This is part 3 of a 4 part series looking at the possibility the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets becoming the best team in Charlotte’s basketball history. For Part 1 on the reigning best Charlotte team, click here. And for Part 2 on the point guard debate, click here.
This time let’s cover the best single season by a player. Charlotte has only had a handful of All-Stars over the years but they are the names you remember. Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, Eddie Jones, Baron Davis, and most recently Gerald Wallace of the Bobcats. The current regime is hoping they have at least three contenders for an All-Star spot on the team with Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, and Kemba Walker. But I digress.
Looking at the statistics of the players and the success each team had, I’ve narrowed the list down to four seasons that stand out in the crowd. I reluctantly was not able to include a Larry Johnson season. His numbers in the traditional and the advanced stats just weren’t on par with some others and I would just be adding him because my father has 100 copies of his rookie card. Davis and Jones also did not make the final cut.
Alonzo Mourning, 1992-1993 (rookie season). We’ll break this down later but all three of Zo’s seasons in Charlotte were similar, I’m just giving the slight edge to his first year but you could choose any of the three without much argument.
Glen Rice, 1996-1997. Rice was an All-Star that season and led the league in 3pt FG% while averaging 26.8 ppg.
Gerald Wallace 2009-2010. I must admit I’m surprised to be including Crash on this list but he was an All-Star and led that Bobcats’ team to their first playoff berth. His numbers that season were more impressive than I remember.
Al Jefferson 2013-2014. The only player on our list to never make the All-Star game, Al’s season stacks up with the best of them.
1) Alonzo Mourning 1992-1993.
Things have changed since Shaq and Zo were rookies. With the one-and-done rule in college and how young players are when they enter the league, you just don’t see numbers like that from a rookie anymore. The advanced stats show just how good Alonzo was in his first year: 8.2 win shares (ws) on the season, 0.148 win shares per 48 minutes (ws/48), 20.8 Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
Those numbers are even more impressive to me when you factor he played less than 34 minutes per game. That season the Charlotte Hornets won 44 games and defeated Boston in the first round of the playoffs, putting Charlotte on the basketball map for the first time. If you don’t remember Zo’s jumper to win the series, you might have lived in a cave in the early 90s.
And how did Alonzo’s career play out? Nice tie there, Alonzo.
2) Glen Rice 1996-1997
Rice was third in the NBA in scoring that season, leading to Charlotte’s best regular season with a 54-28 record. That season 54 wins got you a 6 seed in the playoffs, which is still amazing considering the Miami Heat had 54 wins in 2013-14 as the 2nd seed.
Charlotte Hornets’ fans liked finally having a top scorer who was even elected Player of the Month for Februrary. That was a good month for him because he was also elected MVP of the All-Star game, scoring 26 points off the bench.
The advanced stats liked Rice that season as well, with 10.8 ws, 0.154 ws/48, and a PER of 19.7. Obviously most of his contribution was on the offensive end, so Rice scored the points and left rebounding and defense to Anthony Mason, Vlade Divac, and Matt Geiger. At 26.8 ppg Rice has the highest scoring average for a season in Charlotte history with the next closest being Kelly Tripuka at 22.6 in the inaugural season.
The biggest negative to Rice’s fantastic year is the team didn’t finish well. Getting the 6 seed in the playoffs meant facing Patrick Ewing’s Knicks in the first round. Charlotte was swept 0-3.
3) Gerald Wallace 2009-2010.
Gerald Wallace played hard every game and earned his nickname Crash for flying all over the court. The 2009-10 season saw Gerald suddenly average double figure rebounds and play a lot of PF en route to the first and only All-Star in the Bobcats’ era.
Averaging a double-double is cool and all, but the reason he made this list shows up in the advanced stats. Gerald meant a ton to this team leading them to the playoffs for the first time. Wallace had 11.5 ws and 0.177 ws/48, which are both the highest of the 4 contenders. He also had a PER that season of 18.3. While not the most efficient, he did have good shooting numbers on a team that needed the best from everyone to win 44 games that year.
While he did make the All-Star team, Crash didn’t really show up for the game. He was 1 for 3 for 2 points and had 3 rebounds in 15 minutes. The leading scorers in that game for the East were LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the season just before the three of them would team up in Miami.
Those Bobcats’ of course would go on to lose to Orlando in the first round of the playoffs 0-4. Wallace would be traded that offseason as the Bobcats’ decided to rebuild, feeling they got everything they could from an aging roster.
4) Al Jefferson 2013-2014
Big Al got off to a slow start last season due to an ankle injury, but the second half of the season he had opposing defenders dancing left and right to find him in the post. He averaged 24.5 ppg and 11.4 rpg after the All-Star break. The offense ran through him most nights and he made an effort to improve his defense, which was the big question after he signed as a free agent last offseason.
The advanced stats showed Al had the highest PER of the other contenders at 22.7, along with 7.6 ws and 0.146 ws/48. Win shares is an odd stat because his defensive win shares proved higher than his offensive win shares. Go figure.
As we all remember, this Bobcats’ team matched Gerald Wallace’s team with 44 wins and subsequent sweep in the first round at the hands of Miami. Jefferson suffered an injury to his plantar fascia in game 1 of that series and was never the same. He did not make the All-Star team but was named third team All-NBA.
All four players are so different and each had different strengths that it’s truly hard to choose one. I’m going to go with Alonzo Mourning’s rookie season as the greatest by a player in Charlotte’s history. That’s kind of amazing for Alonzo because his best seasons for his career were clearly in Miami, but he’s still beloved in Charlotte to this day and got the franchise on the map in the early 90s despite only spending 3 years as a Hornet.
You could actually talk me into Glen Rice’s season as well, though it was pretty one-dimensional. Wallace’s season was also very good but I always felt he would be a great third option on a really good team.
And don’t forget Al Jefferson is still in his prime and ready to begin the next chapter in the Charlotte Hornets’ story. He could still be heard from in the years to come.
In Part 4 of this series we will discuss what it would take for next season to be the greatest in Charlotte basketball history, as well as how likely that is to happen.
As usual, sound off in the comments below. Agree with my choice? Can Charlotte set the new standard next season?