2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: Charlotte Hornets

Even with several high-profile additions, the Hornets will likely have to scrap for a playoff berth.

How does LaMelo Ball fit with the Hornets?

When last seen, the Hornets were …  trying to shake off the dust from a fourth straight playoff-less season. The Hornets have failed to reach the postseason in 13 of the last 16 seasons, which means they needed a seismic upgrade in talent. A move into the playoff mix isn’t there yet, but there is hope after the offseason additions of veteran Gordon Hayward and No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball. The Hornets still lack the foundational pieces that will prevent a hard road ahead, but coach James Borrego has done his best to instill a defensive mindset. There are no All-Star caliber players to lean on in Charlotte, but that’s not to say there aren’t players on the roster who have those ambitions. But dreaming about it isn’t enough. Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham got their crack at it last season. Now, Hayward and Ball take their turn.

Whats new? The Hayward sign-and-trade with Boston shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Hornets tried to get Hayward back in 2014 when he was on the Utah Jazz. The mutual interest remained, and when Hayward dove into free agency, everything lined up and he jumped at the chance to lead his own team. One of the youngsters in his charge will be Ball, who comes with a built-in global following on social media (and the drama that comes with it). Borrego sees two jumbo playmakers that he didn’t have last season. These new additions present all sorts of possibilities for the Hornets to speed things up from the snail’s pace (30th in the league) they operated at last season. Between Graham, Rozier, Hayward and Ball, the Hornets hope to unlock a myriad of playbook options.

Whats missing: The connectivity that binds good teams together is a work in progress, especially when you’re preparing to lean two newcomers as the Hornets are. There is a gamble in that regard that the Hornets are taking by putting all of these pieces together. Will Graham and Rozier be receptive to Hayward sharing some of the leadership load they inherited in the wake of Kemba Walker’s departure? Is anyone going to be willing to let Ball run wild as a rookie? So much of what goes on this season will depend on the pliability of the players. Borrego knows what it takes to build a winning culture, having done his time in San Antonio. Doing so without the aid of a Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili, however, is a different lift. Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington, two young forwards on the right development track, cannot have their development sacrificed for the greater good.


Devonte’ Graham | 18.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 7.5 apg
One of the league’s most improved players … and he’s just getting started.

Terry Rozier | 18.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.1 apg
Got his wish after playing a reserve role in Boston and took advantage of the opportunity.

Cody Zeller | 11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.5 apg
Injuries have sapped the hype that was a part of the conversation early on.

P.J Washington | 12.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Spectacular start foreshadowed a better-than-expected rookie season for the rugged forward.

Gordon Hayward | 17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.1 apg
Veteran swingman is convinced he’s in the prime of his career and finally in the right spot.


LaMelo Ball | 17.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 6.8 apg (Illawarra)
Touted by many as the most talented player in the Draft, but still has much to prove.

Miles Bridges | 13.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg
Productive youngster who has to show marked improvement this season.

Bismack Biyombo | 7.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg
Hornets betting on familiarity with their former big man rim protector.

Malik Monk | 10.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
Enigmatic shooter/scorer is running out of chance to prove himself.

Charlotte Hornets, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 23 42 0.354 105.9 28 112.8 25 -7.0 27
2018-19 39 43 0.476 110.7 11 112.0 23 -1.3 19
2017-18 36 46 0.439 109.0 9 109.0 17 -0.1 18
2016-17 36 46 0.439 108.4 14 108.4 17 -0.0 15
2015-16 48 34 0.585 106.4 9 103.7 9 +2.7 9

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


The math just doesn’t add up for the Hornets (new additions + holdovers = ?) right now, unless there is a shocking surprise. That means Hayward rediscovering his All-Star form, Ball front-running for Kia Rookie of the Year or (one of) Graham, Rozier, Bridges or Washington taking a huge leap. That puts pressure on the entire group to accelerate the cohesion-building process — and asking Charlotte to do so without a transcendent star to help circumvent that. If this team scraps its way into play-in territory, consider this season a success for the Hornets. The reality is probably somewhere on the fringe of that.

Predicted finish: 28-44

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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