LaMelo Ball has put the Charlotte Hornets back on the map.
The 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year helped energize a fanbase
that was yearning for a long-term building block after Kemba
Walker’s departure in 2019. Ball provided a spark of youthful
energy and displayed extremely intriguing two-way upside, averaging
15.7 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. In
the process, the 19-year-old accelerated the Hornets’ development
Since 1996-97, only seven rookies have put up a year-long
15-6-1.5 statline: Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, Chris Paul, John
Wall, Michael Carter-Williams, Ben Simmons and Ball. Throw in
Ball's 5.9 rebounds and only Carter-Williams and Simmons matched
his first-year production. And once Ball became a full-time
starter, his numbers were even more impressive: 18.1 points, 6.2
assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals on a 54.5 True Shooting
The Hornets have a budding superstar who's ready to take the NBA
by storm in short order, which is a key component for any
organization looking to take the ever-important leap forward.
Quietly, Charlotte has been one of the biggest offseason
winners. Across the board, the Hornets improved their roster and
made moves that will allow them to compete in the immediate future
while also developing an enticing young core. Take a look at how
they tinkered with their roster to best fit Ball’s strengths as a
fast-paced floor general with blossoming three-level scoring
Outgoing: Devonte’ Graham, Cody Zeller, Malik
Monk, Bismack Biyombo, Brad Wanamaker, Caleb Martin
Incoming: James Bouknight, Mason Plumlee, Kelly
Oubre Jr., Kai Jones, Ish Smith, Wes Iwundu, JT Thor, future
first-round pick (via the New Orleans Pelicans)
The Hornets drew huge praise for their draft-night haul, for
obvious reasons. Landing James Bouknight, one of the best pure
scorers in the 2021 draft class, was a massive steal at No. 11.
Charlotte traded up to acquire tantalizing big man Kai Jones, who
possesses unicorn-esque traits, which gives their backcourt a
future transition running mate who can protect the rim with further
physical development. JT Thor, who has been described as a possible
diamond-in-the-rough, is an
upside swing who could also pay huge dividends down the road.
BasketballNews.com's NBA Draft experts Matt Babcock and Derek
Murray both named the Hornets as one of their biggest draft-night winners.
Add Charlotte's strong 2021 draft haul alongside Ball, Miles
Bridges and P.J. Washington and the Hornets’ core should be set for
years to come. Ball and Bouknight are an awesome one-two scoring
punch who can play off one another seamlessly. Bridges and
Washington have flashed immense upside already in their young
careers. If Jones and Thor reach their max ceilings, Charlotte has
a terrifying big duo that can do things on both ends of the
Pivoting over to the veterans that Charlotte acquired, these
three immediate contributors will add a much-needed boost to a
rotation that's filled to the brim with youth.
Recently signed to a two-year, $25 million deal, Kelly Oubre
Jr.’s run-and-gun mentality should allow him to flourish alongside
Ball, who will set him up for easy looks in transition. If Oubre
completely buys into a sixth-man role, there’s real potential for
him to garner Sixth-Man-of-the-Year consideration next season. One
year ago, Oubre was coming off a career-best season with the
Phoenix Suns in which he averaged 18.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3
steals and 0.7 blocks while mastering his role as a cutter in Monty
Williams’ “0.5 Offense.” After a down year with the Golden State
Warriors, it's very possible that the 25-year-old can have a strong
bounce-back season in Charlotte.
Mason Plumlee is an upgrade over Zeller as a starting center,
and he can also be an underrated secondary playmaking engine.
Charlotte only had to give up the No. 57 pick for Plumlee and the
No. 37 pick (which became Thor) since the Detroit Pistons wanted to
dump Plumlee's salary due to Isaiah Stewart’s emergence. It seems
like a draft-night steal for the Hornets. With the Pistons,
Plumlee’s high-basketball IQ allowed him to set up opportunities
for others around the rim as a high-post initiator, averaging a
career-best 3.6 assists. And if Jones' development is accelerated
during his rookie campaign, Plumlee would accept a bench role, or
he can be flipped at the trade deadline for a future asset.
Ish Smith is a reliable backup point guard and a steady
presence, who can also play alongside Ball in spurts. With 11 years
of experience, Smith is a great veteran leader who can teach Ball
some more tricks of the trade throughout the season.
To top things off, Charlotte was also able to swindle a
lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick from the Pelicans in the
Devonte' Graham sign-and-trade, which was another big offseason
win. Graham’s role in the Queen City was capped, especially after
Bouknight was drafted No. 11 overall. Now, the Hornets have another
first-round pick at their disposal.
Even with all of these moves by GM Mitch Kupchak, the Hornets
still have two key pieces already on their roster: Gordon Hayward
and Terry Rozier. Both were integral parts to the Hornets reaching
the Eastern Conference play-in tournament last season.
In Hayward’s best season since 2016-17 with the Utah Jazz, he
poured in 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting
41.5% on three-pointers. Before Hayward’s season-ending right foot
sprain in early April, the Hornets were above .500 at 25-23. Once
Hayward went down, Charlotte finished their season 8-17 if you
include their 144-117 blowout defeat versus the Indiana Pacers in
the play-in game. A healthy Hayward should slide right back into a
primary role within the Hornets’ offense.
Meanwhile, Rozier finally put together an efficient season in
which he reached another level as a scoring dynamo. Rozier averaged
a career-high 20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals
while hitting three-pointers at a 38.9% clip. During his two-year
stint in Charlotte, Rozier has stabilized as a high-volume
perimeter scorer, converting 39.6% from deep on 7.5 attempts per
Entering the final year of his contract, Rozier is unlikely to
be in the Hornets’ long-term plans with Bouknight’s arrival. This
means Rozier could be used later this offseason or near the trade
deadline to add another future asset. However, if Charlotte becomes
a true playoff threat, Rozier’s bucket-getting ability will be big
for the Hornets.
Entering into an important season for prospect development and
immediate improvement, here’s how the Hornets’ rotation shapes
Starters: Ball, Rozier, Hayward, Bridges,
Second Unit: Smith, Bouknight, Oubre,
Many teams in the Eastern Conference have assembled strong
rosters that seem poised to leap into playoff contention. Charlotte
has joined this ever-growing list with their eye-opening offseason
haul. If the Hornets are able to finally crack through into
postseason play for the first time since 2016, it will prove their
rebuild is finally heading in the right direction.
Ball headlines a new era that's generating plenty of buzz in
Charlotte, but there’s a lot more depth to this roster that's ready
to surprise the Association this upcoming season.