30 Teams in 30 Days: Charlotte Hornets look for bounce back year behind rookie Malik Monk
Reunion with Steve Clifford could help Dwight Howard, Hornets get back on track
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 Record: 36-46
Who’s new: Malik Monk (Draft), Dwight Howard (trade), Michael Carter-Williams (free agency)
Who’s gone: Marco Belinelli, Ramon Sessions
The lowdown: The Hornets took a step backward in their development, managing 36 wins (a dozen less than the season before) while also missing the playoffs.
Charlotte, however, did address a pair of needs by adding a shooter and a center, with one player eliciting a drastically different reaction than the other.
Malik Monk fell to the Hornets at No. 11 in the Draft and everyone in the basketball universe thought it was a solid fit. Days before that, though, the Hornets traded for Howard … and almost everyone outside of the organization thought it was a reach (and that’s putting it kindly).
As usual in these cases, the truth will settle in the middle somewhere once the ball goes up, but let’s examine the situations individually.
Monk comes from the NBA breeding ground at Kentucky, which means based on that program’s track record, he’ll at the very least be a solid NBA player. Of course, the Hornets already own one of the few lottery picks from Kentucky (Michael-Kidd Gilchrist) who hasn’t become All-Star quality, which could be an omen.
Monk is slippery smooth with the ball and in college was able to launch his shot from anywhere, with good results. True enough, he’s a product of his era, which means he’s either scoring from deep or at the rim. Also, at 6-foot-3, he’s on the short side for his position and his body could use another layer of muscle, but talent overcomes those deficiencies. Bottom line is Monk was an explosive scorer at the premier program in college basketball and that usually translates well on the next level.
Put him next to Kemba Walker and suddenly defenses must make some sharp decisions, assuming Monk is able to deliver right away as a rookie. If so, then Walker, Monk and small forward Nicolas Batum will spread the floor and give the Hornets’ offense another dimension and loads of energy.
What this means for Jeremy Lamb is uncertain, since he plays the same position as Monk and hasn’t elevated his game (only 9.7 points per game last season) since signing a three-year contract extension in 2015. Overall, the Hornets have an intriguing option at the big guard spot. In addition, Batum wasn’t drastically better last season after signing the largest contract in team history — he shot just 40 percent (33 from deep) and averaged 15 points, less than what you’d expect from someone who’s averaging $24 million per season.
Also worth noting about the Hornets is that they were 3-17 in games that Cody Zeller missed with injury. While he’s hardly a standout in the middle — and could be out of position at center — the Hornets needed his presence because the alternatives were weak.
So they pulled the trigger on the most controversial trade of the summer and grabbed Howard, who was gladly dumped by the Hawks who wanted nothing in return except a used Muggsy Bogues jersey. Two summers ago Howard signed a three-year deal worth $23 million a season, and it was outdated after two months.
He was a poor fit with the Hawks and the relationship turned stormy after he complained about sitting fourth quarters during Atlanta’s 2017 playoff run. Clearly, Howard is an awkward piece in a league that has changed since he was at his peak; with few exceptions (DeAndre Jordan), big men who can’t shoot are dinosaurs. They become lane-cloggers and rarely get touches unless their inside game is strong enough to command a double team, something Howard hasn’t seen in at least five seasons.
That said, he didn’t cost the Hornets anything. And he has a great relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant coach in Orlando with Howard. So, the Hornets really don’t stand much to lose, since Howard, given his admiration for Clifford, should be a good soldier in the locker room.
Besides, the Hornets could use his presence on the glass and as a rim protector, the two areas where Howard can still make a decent impact (Charlotte gave up the 10th fewest points in the paint last season). And his only true competition in Charlotte is Zeller, who could in certain situations slide to power forward.
In another, lesser deal, the Hornets signed Carter-Williams to spruce up their depth behind Walker. Unfortunately, Carter-Williams is the answer to a trivia question: What former Kia Rookie of the Year winner failed to have his rookie contract extended? It’s a distinction that’s troublesome to Carter-Williams, whose inability to shoot consistently caused his value to dive drastically since breaking in with the Sixers.
Carter-Williams and Howard have perhaps their last shot to swerve their careers in a positive direction, while Monk prepares to start his on the right path.
Coming Next: Detroit Pistons
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