How the Charlotte Hornets Stack Up Against the East’s Elite

Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

The Charlotte Hornets struggled against some of the elite teams last season but how will they fair against the Eastern Conference’s best teams this year?

The Charlotte Hornets shocked most around the NBA last season with a 48-34 record, good for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Charlotte pushed the Miami Heat to seven games, proving they deserved to play into May. Heading into this season, the core of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and Marvin Williams are back for another season while welcoming back swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after being injured the majority of the 2015-16 season.

However, key contributors Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson departed Charlotte. The Hornets have attempted to plug the holes that they left with the likes of Roy Hibbert, Marco Belinelli and Ramon Sessions, among others. How does Buzz City match up with the top contenders in the Eastern Conference?

Cleveland Cavaliers

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Record against last season: 1-3

Strengths: Lebron James, 3 point shooting, offensive versatility

Weaknesses: defensive weak spots, depth

They’re the defending champions for a reason, but Cleveland can be beaten. Despite Kevin Love’s well-documented stop against Stephen Curry in game 7 that may have been the final stake in the Golden State Warriors’ heart, he’s not going to show up to training camp moving his feet like Draymond Green. In addition, Kyrie Irving isn’t going to stop being caught sleeping on defense, and J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert will continue to be beat on backdoor cuts. The key to defending Cleveland is the three-point shot and forcing them into half-court basketball.

Allowing Lebron James and Irving to have their way in the open court is a death sentence. In the Hornets’ one victory against the Cavaliers last season, Lin recorded a team-high 24 points with Kyrie being his primary defender and Kemba out due to a sore knee. In addition, with Matthew Dellavadova and Timofey Mozgov gone from the roster, Cleveland will have to look elsewhere for reliable bench defense. The Hornets have to pray Lebron doesn’t come to the arena angry, contain Kyrie and Love and keep their troupe of shooters at bay.

Toronto Raptors

Record against last season: 1-2

Strengths: guard play, attacking the rim, reliable team defense

Weaknesses: isolation heavy offense in half court, supporting cast lacking offensively, lack that next gear of a true contender

Toronto experienced the franchise’s best season with 56 wins and its inaugural Eastern Conference Finals appearance. However, they certainly have weaknesses to be exploited. The Raptors run everything offensively through their pair of all-star guards, Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. Both excel in attacking the basket and drawing fouls, as the Raptors ranked second in the league in free throws made.

Their supporting cast of DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas among others are solid on both sides of the ball but lack that explosive ability that seems to play all too important a part in the playoffs. The Cavs basically left Patterson on pick and pops, asking him to beat them with his jump shot. Needless to say, he fell short. Without backup big Bismack Biyombo, the third ranked scoring defense is bound to take a hit. Stop Lowry and Derozan, and Charlotte can notch a winning record against “The North”.

Boston Celtics

Record against last season: 1-2

Strengths: defensive versatility, coaching, depth

Weaknesses: shooting, lack of a number one option

The Celtics stock is up right now with the signing of Al Horford without giving up any of their well-publicized assets. Boston is positioned to obtain a bonafide superstar when the opportunity presents itself, but until then they are a piece away from being among the elite. With that being said, Horford improves what is already their best quality: versatility on the defensive end. The longtime Hawk joins perimeter pests Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, along with Marcus Smart off the bench.

Brad Stevens is a budding coaching star locked in Boston for the foreeable future, and Isaiah Thomas quarterbacks the offense, running endless high ball screens with a new pick and pop partner in Horford. Despite Thomas’ career year and first all-star selection, there is a ceiling on a team with him as the team’s primary offensive option. Crowder and Bradley are works in progress on offensively, so don’t allow them to get their feet set and they’re not much of a headache. What bodes well for Charlotte is their lack of turnovers, something the Celtics feast on. The Hornets take care of the ball, a necessity against Boston’s ballhawking guards.

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New York Knicks

Record against last season: 3-1

Strengths: star studded starting five, talented offensive players

Weaknesses: chemistry, health, depth

The Knicks’ summer was well-publicized, particularly the additions of Bulls’ veterans Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Phil Jackson’s moves form a formidable starting group (on paper) of Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Noah. It remains to be seen how all the moving parts will work, as well as how much the five can stay healthy together. New York also added Brandon Jennings as a spark off the bench and insurance for Rose.

But if everything goes perfectly, one could certainly envision a top-4 finish in the East for the Knicks. Factoring in egos, health, defense, and overall team chemistry and balance could result in several other scenarios, most of which being considerably worse. Charlotte is well-equipped to combat the best of what New York has to offer.

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Above average perimeter defense to combat Anthony and Rose, a bonafide rim protector in Hibbert, and a solid bench that can take advantage of weaker units the Knicks will have to toss out when Carmelo and crew take a breather. Look for Charlotte to capture a winning record against the Big Apple’s team once again.