If you were to take a look at the DraftKings NBA betting you’d have to scroll some way down to find the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Championship odds.
Is that fair though? Do the Hornets actually have a great chance of going further than the Eastern Conference semi-finals and succeeding in the play-offs for the first time in their history?
The Hornets’ Season So Far
It has been a while since the Hornets featured in the postseason reckoning, so it has come as a surprise to many outside of North Carolina to see the team fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
With plenty of games left to play, many are suggesting that the Hornets’ performances thus far have more to do with the underperformance of teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat.
However, that’s a somewhat reductive argument that does not take into account the talent in the Hornets team and their potential staying power.
The Hornets have looked solid, if not spectacular throughout the majority of this season thus far and are on an upward trajectory. Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham have been putting in steady performances and Gordon Hayward has injected an element of class into this team after joining on a four-year $120 million deal in the offseason.
However, that said, when the Hornets have come up against on-form sides this season they have unfortunately come up short. Their performances against weaker sides have propelled them to their current position in the standings, but they will need to improve against tougher opponents to maintain a playoff push.
Areas for Concern
Cody Zeller is not the type of player that you would associate with a Championship winning side, but Hornets fans were left dreaming of the big man earlier this season when he was injured and Bismack Biyombo stepped into his place.
During that period, Biyombo averaged 6.3 points and 6.5 boards which made Zeller’s 9.2 points and 8.4 boards in nine games look amazing. What that tells Hornets fans though, is that their team is incredibly weak at center rotation.
If that were the only area of weakness in this Hornets team, an argument could be made that they could overcome this and sustain a successful playoff push. Unfortunately though, the injury to LaMelo Ball has raised further concerns.
LaMelo Ball’s breakout season has been setback by a wrist injury
Ball, who has performed solidly in his rookie season has only just undergone surgery on a damaged wrist. Last week he made his return, watching from the bench as his side fell to defeat against the Phoenix Suns.
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out that a wrist injury in basketball can be a big problem, particularly for a young player who is trying to make his mark on the game.
Without Ball, the Hornets offense has looked labored and predictable and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Ball will not only need to return to full fitness, but he will also need to readjust to the pace of the NBA.
This will take time, and for a team that needs to be firing on all cylinders to feasibly make the playoffs, Ball’s injury could be terminal to those hopes.
Areas for Optimism
Although there are considerable hurdles in place for the Hornets in the remainder of the season, it’s not all doom and gloom in North Carolina. After all, they are sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference and that’s not the position of a bad team.
In our areas for concern we pinpointed the center rotation as a weak point for this team, but it could equally be seen as an area for optimism. There’s no doubt that Bismack Biyambo is no Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert, but the fact that the Hornets maintained decent form with him in the team is impressive.
If the Hornets form had fallen off a cliff following the injury of Zeller, few fans could have complained, but it didn’t and that’s commendable.
Looking at more tangible positives, the performances of Gordon Hayward have been pleasing for Hornets fans. The former Jazz and Celtics man has looked worth every cent of his multi-million deal thus far this season.
At one point in January he was averaging 27.1 points per game and whilst he may have dropped off from those heights, he is still averaging 19.9 points, almost 5 points higher than his career average.
The Hornets have won a number of games this season by slender margins and Hayward’s performances have been key to that. The injury suffered to Ball will heap further pressure on Hayward’s shoulders, but he’s more than capable of handling that.
Especially with players like Terry Rozier – who is playing the best basketball of his career – stepping in to shoulder the burden. Prior to this season, Rozier was averaging 10.9 points a game, but this season he has been hitting 20.7 points per game.
If these two can keep the Hornets ticking over whilst Ball returns to match sharpness, then Hornets fans have every right to start dreaming of the playoffs.
Terry Rozier has been a standout player for the Hornets this season
The Charlotte Hornets’ chances of finishing the season with an NBA Championship are slim to none, no one can deny that. But that doesn’t mean that their season is doomed to failure.
No one expected the Hornets to be featuring in the playoff reckoning at the beginning of the season, so to even be involved in that conversation at this stage of the season must be seen as a success.
With the extended route to the playoffs this season there’s also no reason to think that the Hornets will miss out on the playoffs. After a good couple of years of mediocrity a trip to the playoffs will help to energize the fanbase as well as providing a platform for progression next season.