Having languished in mediocrity for the last five years, the Charlotte Hornets seem to have finally turned a corner.
The Hornets are fifth in the Eastern Conference with 11 wins from the first 19 games of the season. And apart from being in course to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2015/16 season, the Hornets are also playing some fantastic basketball.
So how did the Charlotte Hornets become an efficient yet entertaining team? Let’s explore that.
Patience is a virtue
For the last five years, it didn’t look like much was happening in Charlotte, the departure of key players like Kemba Walker and Malik Monk painted a picture of a sinking ship.
But in reality, it was a calculated approach to move the franchise in a different direction by the front office. The strategy is visible on the court and in the starting lineup as well.
THIS TEAM…..@hornets | #AllFly pic.twitter.com/Qccv2iZaQS — Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) November 20, 2021
Of the five most regular starters for the Hornets, Miles Bridges has been in Charlotte the longest. He was drafted in 2018, Terry Rozier was acquired in 2019 as part of the Kemba Walker trade. Gordon Hayward joined as a free agent in 2020, the same time LaMelo Ball was drafted and Mason Plumlee only just arrived last summer.
It is noteworthy to mention that most of the players listed above were far from the finished article when they arrived in Charlotte. Terry Rozier only just had his breakout season as a 26-year old when he averaged 20.4 ppg on 57% shooting.
Miles Bridges seems to be finally displaying the potential that made him the 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Small Forward is averaging 20.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game so far this season.
. @MilesBridges is on an All-Star pace! #AllFly | @hornets pic.twitter.com/7mCOv9sRsh — Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) November 22, 2021
Fountain of youth
The Charlotte Hornets have an average age of 24.9 years which makes them the fifth-youngest team in the league. Ish Smith (33) and Gordon Hayward (31) are the only players over 30 years old on the Hornets roster.
The youth and vibrancy in the roster is rather evident in their style of play, full of running and inventiveness. Perhaps it’s fitting that their youngest starter (second-youngest overall on the roster), LaMelo Ball is also their best player.
20-year old LaMelo Ball has been a revelation and the catalyst for the newfound confidence and style with which the Hornets play. LaMelo Ball became only the eighth rookie in the last 25 years to average 15 points, five rebounds and five assists which won him the Rookie of the Year award last season.
He’s proving to be even better as a sophomore with 19 points per game, the second-most among Hornets’ players. LaMelo ranks 16th and 18th for total points and rebounds respectively in the NBA, fifth for total assists and eighth for assists per game.
He also leads the league in steals, sits seventh for steals per game and sixth for 3-point field goals. If you still don’t get it, this kid is special.
LaMelo Ball is the guy every Hornets fan dreamt of the team one day drafting, the franchise changer. — James Plowright (@British_Buzz) November 23, 2021
Room for improvement
As enjoyable as Charlotte have been to watch this season, there’s still a lot for Coach James Borrego to work on. For example, they could use a massive defensive upgrade or the results could soon turn sour.
The Hornets have a defensive rating of 110.5 which is the 23rd in the league, simply not good enough.
No disrespect to Mason Plumlee but it seems like the Hornets are one world-class Centre away from becoming serious contenders.
Plumlee has started every game so far for the Hornets but is averaging fewer rebounds than LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges.