2014 has been an incredible year for Charlotte fans. The Hornets have returned, and with that comes new excitement and anticipation for this upcoming season. With the improving Kemba Walker, the newly-signed Lance Stephenson, and the NBA’s most underrated player in Al Jefferson, the Hornets are looking to compete for a Division and Conference title. With that being said, here are five BOLD predictions for the 2014 – 2015 Charlotte Hornets season.
1. The Hornets will have two All-Stars this season
The last All-Star that came from a Charlotte roster was Gerald Wallace in 2010. That was the only All-Star selection in Bobcats history. This season, the newly-formed Charlotte Hornets have three players who could conceivably represent the Queen City in Madison Square Garden at the 2015 All-Star game: Kemba Walker (17.7 PPG, 1.2 SPG, 6.1 APG), Lance Stephenson (13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG), and ‘Big’ Al Jefferson (21.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.1 BPG). Out of the three players listed, Jefferson would be the most likely selection. The third team All-NBA Center was arguably the biggest snub from last season’s game. With averages of twenty points and ten rebounds per game this past campaign, it’s not hard to envision Big Al in New York in February. Lance Stephenson was also largely considered to be a snub to the game this past season. After leading the NBA in triple-doubles last year, Lance could take that next step forward and become that superstar he wants to be. Kemba Walker is an interesting choice. He has improved in each of the three seasons he has been in Charlotte. Last season, he averaged roughly seventeen points and six assists a contest, and continues to refine his game. With adding Stephenson and Marvin Williams to the fold, combined with Al Jefferson and a hopefully improved Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, its likely we see Walker become more of a facilitator on the offensive end, and his assist numbers rise. Plus, how fun would it be for both Walker and Stephenson to return home for the All-Star game?
2. The Hornets will finish in the top 4 in the Eastern Conference
With the new energy around the franchise, the Hornets are looking to compete in a wide-open Eastern Conference. With the Big Three disbanded, the East can be taken by anyone. The general consensus is that the Cleveland Cavaliers led by Lebron James and the Chicago Bulls (If Derrick Rose can finally stay healthy) will take the top two spots, however, the rest of the east is anyone’s for the taking. Many teams could challenge for the top four spots, including the aforementioned Cavs and Bulls, Raptors, Pacers, Heat, Wizards, and Hornets. With the East as uncertain as it is, the Hornets will definitely be in that top four seed mix.
“If Lance Stephenson does what we know he’s capable of doing, with Kemba Walker, with Al Jefferson, I’m sorry, look out – Charlotte’s coming!” - Stephen A. Smith
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will average 12 PPG this season
It’s no secret: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been extremely sub par on offense. His jump shot is unorthodox to say the least. He has been working on that this offseason, however. It’s not much to go on, but there is a short seven-second video out there demonstrating his once three-part jump shot is now two. Yes, its seven seconds of video, but it does show a smooth shot motion, which is something we haven’t yet seen from MKG. What he does have going for him is his supreme athleticism. He is long, rangy, and quick enough to get to the basket. If he can find success driving to the basket, and convert his free-throw attempts (61% FT shooter last season), his 7.2 PPG number from last season will surely increase. If his jump shot can improve on top of that, MKG could have a breakout season on the offensive end. Of course, we already know what he can do defensively.
4. Noah Vonleh will find his way in the starting five by season’s end
Noah Vonleh struggled mightily in the NBA Las Vegas Summer League. He shot an incredibly low percentage from the field (roughly 25%), and at times looked weak on the block. At this point in his young NBA career, he will be considered as a stretch Power Forward. One aspect that Hornets fans can look forward to in Vonleh’s game immediately is rebounding. He averaged 10 rebounds per game in summer league action. With more game experience, Vonleh can develop into a nice option this season. He has an offensive skill set that will allow him to score even with his slight frame. If he can consistently knock down mid-range jumpers and snatch rebounds, it would take a lot of pressure off Al Jefferson at center. Bottom line – he has to perform leagues greater than he did in Las Vegas, and if he does, he could find his way into the starting lineup at some point. Patrick Ewing described the 18 year-old Noah Vonleh pretty accurately here:
“He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.” – Patrick Ewing
5. The Hornets will win the Southeast Division
As mentioned previously, the Eastern Conference as a whole is wide open. The same applies to the Southeast Division. The Miami Heat will continue to be strong, even after losing Lebron James. They went out and re-signed Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and also added Luol Deng, Danny Granger, and former Bobcats fan-favorite, Josh McRoberts. A strong offseason free agent class puts the Heat in contention for the division crown. The Washington Wizards, like the Hornets, are a young upstart franchise who has also vastly improved in the past few seasons. Led by superstar John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards are also looking extremely strong. While many consider these two teams to be the Hornets main competition for the division title, many are forgetting about the Atlanta Hawks. With a healthy Al Horford returning to a lineup that already includes Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are not to be slept on.
This season will be absolutely fun to watch. The Buzz is back in Charlotte, and the city is anticipating an incredible season. With the offseason moves the Hornets have orchestrated, it isn’t unthinkable that one or more of these bold predictions can come to fruition. We’ll just have to watch and see! What do you think? What are your bold predictions for this season?
Swarm and Sting is looking to add writers to the staff! If you are interested, you can apply here