DeRozan pursuit doesn’t pan out, Joe Harris may be someone worth handing an expensive, short-term deal to.
Assuming roster turnover is minimal, expect more of the same from the Hornets next season. Charlotte should continue to remain competitive under Borrego, but a postseason appearance is unlikely. The team simply doesn’t possess the personnel necessary to string together wins in the NBA. Charlotte is amidst the beginning stages of a full-fledged rebuild, meaning Hornets faithful have to be patient and trust that the organization is trending in the right direction. A step forward will happen, but it may not be enough to compete for the 8th seed.
If 82 games are played in 2020-21, Charlotte will win between 30 and 35 of them. The Hornets were on pace to win 29 games before the season came to a hault, so I predict they’ll slightly improve upon their current record. Overall though, barring unforseen circumstances, Buzz City is in for another year of mediocrity. They won’t be the worst team in the league, but the franchise is a few years away from playoff contention.