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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Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets
Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) /

Mark Williams: B+

The number one position that has given the Hornets the most grief in recent years is the center position. Charlotte has not had a legitimate starting center since the days of running their offense through Al Jefferson on the block. The names Bismack Biyombo, Frank Kaminsky, and Mason Plumlee will live in Hornets infamy for eternity.

Charlotte finally struck gold in the 2021 draft by selecting Mark Williams with the 15th overall pick. After spending a portion of his rookie season suiting up for the Greensboro Swarm, Williams got his shot in mid-February. In 17 games as the starting center, the former Duke Blue Devil averaged 11.6 points and 9.8 rebounds and gave Hornets fans a taste of what he could do in a full-time starting role.

For the most part, he’s lived up to the lofty expectations set for him coming into this year. Of the three games so far, Williams has performed well in two of them. An opening night stat line of 13 points and 15 boards started the season on the right note. The second-year pro followed his impressive debut with a two-point dud against Detroit and a bounce-back 18-point showing against the Nets.

Aside from the box scores, Williams has given the Hornets reliable rim protection and a genuine lob threat around the rim. His wingspan and ability to finish above the rim add an entirely new dimension to the game of a pass-first point guard like LaMelo Ball. If Williams can consistently protect the rim, roll hard off of screens, and finish a high percentage of shots around the basket, he’ll enjoy a myriad of successes as a Charlotte Hornet. The center position seems to be locked down long-term, which means Mark Williams deserves one of the top grades in this early-season report card.

Nick Richards: C-

Entering his fourth season in a Hornets uniform, Nick Richards will serve as the primary backup center in Charlotte for a second straight year. Richards averaged 8.2 points and 6.4 boards in 65 appearances last season, and the expectation is more of the same for the 2023-24 campaign.

There are certain matchups where Richards thrives – opening night against Atlanta is a good example. Richards tallied 7 points and 4 boards and ultimately held his own against Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu. He’s developed into a serviceable rebounder and rim protector in limited action. However, when teams play small ball or force Richards to make decisions on offense, he often looks lost. The former second-round pick can’t be trusted to produce on a nightly basis, and this inconsistency is the driving factor behind a low report card grade for Nick Richards.