2016-17 Hornets Season Review
This season has to go down as a major disappointment for the Hornets. After going 48-34 and making the playoffs in 2015-16, Charlotte took a big step back as they went just 36-46. Their defense was a significant factor in that decline; they went from ninth in defensive efficiency down to a mediocre 15th.
Charlotte also relied too much on No. 15, Kemba Walker, on offense. Walker had another All-Star-worthy year as he averaged 23 points, 5.5 assists, and shot a career-high 39 percent from three while attempting 7.6 per game. But the Hornets had an offensive rating of just 100.7 when he was off the floor, easily the worst on the team.
Nicolas Batum didn’t exactly live up to his $120 million contract as he shot just 40 percent from the field, while the bench lacked sufficient punch. The Hornets also suffered mightily whenever big man Cody Zeller was out injured. Charlotte went just 3-17 in the 20 games Zeller missed this season.
On the bright side, Frank Kaminsky finally showed some flashes of the play which made him a top-10 pick in 2015. He averaged 18 points and 7 rebounds per game in February while filling in for the injured Zeller. But apart from Walker and Zeller (when he was on the court), basically everyone else on the team did not play above-average basketball this year.
The onus will now be on general manager Rich Cho to work around some financial constraints and make the right moves in the offseason to get the Hornets back to the playoffs-caliber level they were at just a year before.
Quick Offseason Breakdown
Potential Free Agents: Brian Roberts (Unrestricted), Ramon Sessions (Team Option), Christian Wood (Unrestricted)
Partial/Non-Guaranteed Contracts: Treveon Graham, Briante Weber, Johnny O’Bryant
2017 Draft Picks (2): #11, #41
Projected Cap Space: none
Don’t expect the Hornets to generate much buzz in free agency. Charlotte is capped out at this point, with $102 million in guaranteed contracts already committed to nine players. However, they should be able to avoid paying the luxury tax by cutting some of their non-guaranteed contracts and declining Ramon Sessions’ $6 million option. They should also be able to use their exceptions (full mid-level and bi-annual) to make some additions to the team. The Hornets will also be armed with a lottery pick just outside the top 10 and a second-rounder in the upcoming draft.
Biggest Offseason Priorities
1. Upgrade at backup point guard
The Hornets felt Jeremy Lin’s departure more significantly than anyone had anticipated. Without someone like Lin to be the focal point of the second unit, the Hornets’ offense cratered when Kemba Walker went to the bench this season. Ramon Sessions is a steady veteran who won’t make a ton of mistakes, but the Hornets need to find a backup point guard more like Linsanity, who is more aggressive in looking for his own shot while also capable of creating for others.
Charlotte is basically capped out at this point, but they should have the mid-level exception to work with. Veteran Darren Collison could be a decent option if he’s willing to come over at that price. They also have the No. 11 pick to use on someone like Frank Ntilikina, a highly-touted French point guard who figures to fall in that range of the draft.
2. Find a dynamic wing
The Hornets desperately need to take some of the pressure of carrying the offense away from Walker's shoulders, and if it doesn’t come in the form of a backup point guard, it could come via a more dynamic wing.
Their current wings just aren’t very effective apart from Nicolas Batum, who had a bit of an off-year himself. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a virtual non-factor on offense; Jeremy Lamb has yet to average double-digit points in his five-year career and doesn’t offer much explosion nor playmaking; and Marco Belinelli, while a solid shooter, is now 31 and wasn’t good at creating off the dribble anyway.
If the Hornets opt to use the No. 11 pick on a wing, they could look at someone like a Justin Jackson or Donovan Mitchell - long-limbed wings who can handle the rock a bit, score some buckets, and make some plays for others in the second unit.
3. Bring in another competent big man
As mentioned earlier, the Hornets were simply atrocious when Zeller was out of the lineup last season. They rightly tried to address the need for more insurance at center, but made the big mistake of taking on Miles Plumlee and his bad contract. And while Frank Kaminsky made some strides offensively, he is still a major liability on the defensive end.
There will be a host of intriguing center prospects for Charlotte to choose from at 11 if that’s where they plan on leaning. Some of them are still pretty raw, but they may be able to contribute immediately if they play a limited role. Zach Collins, Jarrett Allen, and Justin Patton are all very interesting names that could help solve the Hornets’ big man problem, both in the present and the future.
Where should Charlotte look to bolster their stocks during the offseason? Comment below!