Charlotte Hornets’ revamped bench steers toward playoff charge


The Charlotte Hornets answered plenty of questions this offseason. Perhaps, the most alarming question was the team’s depth heading into the 2017-18 season.

Charlotte relied on its starters to carry the team every night. As a whole, the starting five was one of the top groups in the league, ranking 11th (81.1) in efficiency according to On the contrary, the bench depleted the Charlotte Hornets, ranking 19th (39.3). That difference ranked the team as the seventh worst starters-to-bench combo in the league.

As a result, Charlotte finished 36-46 a season after making the playoffs.

What does general manager Rich Cho do? Rebuild the depth. And he did so in an unimaginable way.

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When the offseason started, it appeared that the Hornets were trapped with Miles Plumlee’s contract. The seven-footer, who averaged 2.4 points with the Hornets, is still owed $37.5 million over the next three seasons. Instead, Cho flipped that contract and Marco Bellinelli, another player off the bench, to Atlanta for Dwight Howard.

That trade most likely moves Cody Zeller as the first player off the bench. Zeller’s length and athleticism made him a good starter. But, it should make him one of the best backup centers in the league next year.

Spark plugs are known as guys that can come in and get buckets immediately, like Lou Williams. Zeller has improved his scoring output each year (finished with 10.3 points per game last season), but his spark plug ability will come from defense and in transition.

This is when Zeller is at his best. Given his athleticism, the Indiana product is a natural rim runner that can finish at the basket. On defense, he can lift to block, or at the very least contest, the shot. But what is more impressive is his ability to slid over and help in the post. Pair Zeller’s athleticism and IQ together and the Hornets have one of the best backup centers in the league.

Charlotte will have another seven-footer coming off the bench in Frank Kaminsky. The two compliment each other very well. With Zeller’s athleticism comes Kaminsky’s skill. The Wisconsin product can spread the floor with his shooting ability and give Zeller more space to operate. Also, with the two on the floor, Charlotte had a net rating (an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions) of 11.1, the second-highest on the team according to NBA Stats.

With the frontcourt in place, the Hornets needed somebody that could relieve Kemba Walker of his magic. Charlotte hopes they found that in Michael Carter-Williams. Since winning Rookie of the Year in 2014, Carter-Williams has trended downwards, only averaging 6.6 points and 2.5 assists per game last season. But after signing a team-friendly one-year, $2.7 million deal, Carter-Williams is seen as more reward than risk.

In pick-and-roll, Carter-Williams can attack the basket or get the assist. With Zeller, he has one of the better screen-setters in the league to make his job running the offense much easier. While the Shaun Livingston comparison is tempting, Carter-Williams doesn’t have a consistent midrange jump shot.

Yet, similar to Livingston in Golden State, the addition of Carter-Williams give Charlotte rotation flexibility. With a 6-6 frame, he can guard multiple positions and rebound the ball. Throw in his playmaking ability, he can play with Walker, allowing the All-Star to do what he does best by scoring the ball, similar to what the Hornets did with Jeremy Lin in 2016.

Lastly, Charlotte improved the future as well. Selecting Malik Monk with the 11th pick didn’t seem likely when the draft process began. As fate would have it, Monk fell to the Hornets. The Kentucky product won SEC Player of the Year after averaging 19.8 points per game. The man can get buckets without a doubt. Just ask North Carolina fans that saw their team get torched for 47 points.

Known as one of the best shooters in the draft, Monk will have an immediate role in Charlotte. It doesn’t matter how he does it, Monk can score spotting up or by a dribble pull-up jumper. Add a 42-inch vertical, Monk could be a high-flyer as well. For Monk, he will need to add muscle to his frame to finish at the rim and compete on defense. But for the 19-year-old, he can come off the bench and be that spark plug (as mentioned before) that Charlotte needs.

The Hornets return Jeremy Lamb, giving the team a solid 10-man rotation. The last time the Hornets had that kind of depth was in 2015-16 when they made the Playoffs. That year, Charlotte ranked ninth in bench points per game with 37.1.

Next: Charlotte could fuel Dwight's resurgence

With a weakened Eastern Conference, there’s a chance Charlotte is a top-five team in the East. Charlotte’s problem has been answered, now it’s time to see if the Hornets on the way back to meaningful basketball.