Loss after loss. Injury after injury. The Charlotte Hornets season was not what you expected it to be at the end of the 2021-22 season.
As last season came to an end, things were looking up for the Hornets. After losing in the Play-In Tournament for the second consecutive year, it seemed as if the young squad would continue to trend upwards. After a rough offseason full of drama, legal cases, and lazy acquisitions the Hornets lost their identity coming into the 2022-23 season.
Despite only winning 27 games and finishing as a bottom five team in the NBA, the Hornets season was not all that bad.
How? How could a season where a team wins less than 30 games be not that bad?
The answer: Hope. This season may have been excruciating, but if you paid close attention, the Hornets showed flashes that give us a real sense of hope for the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the positive takeaways from this season:
LaMelo was Ball-in’
The future of the Charlotte Hornets rests on the shoulders of 21 year old guard LaMelo Ball.
Due to multiple ankle injuries that ultimately lead to a season ending fracture, Ball only played in 36 games this entire season. However, in this time Ball showed great flashes of improvement that are going to help propel the Hornets to success.
For the 2022-23 NBA Season, Ball averaged:
41% FG / 38% 3PT / 84% FT
Ball’s volume increased by about three shot attempts per game compared to last season. This was expected, due to the loss of Miles Bridges, and Ball took advantage of the opportunity to take more shots.
It is no secret that Ball needs to continue to improve his FG%, specifically below the three point arc. Ball only shot 45% 2P on the season. Once he becomes a stronger finisher around the rim and develops a more consistent mid range game, Ball’s offensive arsenal will be even more deadly.
Ball was amongst some of the best three point shooters in the NBA this season, shooting 38% on an eye opening 10.6 three point attempts per game. The combination of efficiency, volume and elite range at just 21 years old is a great sign for Ball’s future as a shooter.
Next season, I hope to see a more poised and calm LaMelo Ball. His flashy play style has been extremely unique since he was a child, and that is something he should never shy away from. However Ball needs to slow down, play at his own pace, and take quality shots in order to become a top point guard in the NBA.
Recently there was concern on social media about Ball’s future with the Hornets due to an interesting response he gave a reporter during his exit interview. A reporter asked Ball about his desire to be in Charlotte long term, and his answer sparked a lot of conversation.
“Play it day by day. Like I said I love it out here. I can’t really tell the future, just see how it goes and go from there.” Ball told the media.
Many thought that this quote meant Ball was leaving the Hornets, but that is very unlikely. It is hard to believe that Ball would turn down a max contract after next season to leave after only four short years with the Hornets.
His response was actually perfect. Ball would only be setting himself up for potential slander if he committed to a career in Charlotte and eventually left. Also, his answer applies pressure to the Hornets front office. They haven’t done much to give Ball a sense of comfort regarding the Hornets future, and by not seeming too set on being here long term, Ball may pressure them to make something happen.
Overall, what we saw this season provided an exciting sense of hope that the Hornets have locked in their future point guard.
Mark Williams and Company
Under former Hornets Head Coach James Borrego, we hardly got to see any young talent take the floor for the Hornets. Due to many injuries and the Hornets tanking efforts this season, plenty of young hoopers got chances to shine; and they did exactly that.
After trading away Mason Plumlee to the Los Angeles Clippers around midseason, the Hornets had a hole to fill in their rotation at the center position. Fortunately, they had a 7’1 Center out of Duke waiting for his name to be called.
Rookie Mark Williams was selected 15th in the NBA Draft after the Hornets drafted and immediately traded away Jalen Duren to Detroit with the 13th pick. This draft day move showed that the Hornets were confident in Williams to provide real production for them at the five, and he did just that.
Mark Williams played 42 games for the Hornets this season, and started in 16 of them. In these 42 games he averaged:
63% FG on 5.7 FGA
Williams showed that he is the center that the Hornets have been long looking for. His elite rim protection, rebounding ability, and sheer length make him a true interior force. In a game against Miami this season, Williams posted an impressive 18 points and 20 rebounds in less than 30 minutes of play.
In the last game of the regular season, Williams put up a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds on 9/10 FG. He is now the first Hornets rookie ever to score 22 points and pull down 10 rebounds on 90+ FG%.
The combination of Mark Williams and an improved Nick Richards this season showed that the Hornets have found a solid tandem to run the five for years to come.
The Hornets also got to see a ton of other young guys take the floor this season, especially towards the end. Here is a list of how many games we got to see the young ballers in action:
- JT Thor: 68 Games
- Nick Richards: 64 Games
- Kai Jones and Bryce McGowens: 45 Games
- James Bouknight: 33 Games
All of these players played more than they did last year, and each showed flashes of great potential. From Thor’s improvement as a shooter to Bryce McGowen’s scoring flashes, there is plenty to look forward to with this group.
Lastly, the Hornets found a true hooper in Dennis Smith Jr. After struggling to find his place in the NBA, and even considering trying out for the NFL, DSJ had an extremely solid season in Charlotte.
Although his statistics don’t appear to be anything special, DSJ’s perimeter defense and playmaking were crucial for the Hornets limited success this season.
The Offseason: What to do
Now that the Hornets season is wrapped up, the big question is: how do they approach this offseason?
The Hornets have the fourth best odds for the top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft at 12.5%. If luck is on our side (for once) and the Hornets land a top pick there are plenty, and I mean plenty, of options for who to draft.
Whether the Hornets land Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, or Brandon Miller they are going to add a potentially generational talent to their roster. Although an elite prospect won’t catapult the Hornets to a top seed, it provides a very strong foundation for the Hornets to build upon for the future.
The Hornets also have to consider who they want to bring back, get rid of, and add to the squad. They have a few expiring contracts, and one guy who’s future with the team has been uncertain for almost a year.
Obviously, PJ Washington needs to be paid and locked in for the future of the Hornets. His shooting and defensive abilities are extremely valuable and he will continue to improve throughout the years.
But what about Kelly Oubre? Dennis Smith Jr?
Oubre provides instant offense and was arguably the best player on the Hornets in the earlier part of this season. Depending how much money he asks for, he could be worth bringing back next season. However, he is also inconsistent and somewhat replaceable in today’s game.
Dennis Smith Jr will likely command a very small amount of money and could be a great defender to have on the roster off the bench.
Finally, Miles Bridges. On the court, Bridges does it all and has proven to be the perfect star alongside LaMelo Ball. Off the court, Bridges has done a lot of bad things. If the Hornets decide to bring back Bridges, that will shake their finances up a lot.
All in all, the Hornets have a very bright future. The array of young talent and steady improvement from established guys both provide a sense of hope.
After how last off season went, it’s clear we can’t get too comfortable or excited. But we can hope. We can focus on the positives and trust everything will fall into place.
Hope. Hope. Hope.