May 24, 2018, 1:27 pm
In a depleted Eastern Conference, the Hornets hoped that a core of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard could earn them a little respectability and a playoff berth. With respected coach Steve Clifford at the helm, Charlotte was hoping to capitalize on their cornerstone’s prime and take a step forward. An injury to Batum and some disappointing contributions from secondary players led to yet another lost year for the Hornets, and we’re here to break it all down.
The Hornets decided to beef up their frontcourt in the offseason, trading for Dwight Howard (and his big contract) to hold down the fort at center. It was a move that both sides made gladly, as the Hawks quickly admitted that signing Dwight was a mistake and took back Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and a second-round pick from the Hornets. They then opted to select Kentucky’s Malik Monk in the first round of the draft, hoping that his shooting touch could help replace the outgoing Belinelli’s production from deep while growing into a combo guard role. Michael Carter-Williams signed a one-year deal to help bolster the backcourt, too.
Charlotte also added Dwayne Bacon in round two, a deliciously-named, under the radar pick who ended up being more important than expected as injuries befell Nic Batum. Charlotte’s second-most important player suffered a torn UCL in a preseason game that put him on the shelf until November 15 that forced Bacon and sixth man Jeremy Lamb to step up early. Both performed admirably but the Hornets could only cook up a 5-7 record until Batum returned to action. While Charlotte was on the outskirts of the playoff chase for most of the year, the furthest they got above .500 was 5-3. They were 8-9 in late November but would come no closer to breaking even the rest of the year. They were passable after the All-Star break but a 5-11 December pretty much buried them, and the rest of the year was just Charlotte playing out the string.
The Hornets did make a nice move at the deadline, rescuing Willy Hernangomez from purgatory in exchange for a pair of second round picks. There are already a couple capable centers in town but Hernangomez is young enough and skilled enough to push his way into the long-term picture. He didn’t play a ton but had a solid finish to a largely disappointing sophomore year.
Ultimately, the Hornets languished in mediocrity yet again. Trade rumors began to circulate around Kemba Walker but the team stood pat and will look to try again with former Spurs assistant an ex-interim Magic coach James Borrego in the driver’s seat with Clifford being dismissed early in the offseason.
While Clifford is generally regarded as a decent coach (i.e. not part of the problem), it’s understandable that Charlotte wanted to try something new. They’ve got limited avenues to improve the roster and would like to keep Kemba Walker in the fold past this season, so changing the voice in the room is the easiest way to give the Hornets a different flavor that could lead to a step forward.
Offensively, it’s pretty easy to see why the Hornets were on the outside looking in. Despite a ferocious rim runner in Dwight Howard, they were 20th in shots per game from the restricted area (and 24th in efficiency) and 13th in attempts from elsewhere in the paint. They ranked 29th and 28th in threes attempted from the left and right corners and 16th in above-the-break threes. Charlotte ranked 9th in terms of shots from the mid-range, and while those are already analytically unfriendly shots, the problem was exacerbated by a 27th-best conversion rate on those looks.
They were also 25th in the league in terms of assist rate, and while that’s not necessarily a backbreaker the Hornets simply lack players who can create their own shots. Nicolas Batum’s injury and Dwight Howard’s arrival certainly hurt them in this regard as they finished eighth in the same category in 2016-17. When nearly 45 percent of your field goals are unassisted, you simply have to employ more than one truly gifted offensive player. That roster build and lack of ball movement didn’t really keep them from playing fast, either. Charlotte ranked ninth in pace (up from 19th – 97.85 to 100.53) and led the league in turnover percentage for the second straight year. They just had a tough time getting mathematically “good” shoots.
Defensively, while they also managed to excel at forcing opponents into shots from the mid-range, they also got crushed at the 3-point line where opponents shot 37.5 percent. That’s the fourth-worst mark in the league. While Charlotte had the best free throw rate (no doubt boosted by hack-a-Dwight) and the lowest opponent free throw rate, there just wasn’t enough juice to overcome the disparity from downtown.
Throw all that into the cauldron and the Hornets were about as middling as could be. Offensive rating? 13th at 107.0. Defensive rating? 16th at 107.0. Most teams with a net rating of zero don’t go very far, and that held true despite some positive underlying signs for the Hornets.
Stephen Silas coached for about six weeks while Clifford was tending to a health issue, and though he’s gotten some play on the interview circuit this offseason his brief stint was nothing special. It’s tough to say that the Hornets coaches are the main thing holding this roster back, but given the organizational crossroads that are swiftly approaching the change is certainly understandable.
It’ll now be on James Borrego to coax something more out of this group, and you can expect that optimizing the offense will be his first big task.
ADP: 24/23 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 16/17 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 29/26 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 80
2017-18 averages: 80 G | 80 GS | 34.2 MP | 22.1 PTS | 2.9 3PM | 3.1 REB | 5.6 AST | 1.1 STL | 0.3 BLK | 2.2 TOV | .431 FG% | .864 FT% |
Walker continued to be the class of the Hornets this past season, making another All-Star appearance and becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring and 3-pointers in another fantastic campaign. He saw a minor dip in scoring, tied to a dip in efficiency from .444 to .431 despite a little less volume. That wasn’t entirely unexpected considering Kemba had climbed all the way up to the mid-400s in just two seasons after posting a .385 mark, and even if he settles in the .430 neighborhood that’ll be more than enough considering his output elsewhere. He’s an elite source of triples, a major boost at the free throw line and a big contributor in steals, points and assists.
Despite a number of knee procedures in his past (including one last offseason), Walker has only missed six games over the last three seasons. The repeated work on his knee is a little concerning but to this point it hasn’t hurt him from a fantasy perspective, as the two absences this year came because of a sore shoulder.
Off the court, the trade winds began to swirl as the Hornets faded from the postseason picture. Walker’s contract expires after this past season and Charlotte might bite the bullet and collect a haul by sending him off to a team with higher aspirations. That’ll depend entirely on how management feels this summer and how the Hornets start out their season, so look for Walker to generate some more headlines than usual this year. He’s pretty bulletproof from a fantasy perspective, however.
Kemba has proven to be pretty durable over these last few seasons and even if he were to be traded, it’s not like his new team would ask him to become a backup. Having more talented teammates might ding him a little bit but Walker is locked in as an early-round fantasy option who continues to skate by as the most underrated elite point guard around. If such a thing exists, anyway.
ADP: 67/68 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 58/100 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 92/139 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2017-18 averages: 81 G | 81 GS | 30.4 MP | 16.6 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 12.5 REB | 1.3 AST | 0.6 STL | 1.6 BLK | 2.6 TOV | .555 FG% | .574 FT% |
Howard was the same player he always was in his first year with Charlotte. He crashed the glass with abandon and tanked your free throw numbers, with some extra deductions in 9-cat formats because of his unsightly turnover numbers. The 14-year vet finished fourth in the league in rebounding and 11th in blocks, though he was basically tied for seventh if we don’t split hairs.
He also didn’t miss any time with injuries this year, sitting out one game after being suspended for racking up too many techs. No back problems is good news. Howard also posted a monstrous 32 & 30 game this year, becoming just the second player to go 30-30 since 1982.
Unfortunately, he also ranked seventh in free throw attempts and shot a putrid 57.4 percent from the charity stripe. While that’s actually his highest mark since 2011-12, there’s just no way to work around that in fantasy. Coupled with a major dip in his field goal percentage from .633 to .555, it’s no wonder that Howard’s per-game value is so low.
Of course, he becomes a top-35 per-game option when you punt free throws and settles in the top-15 on a total value basis. In that regard, it’s not a bad season from Howard. You’re forced into punting once he joins the roster and can usually be grabbed later than most of his profile-peers at the center spot. Of course, the other guys tend to help you more in efficiency and blocks, but Howard isn’t a total killer – he just forces you into one specific lane.
ADP: 54/61 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 106/125 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 84/99 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 64
2017-18 averages: 64 G | 64 GS | 31.0 MP | 11.6 PTS | 1.4 3PM | 4.8 REB | 5.5 AST | 1.0 STL | 0.4 BLK | 2.0 TOV | .415 FG% | .831 FT% |
Batum’s season was dominated by injuries despite the 64 games played, and by the time he played himself into rhythm the Hornets were starting to think about the lottery odds. He tore his left UCL in the preseason and missed the first 12 games of the year. Batum missed another pair of games later in the season with elbow discomfort and soreness, admitting later that the elbow pained him into February. He also missed four more in March with left Achilles soreness, though one wonders if he would’ve played through it if the Hornets were close to the postseason.
Still, despite the rocky start, it wasn’t all bad. Batum rounded into form around the All-Star break and really kicked it into gear in March, averaging 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.2 triples per game on 44.0 percent shooting. He also dropped a career-high 16 assists in one of his two triple-doubles this year. That’s the kind of output that owners expected out of Batum, and while it came at a nice time it was probably too little too late for most players.
The ADP is a bit misleading here since his injury occurred on October 4 (just two weeks before opening night) and we’d imagine that Batum has lost some of his shine even if he still grades out as a helpful fantasy option. He saw declines in all of his counting stats, though he did see his minutes cut from 34.0 to 31.0 this season. Rate-wise he was right on line with last year’s production outside of small dips in scoring, threes and rebounds. Batum remains a jack of all trades and a master of none so look for him to come off draft boards in the 50-75 range. He’s a fairly consistent player even if he was undoubtedly below standard this year.
ADP: 117/116 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 107/82 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 148/115 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 78
2017-18 averages: 78 G | 78 GS | 25.7 MP | 9.5 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 4.7 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.5 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .458 FG% | .829 FT% |
Williams continued to serve as a steady option in 9-cat formats this season, though he did take some notable steps back after a breakout 2016-17 campaign. Some of that can be attributed to a decrease of around five minutes a night, as otherwise his scoring, steal, block and assist rates were about the same as last year despite lower overall totals. Marv gets credit for improving his efficiency with much of that coming from a blistering .413 mark from 3-point land. That didn’t yield much for fantasy owners outside of the percentages though, as Williams has now averaged 1.6 triples in each of the last two seasons. The minutes, again.
The big issue here was the presence of Dwight Howard, as Williams rode a huge rebounding binge in the second half of 2016-17 to a middle-round finish. There would be no such run this time around, and Williams’ improvement from the field wasn’t quite enough to cancel out all the dips elsewhere. He’s pretty reliable at least, as his only missed games resulted from a January ankle sprain. He’s a definite 9-cat option in the later rounds and seems likely to go undervalued again. Williams isn’t a flashy option but he’s been a steady fantasy play since incorporating the 3-ball into his game.
ADP: 140/139 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 218/196 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 263/247 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 74
2017-18 averages: 74 G | 74 GS | 25.0 MP | 9.2 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 4.1 REB | 1.0 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .504 FG% | .684 FT% |
Kidd-Gilchrist’s season got off to a bit of a slow start as he missed six of the first 11 games to tend to a personal matter but he wasn’t super helpful for fantasy even when he got rolling. While his rebounding numbers predictably took a dive with Dwight Howard around, he also saw major declines in free throw percentage, steals and blocks. MKG posted a combined 1.1 steals and blocks this season, his career-low outside of a seven-game 2015-16. While he didn’t cost owners much in terms of investment, it was a disappointment just the same.
Still, if there was a positive here, it’s that Kidd-Gilchrist got through another season without serious injuries. He missed one game because of a sore foot and another with a sore hamstring, but that’s it. After just 59 games over a two-year span, MKG has now played in 155 games in the two seasons that followed with six of those absences coming for personal reasons. Hopefully he gets back to his defensive ways next year as otherwise there’s not much here for fantasy players.
ADP: N/A / 140 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 82/71 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 124/107 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 80
2017-18 averages: 80 G | 18 GS | 24.6 MP | 12.9 PTS | 1.2 3PM | 4.1 REB | 2.3 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.2 TOV | .457 FG% | .861 FT% |
Lamb was one of our favorite fliers coming into the season, and then the Nic Batum injury put him on the map in all formats. Hoop Ballers were ahead of the curve and got to enjoy a career season from the UConn product. Lamb established new career-highs in playing time, points, assists, steals and 3-pointers.
The fill-in starter for Batum, Lamb started the first 12 games of the year and averaged 16.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.8 triples on .468 shooting in that stint. He scored in double figures in 21 of his first 22 games and didn’t really hit a skid until January. Even then, his longest stretch of single digit scoring games was two. There was a four-in-six stretch with less than 10 points in there but Lamb was a must-own player from start to finish.
He missed one game with a shin contusion and another with a sore foot, but his arrow continues to point up as one of the league’s better bench options. The Hornets were talking about expanding Lamb’s role last season even before the Batum injury swung the door wide open, and he’s most certainly earned more leash for the coming year with his strong performance.
ADP: 124/114 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 171/161 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 228/208 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 79
2017-18 averages: 79 G | 4 GS | 23.2 MP | 11.1 PTS | 1.3 3PM | 3.6 REB | 1.6 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .429 FG% | .799 FT% |
Frank the Tank delivered perhaps his finest season yet in year three, though a minor decrease in workload kept him from setting career-highs in the counting stats. He did shoot a career-best .429, however, and coupled that with a career-best .380 from behind the arc. Kaminsky has always been a drain on efficiency, so hopefully he continues to take strides there. Charlotte could use an effective stretch big man, and he should be a key part of the rotation next season.
Kaminsky also stayed pretty healthy, missing one game because of an illness and two with a sore ankle. While there were some minor ups and downs throughout the year, he put together a solid if unspectacular campaign. Some more consistency would go a long way in fantasy but he’s got a compelling enough stat set to hang around the outermost fringes of standard leagues. Any further improvements would put him in late-round flier territory, though the number of frontcourt options on the roster should give players a moment of pause.
ADP: 140/148 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 324/320 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 248/248 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 33
2017-18 averages: 33 G | 0 GS | 19.0 MP | 7.1 PTS | 0.1 3PM | 5.4 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.6 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .545 FG% | .718 FT% |
Another year, another batch of injuries for Zeller. The acquisition of Howard pretty much crushed anything other than deep league appeal, but the big man couldn’t hold up his end of the bargain by spending so much time in the infirmary. He tore his left meniscus in early December and underwent surgery that kept him shelved into February. Zeller would play 14 more games but was ultimately shut down with more left knee discomfort in March. According to him, a recent MRI revealed only some inflammation and he should be healthy and ready to roll for next season.
Zeller’s per-minute stats show a cheap and reliable late-round center option but the playing time just wasn’t there. He does deserve a tip of the cap for expanding his range a little bit, though it really didn’t do anything for fantasy purposes. Zeller was a top-10 player in screen assists this year, so we’ll see if Borrego and company can capitalize on that valuable skillset next season. It’ll all hinge on Zeller’s health but unfortunately there’s not a lot to like about his fantasy prospects as a true backup.
ADP: 98/97 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 326/328 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 354/352 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 48
2017-18 averages: 48 G | 1 GS | 10.3 MP | 5.1 PTS | 0.1 3PM | 3.8 REB | 0.7 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .555 FG% | .570 FT% |
It was under a year ago that Willy Hernangomez was mentioned as part of the young core in New York. An inexplicable burial and a trade later, Hernangomez will look to rebuild his stock as a member of the Hornets. A great finish to his rookie season had fantasy owners projecting big things but the Knicks went out and acquired Enes Kanter to start. They also opted to play Kyle O’Quinn and the husk of Joakim Noah (briefly) over their talented youngster, ultimately flipping him for a pair of second-rounders at the deadline. Yes, Hernangomez has obvious holes in his game, but it was still putrid asset management from a Knicks squad that was going nowhere fast.
Hernangomez needed time to regain his conditioning after the trade and the injury to Cody Zeller opened the door for him somewhat, though obviously he was hard-pressed to deliver big numbers in just 11.9 mpg as a Hornet overall. Once they started giving him real minutes, he got back on track. Hernangomez averaged 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.3 triples on .556 shooting in 16.8 minutes a night over the season’s final 13 games. He’d be a rock solid option in the right spot, but unfortunately for him both Zeller and Howard will hog the minutes at center again next season. It seems a waste of a former All-Rookie First Team selection, but that’s just the reality of the situation barring an unexpected move.
ADP: 140/140 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 303/315 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 381/389 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 63
2017-18 averages: 63 G | 0 GS | 13.6 MP | 6.7 PTS | 1.3 3PM | 1.0 REB | 1.4 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .360 FG% | .842 FT% |
Monk was supposed to come in and provide the Hornets with much-needed spacing as one of the draft’s best pure shooters. That didn’t quite come to pass, and early talk that he would log time at both guard spots ended up being mostly bluster. Monk got his feet wet with the injury to Michael Carter-Williams but fluttered in and out of the rotation for most of the season’s middle months, playing in just 27 of 41 games from December through the end of February while averaging only 7.4 minutes a night.
He did have a decent cap to the season however, following up two DNPs at the beginning of March with 12.2 points and 2.2 triples on .403 from the field in 18.8 minutes per game over his final 18 contests. Monk also closed the year with six straight double-digit outings. He should be a more important player next season and obviously has the talent to produce specialist value even in a moderate role, but it’s not worth really diving too deep into his outlook until we hear more about how Borrego intends to use the young sharpshooter.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 372/374 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 445/442 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 53
2017-18 averages: 53 G | 6 GS | 13.5 MP | 3.3 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 2.3 REB | 0.7 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.4 TOV | .375 FG% | .800 FT% |
Bacon performed admirably for a second-round rookie, even drawing a start on opening night with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist away from the team. He had some fans on the previous coaching staff and was trusted with a solid role while the Hornets were shorthanded early on, averaging 19.1 minutes a night through the first 20 games. Bacon also stepped up when Michael Carter-Williams’ season was ended early but fell by the wayside when Charlotte was mostly healthy. It allowed him to go down and dominate the G-League to the tune of 26.5 points per game, including a franchise-record 45-point outing.
A right ankle sprain kept Bacon out of the final five games of the year, though the lottery odds at play probably didn’t help his chances either. He should have a little more work headed his way after exceeding expectations in year one but he’s not a name that fantasy players need to remember.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 281/284 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 299/309 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 52
2017-18 averages: 52 G | 2 GS | 16.1 MP | 4.6 PTS | 0.3 3PM | 2.7 REB | 2.2 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.0 TOV | .332 FG% | .820 FT% |
It was another lackluster season out of Carter-Williams, who underwent season-ending surgery to repair a posterior labral tear in his left shoulder in March. An offseason procedure on both knees kept him out of the season’s first nine games, though he did step in as a serviceable backup when he was able to take the floor.
While he provided some quiet counting stats to help those in deep leagues, MCW has an extremely improbable climb back to a starting job anywhere in the NBA. He’s turned into a poor man’s Lance Stephenson but with worse shooting. He’s facing a tepid market in free agency.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 312/300 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 391/371 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 63
2017-18 averages: 63 G | 2 GS | 16.7 MP | 4.3 PTS | 0.6 3PM | 1.9 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.4 TOV | .434 FG% | .695 FT% |
Graham again asserted himself as a steady depth piece for the Hornets, providing another defensive option on the wing while knocking down the occasional three to keep the defense honest. His .412 mark from deep suggests that he might see additional opportunities next season if the new coaching staff wants to space the floor a bit but he’ll never be high on the offensive totem pole. That’s assuming he re-signs with the Hornets to begin with.
He was dogged by injuries this past season, missing nine of 11 games in a November-December stretch because of a thigh contusion and three more later in December because of back spasms. A concussion knocked him out of the final five games of the year while a sore quad forced him to miss one game in late October. They seem like mostly minor bumps and bruises, so we’ll see if a healthy Graham can take a notable jump in his third year. A defensively versatile wing player who can pick up steals and knock down some threes, he should have no issues finding a job.
First and foremost, the Hornets need to pick a lane and stick with it. The Kemba Walker situation will dominate their season, and they might be able to get a few extra assets by trading him before the season begins. The team is capped out without a ton of pieces to trade off, and they realistically won’t be much more than first-round fodder unless James Borrego is a true miracle worker. If they try to toe the line again and hope to compete, they risk letting Walker walk away without getting any sort of return. We’ll see how the team changes under Borrego’s leadership, but these Hornets don’t seem likely to make a ton of noise even if they can take some steps forward. The core is what it is at this point, and the Hornets would be wise to let Borrego really work on developing players like Hernangomez and Monk. As it stands, Charlotte seems to be stuck on the treadmill but doesn’t have any playoff successes to show for it. It’s time to start looking ahead, whether that’s with or without Kemba Walker.