NBA 2023-2024 Preview: Are the Charlotte Hornets Still Lagging Behind?

Charlotte Hornets NBA Preview 2023 2024

For a month, our editorial team dives into all 30 NBA teams. Today, we head to North Carolina for a preview of the Charlotte Hornets.

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A challenging 2022/2023 season in the NBA’s lower ranks

The prolonged absence of LaMelo Ball, the Hornets’ top player who only played 36 games last year, made it a prolonged season for the team. With 27 wins and 55 losses, a disappointing 14th place finish, and the weakest offense in the League, it’s evident the challenges faced by Steve Clifford’s men. However, the rise of Mark Williams and Nick Richards brought some brightness to North Carolina, coupled with the promising outlook for the 2023 Draft in the upcoming offseason.

Offseason Moves

Departures:

Kelly Oubre Jr (to Sixers), Dennis Smith Jr (to Nets), Théo Maledon (free agent), Svi Mykhailiuk (to Celtics), Xavier Sneed (free agent).

Extensions:

Miles Bridges, PJ Washington.

New Arrivals:

Brandon Miller (2nd pick of the 2023 Draft), Nick Smith Jr (27th pick of the 2023 Draft), Amari Bailey (41st pick of the 2023 Draft, two-way contract), Frank Ntilikina (from Mavericks), Leaky Black (two-way contract).

Charlotte Hornets’ Starting Five

LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington, Mark Williams

Bench Rotation

  • Point Guards: Frank Ntilikina, Kobi Simmons, Amari Bailey (two-way contract).
  • Shooting Guards: Bryce McGowens, James Bouknight, Nick Smith Jr.
  • Small Forwards: Brandon Miller, Cody Martin, Leaky Black (two-way contract).
  • Power Forwards: Miles Bridges, JT Thor.
  • Centers: Nick Richards, Kai Jones.Strengths and Weaknesses

Weaknesses

The roster hasn’t sufficiently bolstered compared to the dismal performance last season. Sure, Brandon Miller has been added, LaMelo Ball will hopefully play more than 30 games, and Miles Bridges is back from legal issues, but it’s not enough to overcome the mediocrity of the 2022-2023 season. The franchise could have chosen Scoot Henderson, arguably a better player than Brandon Miller, but they opted for a more complementary player. With nearly $30 million available compared to the salary cap (set at $136 million) during Free Agency, the Hornets only managed to extend PJ Washington’s contract and navigate Miles Bridges’ legal challenges.

The sale of the franchise last August 3rd doesn’t help in building a long-term team, with the new owners having to deal with moves orchestrated by Michael Jordan, the former Hornets owner. Another burden is Gordon Hayward’s contract: although he remains a competent NBA player, he’s not worth the $31.5 million due for his last contract year. So, it might be another year before hoping to see Charlotte step out of their current rut.

Strengths

Michael Jordan has finally left. While undoubtedly one of the best players in basketball history, he’s arguably one of the worst owners. In 13 years, he amassed 423 wins and 600 losses, the fourth-worst record during that period. The Charlotte Bobcats and later the Hornets reached the Playoffs only twice since 2010, losing in the first round each time.

Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall, the new majority shareholders, surely can’t do worse and will likely try new approaches, similar to what Mat Ishbia, the new Suns owner, is doing. Another glimmer of hope is the franchise’s young talents waiting to be developed, as they’ve done with Mark Williams and Nick Richards in the past. JT Thor, Kai Jones, and James Bouknight might seem like lost causes, but Bryce McGowens, Nick Smith Jr, and especially Brandon Miller can bring some hope to North Carolina.

Player to Watch: Brandon Miller

Despite being ranked 3rd on most experts’ big boards, Brandon Miller was selected as the 2nd pick in the 2023 Draft, notably ahead of Scoot Henderson. Some appreciated the choice, not seeing the synergy between LaMelo and Scoot, but many fans and analysts criticize the pick, viewing Miller as considerably less talented than Henderson. The Hornets’ management and Miller himself have much to prove this season to counter the critics and show that selecting Miller was the right decision.

Brandon Miller’s season will be under close watch, as he remains a favorite for the Rookie of the Year title. One significant question is about his playing time, especially as a starter: Will he be in the starting five from the season’s onset? It’s plausible that Gordon Hayward starts with a slight edge, but if the focus shifts to Miller’s development, he might quickly earn that spot, especially considering Hayward’s impending contract expiration next summer. The second big question is about Miller’s shot attempts this season, given players like LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier already dominate ball possession (with a 29% and 26% usage rate respectively). On Miller’s side is his impressive 38% average from beyond the arc last year, ensuring he can capitalize on opportunities created by his teammates’ drives and the resulting spacing.

End-of-Season Prediction: 15th in the East

Stuck at the bottom of the standings since the franchise’s inception, will the Charlotte Hornets serve up another lackluster season? That seems to be the trajectory, unless Brandon Miller morphs into the next Michael Jordan. The departure of Jordan in favor of new shareholders might shed a glimmer of hope for the franchise’s fans, who are eager to witness a full-fledged season from LaMelo Ball, surrounded by a blend of seasoned players and emerging talents. Still, don’t count on seeing the Charlotte Hornets in action come April 2024, as the Playoffs are likely not on the franchise’s agenda.

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