Charlotte Hornets opening week report card: grading player performance

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) /
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Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets
Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) /

Brandon Miller: A

Question marks have surrounded Brandon Miller long before he was selected second overall back in June. From off-the-court issues to an inconsistent Summer League performance, expectations for the Alabama one-and-done ranged far and wide. Miller’s transition from college to the pros was supposed to take time, and fans (myself included) braced for the ups and downs of the adjustment period. It turns out Miller had other plans.

Hornets fans, after years of disappointing lottery picks and head-scratching front-office decisions, it’s time to let your guard down. Allow yourself to see a glimmer of hope, to feel an ounce of relief, and accept the fact that, for now, it seems like the Hornets made a successful draft night decision.

Through his first three games, Miller has averaged over 17 points and 6 rebounds with shooting splits of 47/44/90. He boasts a true shooting percentage of 61% and is playing more than 30 minutes per game. Head coach Steve Clifford doesn’t have the best reputation for playing younger guys but has found it impossible to keep Miller off the floor.

Miller has improved in every game, and his best performance came Monday night against the Nets. He scored 22 points, grabbed 9 boards, and kept the Hornets within striking distance for much of the second half. Miller looks confident in catch-and-shoot situations, dribbles the ball with a purpose, and doesn’t slack off on defense – a far cry from his summer league inconsistencies. He also hasn’t looked afraid of playing on the big stage – just ask Isaiah Stewart.

Brandon Miller is clearly ready to contribute right away and will only improve as the season continues. He’s surpassed preseason expectations with flying colors and has earned top marks on this Charlotte Hornets week one report card.

Gordon Hayward: C+

An article mentioning Gordon Hayward that isn’t a mock trade – can you believe it? Embarking on his 14th year in the league, Hayward has performed almost exactly as expected through the season’s first week. He’s the only Hornet shooting above 44% from beyond the arc and has two games of at least eight boards. Hayward has been trusted to initiate certain offensive sets and has done a nice job of getting into the lane and setting teammates up for open looks. The Hornets desperately need the decisive version of Hayward for the majority of the year, but history tells us that’s very unlikely.

I’m lowering Hayward’s grade due to his inconsistency. Through the first two games, which were both tightly contested, Hayward scored 0 fourth-quarter points. His tendency to disappear in crunch time has plagued his time in Charlotte almost as much as his injury frequency. Even though he currently leads the team in steals, he’s not talented enough on defense to make up for the stretches where he’s a complete non-factor on offense.

As rookie sensation Brandon Miller continues to emerge, Hayward could see his role on this team dwindle. For now, much like the last few years, Hayward has been okay. Serviceable. Adequate. Those aren’t the adjectives you want to hear describing the highest-paid player on the team. More than anyone else on this roster, fans have learned to temper expectations surrounding Gordon Hayward. For a player with mediocre projections entering this season, Hayward has been the epitome of average– which is precisely what his grade exhibits.

P.J. Washington: B+

Coming off a year with career highs in points and minutes per game, P.J. Washington inked a 3-year/$48 million-dollar extension from Charlotte this offseason. Washington got off to a blistering start, scoring 25 points (including seven in the 4th quarter) to help defeat the Atlanta Hawks on opening night.

P.J.’s scoring numbers have slightly dipped over the previous two games, and he’s only connected on 21% of his shots from deep, but that hasn’t stopped him from impacting the game in other areas. Washington grabbed 12 boards against Brooklyn Monday night and has continued to showcase his improved ability to attack defenders off the dribble. Once thought of as strictly a pick-and-pop power forward with a limited future in the league, Washington has developed into a legitimate offensive weapon that can score at all three levels.

Taking on a more prominent role in the offense while maintaining his status as one of the team’s best defenders has P.J. Washington receiving one of the higher grades on this report card.

JT Thor: C

Did anyone have JT Thor ending up as the best player from the 2021 draft class on their Hornets bingo card? I doubt it. Kai Jones is gone, and James Bouknight had his fourth-year option declined earlier this week, which means he isn’t far behind. Meanwhile, Thor cemented himself in the Hornets’ rotation last season when he appeared in 69 games and has already played at least 19 minutes in every game this year.

Thor shows flashes of potential every now and then, but the 21-year-old Auburn product seems to be no more than a reserve for Charlotte. His length and athleticism make him a solid defender, and he is shooting the ball with more confidence than ever before. If Thor can consistently hit corner threes, polish up his decision-making, and hinder opposing scorers on defense, he’ll be an integral part of the Hornets’ bench for the foreseeable future.