Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets were the surprise of the NBA during the 2014 season. Despite not having a star studded line-up, the team landed the 7th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference behind Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Although the Miami Heat swept them in the first round of the playoffs, MJ had a lot of reasons to smile. However, getting to the playoffs is just the tip of the iceberg. Charlotte needs to improve to transform into title contenders.
Here are the moves that MJ must make so the Hornets can get to the next level:
Long Range Bombers
The Charlotte Hornets were 23rd in the NBA in three-point percentage at 35.1%. The NBA average is around 36%. They were also 25th in three-point field goals made per game at 6.3. In scoring, the Hornets were also just 23rd overall at 96.9 points per game, but if Charlotte improves their three-point shooting, the total scoring will follow.
Back on February 20, the Hornets traded for Gary Neal in an attempt to beef up their long distance shooting in preparation for their run at the playoffs. In 22 games with the Hornets, Neal averaged 11.2 points per game and shot 40.6% from the three-point territory while making 1.3 threes per contest. The Hornets finished the season 17-9 to nail lockup the 7th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hornets will pick 9th and 24th in the 2014 NBA Draft later this month. The best way to shore up your three-point arsenal is to get the best three-point shooters in the draft. So, the Hornets may be gearing in that direction.
“I think the Hornets might be high on Doug McDermott for the 9th pick. Nothing firm, but an indication.”
McDermott is the 2014 Consensus Player of the Year and a Consensus First Team All-American selection from 2012-2014. More importantly, McDemott led the NCAA in scoring at 26.9 points per game, and he shot above 40% from three-point distance in each of his four years at Creighton.
“He’s an NBA player. Very good and very skilled. I think he’s more than a shooter. He can play in the pick-and-roll, and the big thing to me is he has NBA size, which is a big deal, especially (with) the (playoff) games that you’re watching now, that you’ve been watching for the last month. You have to have size. He has really good size.”
Stauskas is 6-6 and weighs 204 lbs. The Canadian-Lithuanian kid played two seasons at Michigan and shot 44% from three-point range during his collegiate career.
So for the Hornets to upgrade from three-point distance, the key would be to draft Stauskas or McDermott with the 9th pick, and keep Neal, who is going into the final year of his contract. The need for three-point shooting also leads us to the next move.
Forward With Hayward
The 2014 free agent pool could include the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Miami’s Big 3. The Wolves could also be shopping Kevin Love, but although those names are bigger than anyone on the Hornets’ roster, they aren’t what they need. Realistically, there are free agents like Luol Deng, Lance Stephenson, Trevor Ariza and Gordon Hayward who might be better for the team than those bigger stars.
Going back to the need for scoring and three-point shooting, the perfect choice would be Gordon Hayward. And financially speaking, he may also be the perfect fit. According to YahooSports.com on October 31, 2013:
“Hayward had been seeking a deal in the four-year, $50-million plus range, sources said.“
A $12.5 million salary would be within the range that the Hornets have in their cap space, but aside from that, Hayward’s offense and playmaking could be what Charlotte needs to move one step forward.
Last season, Hayward averaged a career best 16.2 points per game, even though he shot a career low .413 from the field and .304 from three-point land. That being said, with a real low post threat like Al Jeferrson in Charlotte, and a penetrator like Kemba Walker, Hayward could find himself a lot of room to shoot.
The thing with Hayward though is that he is a restricted free agent, meaning the Utah Jazz can match any offer and keep him. However, there are talks that the Jazz might let him walk away. According to BleacherReport.com on June 10, 2014:
“If some team does top that $50 million threshold, Utah will have to seriously consider letting Hayward walk.”
With enough cap space, Charlotte can top that, and Michael Jordan should go all out to do that.
Big Change for Big Al
2014 was the best season in Al Jefferson’s NBA career, which started in 2004-05 with the Boston Celtics. Look at this comparison:
The decrease in free throw percentage and blocks are immaterial compared to the impact he’s had on the team, and the franchise in general. Coach Steve Clifford has high praises for his big man. In a report by the CharlotteObserver.com on June 10, 2014:
“He’s dramatically changed where we’re at as a franchise from one year to the next,” Clifford said of Jefferson, who last week was named All-NBA. “He changed his career with what he did this year, and it was already a really good career. He’s made this a more attractive place for people to come and play. No question about that.”
With Jefferson emerging as the leader, the Charlotte Hornets future looks bright as he is still just 29-years old. After he was named to the All-NBA third team, Jefferson said this in an interview at the Time Warner Cable Arena as per CharlotteObserver.com:
“When we stay on the same page and do things right at the defensive end, we can be a great team. We lost a lot of games last year I think we should have won. We can get better. You can’t be satisfied.”
The Hornets got better with the arrival of Jefferson. They were a combined 28-120 in the two seasons prior to him joining the team. Charlotte went 43-39 with him this past season and made the playoffs for just the 2nd time in franchise history.
Jefferson is locked up until the 2015-16 season, and it’s important for MJ and the Hornets to have a better season so Big Al will stay in Charlotte for the rest of his career.
Kemba Walker has vastly improved since his arrival in the NBA. HoopsHabit.com on June 9, 2014, says this about Walker:
“His assist rate is key. Kemba’s shown the ability to be brilliant distributing the ball. For a player who was a hybrid small-guard/point guard entering the league, the transition to full-time point has been relatively easy. For this reason, it’s imperative the Hornets give him space to operate on the perimeter. Playing to Kemba’s strengths will be key. Coach Steve Clifford and general manager Rich Cho, will be tempted to bring in a big name guard or small forward to compliment Walker.”
We’ve seen what Walker can do with his scoring. Although his assists average of 6.1 is already decent, that still has a lot of upside if Charlotte can get another scorer. Again, that brings us back to going after Hayward. He will not only help in scoring, but he will help Kemba in playmaking.
The only facet in Kemba’s game that needs a lot of improvement is his shot selection. He shot just 39.3% from the field and 33.3% from the three-point area. That isn’t a problem though, as shot selection generally gets better with maturity. The Hornets hope next season will be his break out year.
Defense Is There
One aspect that makes Charlotte’s future look good is their defense. Anchored by Jefferson, the Hornets were 4th in the NBA during the 2014 season in points allowed at 97.1 points per game and 6th in field goal percentage allowed at .442. They were also 4th in the NBA in opponent’s points per shot by allowing just 1.16. In rebounding, the Hornets were 7th in the NBA in defensive rebounding with 33.2 per game. Their waterloo is offensive rebounding, where they were only 25th in the league at 9.5 points per game.
So with the 24th pick in the draft, Charlotte should be looking at a big man who can help them crash and grab offensive rebounds. If they are able to remedy this, their defense could be one of the elite in the NBA.
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
There isn’t really any need for a big fix in Charlotte yet because nothing’s broke. Big Al’s been in town for only a season and Kemba’s been there for three. The duo has played together one season, so the jury on them isn’t out yet. They made a big splash in 2014, and although the Miami Heat swept them in the first round of the playoffs, this was a year worth building on. That’s the task at hand come July 1; MJ’s got to surround them with the pieces that will complete the team.
The most obvious need is in scoring, but if they can improve their three-point production, their scoring woes will be solved. They have the chance to solve that in the draft and in the free agency market. That should be the priority. They also have a 2nd pick in the first round, so getting a quality big man is still possible in a draft class that is deep.
The Hornets are a young and rising team. They have the core and the management to get them the rest of the pieces before the season starts.
The change in the team’s name back to the Hornets from the Bobcats could be the biggest move for the 2015 season. Although the Bobcat is as fierce as any cat in the wild, it doesn’t sound as fearsome as a Lion or a Tiger. A Bobcat sounds more like a hairdo rather than an elusive predator. On the other hand, the Hornet sounds like a tough name for a bee. When you hear the word Hornet, you know it’s small, but it’s going to sting you.
That’s what Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Bobcats franchise hope they’ll do to the other teams next season.