The Charlotte Hornets put up a good fight against the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, even though their big man, Al Jefferson. Does that mean this is a team on the rise for NBA odds purposes?
The Charlotte Hornets, no longer called the Bobcats, are in position to put a very hungry and young lineup on the court, one that can play an up-tempo game and use a lot of highly skilled players in isolation situations to get the shot this team needs whenever it needs it. Al Jefferson is a strong big man who is a load to deal with in the low post. Jefferson, as mentioned above, was injured in the playoffs against Miami, but if he can stabilize and find good health this season, he’ll be very tough to handle. He’s at age 29, so he should still have a number of prime years left in him.
Kemba Walker is a star in the making in this league. He’s 24 years old and should be continuing to move up the ladder among the ranks of the league’s best. Walker is a tremendous breakdown point guard, meaning that he can break down defenders with knee-buckling moves, fakes and hesitations. With more help from other players on this roster, Walker can grow into even more of an offensive threat.
Walker might have that player in the person of Lance Stephenson, one of the notable acquisitions in the Eastern Conference over the offseason. Stephenson has anger management issues, and he can disappear from a game just as quickly as he reappears, but when he’s focused and committed to the game, he’s a very athletic and artistic shotmaker who finds a way to get to the basket. He has a strong upper body and does not back down on defense. If he really trusts the program in Charlotte, the Hornets have a chance to make some noise.
This is not a team with high-level forwards. The Hornets are embarrassingly thin at power forward, where they have Marvin Williams, a consistent underachiever, and D.J. White, a nobody, joining new draftee Noah Vonleh, who came out of Indiana as a freshman and does not look remotely ready to contribute to this team, probably not for two years. The Hornets don’t have much to offer at small forward beyond Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, an excellent defender-rebounder but someone who doesn’t shoot well enough to be a two-way threat. Kidd-Gilchrist has to be able to become a better shooter if he wants to be a star in the Association. When making your NBA picks bear in mind Charlotte’s going to fall short at both forward spots, since there’s such a lack of proven and productive players at these spots, particularly on offense.
The Hornets were seventh in the East last season. Given all the changes that have occurred in the conference, a move to fifth (the team wasn’t that far out of fifth) is reasonable with Stephenson now part of the picture. However, it’s going to be tough to ask Charlotte to go any higher than that, since Atlanta should be much better and Cleveland will, of course, go from being a non-playoff team to the East favorite.
Odds To Win Division: 9/2
Odds To Win Conference: 33/1
Regular Season Win Total: 43.5
NBA Prediction: Sixth in the Eastern Conference, out in the first round of the playoffs