2014-15 Charlotte Hornets: Best in Charlotte History Part 4 of 4


This is the 4th and final post on what it will take for the 2014-2015 Charlotte Hornets to become the greatest team in Charlotte’s history.

Part 1 covering the reigning best Charlotte team can be found here.

Part 2 discussing Kemba Walker vs. Muggsy Bogues vs. Baron Davis is here.

Part 3 covering which individual has had the best season in Charlotte’s history is here.

What would have to happen for next season to prove the most successful in Charlotte history?

As covered in Part 1, Charlotte’s best regular season win total was 54 wins. The farthest they have gone in the playoffs is a Game 7 loss in the second round. Can next season’s team top those two stats?

All-Star potential

Most likely the Hornets will need to have at least one player worthy of an All-Star selection next season to have a shot at topping 54 wins. Charlotte had 43 wins last season which more than doubled the 21 wins from 2012-2013. Eleven more wins is asking a lot.

The All-Star hopefuls currently on the team include Al Jefferson, Lance Stephenson, and Kemba Walker. At least one and maybe two of them need to make the mid-season exhibition game as a sign of overall team success.

Big Al and Lance were both considered snubs last season, though Al did make 3rd team All-NBA at the end of the season, where Lance ended up blowing his chances at the team late in the season (see what I did there?).

As Jefferson gets more media accolades this year due to the increased interest in Charlotte’s team, he is more likely to make the All-Star game next season. Players that made last season’s game that may not be there include:

Aug 1, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA guard Paul George is carted off the floor on a gurney after suffering a lower leg injury during the USA Basketball Showcase at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

1) Paul George  – out for the season with broken leg (pictured to the right)

2) Roy Hibbert -struggled late in the season and would really have to play well consistently to make the team again

3) Paul Millsap – borderline All-Star, could take a step back as Al Horford is healthy

Al averaged 24.5 ppg and 11.4 rpg after the All-Star break last season, and it is not unreasonable to expect a healthy Al Jefferson to put those stats up in a full season if he can stay healthy. Big Al should get his first All-Star nod next season.

Mar 31, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker (15) celebrates with center Al Jefferson (25) during the second half against the Washington Wizards at Time Warner Cable Arena. Bobcats defeated the Wizards 100-94. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Stephenson was considered one of the next players in at the time of the All-Star game last season, didn’t close the season as strong as he started, and then the antics in the playoffs placed a negative connotation in the minds of some fans and GMs going into his free agency.

Lance’s points and assists dropped off after the All-Star break last season, and ended the regular season in Indiana averaging less than 10 ppg for April. Rumors have been swirling about the Pacers’ collapse and how it may or may not have involved Lance, but no denying the whole team struggled.

I felt at the time if the Hornets’ had played the Pacers in the first round instead of the Heat that Charlotte would have moved on instead of getting swept by LeBron.

Lance would have to prove his pre-All-Star break numbers of 14-7-5 were no fluke to be considered for the game this year. He’s on a team now that emphasizes getting back on defense rather than crashing the offensive boards, so we can expect his rebounds per game to drop. If he improves his points and assists while keeping the defensive intensity he showed last season (antics aside) then he will be in the running for an All-Star selection come February.

Most likely though he will be solid again but not quite All-Star worthy. Not yet.

Feb 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Eastern Conference Kyrie Irving guard (2) of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Kemba’s Improvement

Kemba Walker is the longest shot of the three to make the All-Star team. Two seasons ago he was in the conversation, but didn’t make it while leading the team to only 21 wins. Last season he took a step back as described in Part 2 of this series, with his shooting percentage dropping below 40% as well as his PER taking a hit. His assists improved as the season progressed, but a January ankle injury seemed to slow him down for the rest of the season.

The point guard position is just too stacked right now for Kemba to realistically make it on the All-Star squad. Since the voting is now for “Guard” or “Forward-Center” Kemba will be up against Dwyane Wade, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, and even Lance Stephenson.

So what’s the best case scenario for next season?

1) Kemba Walker improves his shooting percentage to at least 43% from the field and to 36% from three which is close to league average. He shows his improvement in assists late last season was the start of a trend as he gets 7-9 apg. While he’s mentioned in the same breath as the best PGs in the East, he does not make the All-Star team, though the word snub is thrown around.

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) warms up prior to a game against the Miami Heat in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2) Lance Stephenson stays focused while upping his scoring to 17+ ppg and becomes the second passing option that Josh McRoberts became last season to get 5+ apg and gets his first All-Star bid. No locker room problems, no blowing in anyone’s ear.

3) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finds enough of a shooting stroke to keep teams honest while Al is posting up. MKG shot 15% from 10-16 feet from the basket last season, if he can improve that to even 30% next year, that will open his driving lanes. He learns to stop fouling so often, leading to his minutes increasing from 24 per game to at least 30. Steve Clifford thinks MKG is the key to his defense and so far he’s right.

4) Cody Zeller shows off some of the shooting touch he showed in the pre-draft workouts last season to become McBob-lite. (I know McRoberts hates that nickname, FYI, but he’s gone now). He’s been working in Indiana with his college coach Tom Crean along with Victor Oladipo and even some of the Heat players including Wade and McRoberts (at least according to Wade’s Instagram which was reposted by Matt Glenesk of The Indianapolis Star on Tuesday.)

He bulks up some this off-season to better protect the post and learns some tricks from his old coach and the former champs to win the starting job from Marvin Williams by the end of the season.

5) Al Jefferson doesn’t get hurt, makes the All-Star team and puts in arguably the best individual season in Charlotte history.

If 3-4 of those things above happen then Charlotte has as shot at 50+ wins and home court advantage in at least 1 playoff series. They would be in great position to make a deep run in the playoffs as the middle of the East is wide open.

And make no mistake about it, a worst case scenario (Al injury, Kemba injury, Lance and P.J. Hairston start hanging out in Durham) could lead to Charlotte missing the playoffs altogether. The team will have to show progress to expect to be in the postseason again with as many as 11 Eastern teams having true playoff aspirations.

But if Al can be Al and everyone else continues to progress their games, along with the benefits of finally having the same coach for more than 1 season, next season has a chance at being the best the Queen City has ever experienced.

So what do you think? Can Charlotte see its most success ever next season?