The Charlotte Hornets entered a new era of basketball in the 2019-20 season. A team that had long been mediocre lost its only star player (Kemba Walker) as well as its second-leading scorer (Jeremy Lamb) in free agency. Charlotte signed guard Terry Rozier to a big three-year deal, but he had never been a full-time starter before.
The Hornets looked like they might be the worst team in the NBA before the season started. However, they began the campaign with a respectable 13 wins in their first 30 games. Charlotte’s momentum petered out as the season wore on, but its final record of 23-42 is still considerably better than anyone could have expected. Head coach James Borrego had his roster playing very hard and he maximized their talent quite well.
Moving forward, I have a lot of concerns with the Hornets regarding the amount of talent on the roster, the fit of the players on the team and the strategic approach that the team uses. USAbetting asks some tough questions about the Hornets.
Will Hornets Continue Rolling with Undersized Backcourt?
Relatively speaking, one of the Hornets’ strengths in 2019-20 was the play from their backcourt of Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier. Graham had a major breakout campaign with averages of 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. Rozier quieted some critics with his best season as a pro (18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest).
I’m not sold on the fit of the two players in the long term, though. Both starting guards stand a modest 6’1” in height, which is very rare for backcourts nowadays. Defensive versatility is king in the modern NBA and small guards don’t usually offer much of it.
On offense, the two players fit decently well this season. Graham looks like a capable scorer and facilitator and Rozier made major strides as a spot-up three-point shooter, nailing 40.7 percent of his long-distance shots overall.
Still, neither guy is close to elite on the offensive end and the defensive end is obviously going to be a struggle due to the size of both players. I wonder if the Hornets will consider trading one of the two, more likely Rozier, for a bigger guard or even a player at a different position, to build a more balanced starting lineup.
When & How Is a Star Going to Come to Charlotte?
Charlotte has had an NBA franchise for 30 seasons. In that time, the team has had only seven players make the All-Star Game. All seven of those players were either trade acquisitions or draft picks. This means that, amazingly enough, Charlotte has never signed a player in free agency that made an All-Star appearance for the team.
The Hornets are unlikely to make a big free agent signing in the near future and their current roster has no players that seem likely to make the All-Star Game. So how is Charlotte going to acquire a franchise player to build around?
Charlotte has the eighth-best lottery odds in a 2020 NBA Draft class that looks relatively weak. If the Hornets make a great selection, maybe that player can help save the franchise. More than likely, the Hornets will have to get their star from a trade, a future draft or by getting an unexpected leap from one of their young guys.
Will Malik Monk Ever Develop Consistency?
The Hornets received rave reviews for picking Monk No. 11 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. The one-and-done Kentucky guard was supposedly the best shooter in the draft class who could also create his own shot using excellent athleticism.
Three years into his career, Monk hasn’t yet found his footing in the NBA, and his biggest issue is offensive consistency. For example, he had an eight-game stretch this season where he averaged 3.1 points in 14.3 minutes per game on a 33.6 true-shooting percentage, which led to him getting benched for the entire next game. Of course, he then dropped 51 points in the following two games combined on a 69.7 true shooting percentage.
Monk will look like a completely different player depending on the night and that has to change. His three-point shot (28.4 percent in 2019-20 and 32.2 percent for his career) also has to improve.
We’ll see if the Hornets continue to gradually give Monk more room to develop next season. If he reaches his potential, he could be an elite sixth man with the talent to carry an offense for long stretches of time.
Should the Hornets Be Playing Faster?
No team played at a slower pace than the Hornets did this season. Charlotte had the lowest average possessions per game (95.8) in the NBA. The NBA’s official website had them 23rd in fast break points per game (11.6), while they allowed just 11.8 fast break points, which ranked fourth-best in the league.
While the Hornets did overachieve on the whole in 2019-20, I wonder if playing that slow of a pace may have slightly hindered the team from reaching its potential. Charlotte’s strength in the backcourt is quickness with its two small guards in Graham and Rozier. It has players at other positions such as Monk, Miles Bridges and Cody Zeller who have the speed and athleticism to make things happen in transition.
On the other hand, being able to secure defensive rebounds is a big part of attacking in transition. Charlotte ranked dead-last in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage. Maybe the Hornets need to focus more on securing rebounds rather than getting out in transition.
This is a tough question, with solid arguments for and against a faster pace. Ultimately, though, I think the Hornets, and especially their young players (like Monk and Bridges), would benefit from a slightly quicker pace and a more aggressive, steal-focused defensive approach.