Based on the preseason, I may want to reconsider my season prediction for the Charlotte Hornets. Despite losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the season, the Hornets finished the preseason with a 7-1 record—the best in the league. Obviously, these results have to be approached with a reasonable amount of skepticism since it’s the preseason, but the Charlotte Hornets look like a team that can not only compete for a playoff spot but a high seed. The most surprising part of their possible ascension is what’s been fueling it.
The first ingredient to their stellar play has been their defense. MKG was the lynchpin of their defense, and many assumed that it would diminish with his absence. On the contrary, the Hornets’ defense seems to be even more potent. Part of it is probably due to the questionable level of effort given during the preseason, but it has been impressive nonetheless. The Charlotte Hornets have only given up 90.2 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. This isn’t sustainable, but encouraging to see from a team without their best perimeter defender.
The other component to their unexpected play is their offense. The Charlotte Hornets are only scoring 2.2 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season, but the way they are scoring is the key difference. The Hornets are attempting more efficient shots taking more three-pointers and free throws.
Specifically, they are attempting 6.5 more three-pointers and 6.8 more free throws than they did last season. In the preseason, the Hornets tried 25.6 deep balls and 29.4 freebies. While their preseason free throw percentage is comparable to last season’s, their preseason three-point percentage was 4.3 points higher than last season’s and 10.1 points higher than the league average last season as well.
The Charlotte Hornets shot 36.1 percent from long range during the preseason, which was the sixth-best percentage during the exhibition and would have edged out the Washington Wizards for the ninth-best three-point percentage in the league last season. The Hornets owe their newfound shooting prowess to their new additions, but I want to single out the players that absorbed most of MKG’s minutes during the preseason: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Jeremy Lin.
Although, Coach Steve Clifford can’t just replace MKG, he can fill out the rotation with players who can space the floor. The trio of Batum, Lamb, and Lin shot 37.3 percent from three, per NBA.com. Admittedly, this stat benefited from Lin’s scorching yet unsustainable 47.1 percentage from deep. Batum shot uncharacteristically poorly from three-point range though so it’s not inconceivable to think the trio can match this output when Lin’s three-point shooting levels off and Batum returns to form in the regular season.
Lin and Batum are also partly responsible for the surge in free throws. They are leading the team with 5.3 and 5.2 free throws per game respectively. The players that were acquired this summer as well as Coach Clifford’s new offensive philosophy are turning this team into a more modern offense. Al Jefferson’s role has been de-emphasized to an extent; the three leading scorers are Lin, Batum, and Kemba Walker—all perimeter players. Who’s to say if the Charlotte Hornets can keep this up during the regular season, but for the time being, the team looks ready to compete.