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Vegas Win Total Projection: 35.5
A new-look Charlotte team has a lot of young, unproven talent. This offseason, the Hornets were one of the more active in the NBA, going out and getting Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes, Frank Kamisky, and others. With Kemba Walker as the starting point-guard and veteran big man Al Jefferson already in the fold, this team has pieces to the puzzle. If they can get a fully healthy Batum, a consistent Jeremy Lin, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist living up to his hype, they may have a possible 6 thru 8 seed in the east. But that's a lot of "if's" and I think its more realistic to see them on the outside looking in. My prediction would be 9th thru 11th in the Eastern Conference, which should put them in that 36 to 39 win mark. Head coach Steve Clifford, has proven he can do a job, but with average talent and mediocre depth you'd have to be very optimistic they could put together a playoff run.
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Kemba Walker has proven me and many others wrong. He's not a top-5 point guard in the league, but his fantasy value and performances deems him a good player. He averaged the most points, assists, and steals on the team, as well as playing tons of minutes. At nearly 18 points, 5.5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a couple of steals per game, he has production in any fantasy realm. He's an effective scorer and can become a "streaky" player on a per game basis. Before his injury in late March, Walker averaged almost 25 points per game in the month prior with 3 consecutive 30-plus point nights. After his return, he was off to a shaky start and was hit and miss. He went on to average 13 points in the final month of the season on average, hence the reason I called him "streaky". I think he is still going to be the top fantasy prospect on this unproven Hornets team.
Al Jefferson is getting up there in age and the Hornets are moving in a younger direction. While Jefferson may still be a consistent player in this league, I could see this Charlotte team look to go young with the likes of Kaminsky, Hawes, and Zeller. The front-court depth is crucial for why I believe Jefferson is "hyped up", not only is he against the wall with age, but he is approaching this season in a contract year. The Hornets realistically could resign him, but then why would they have drafted Kamisky, Zeller, and picked up Hawes? It tells me the team is headed in another direction and knows that they'll have to pay hand and fist to get Al back in the purple and blue. I think we can expect to see a drop-off in minutes, points, rebounds, generally everything across the board. I still think he can provide 25 minutes for this team, but in my opinion I look to see them go younger, building for the future.
Nicolas Batum is one of the more frustrating NBA players. Potential should be his middle name. Not only has Batum been a disapointment for quite sometime, he also is mildly overpaid when you talk to other NBA staff members. With the Blazers, Batum showed how good he could be and how bad he could be through out his time in the rose city. Sometimes he would look to pass instead of shooting, and shoot at times when he probably should've passed. But there have been times where I look at him play and think he's one of the most talented and unique guys in this league. Why? He possesses size, speed, lateral quickness, and can literally play the point, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward (if your playing small ball). He is defensively sound, contains some of the best in the NBA at times, and he sniffs around that triple-double mark quite frequently. The reason I made him a gem is because of what Clifford said a few days back. “Nic has always been third or fourth option" Clifford said on Friday at Charlotte's media day. “Now he's going to be second or first option". What this tells me is Clifford believes in him, the staff believes in him, and I think this could end up being the time we see a different, more confident, Nicolas Batum. Let's not forget the current G.M. of the Hornets and then Blazers G.M., Rich Cho, was the guy who originally gave Nicolas Batum that 13 million per year contract. Still only 26, Batum should be entering the "prime" of his career and given the amount of confidence the organization sees in him, this will certainly bode well for Nic. I expect to see him up near 12 points, 6 assists, and 7 rebounds per game. He'll get you blocks, steals on the defensive end, but will always have a shot at getting a triple-double in a number of games.
I expect to see this newer, pieced together team struggle early. I think with Clifford, your getting a coach who has a defensive mindset, someone who won't blow your socks off with offensive plays, but rather preaches the defensive side of the ball. With additions like Kaminsky and Batum, they've added to their already good defensive team, now they just need some consistent offense. I look for MKG to step it up this year in order for the Hornets to really make a serious run at a playoff position. Expect to see the points allowed stay about the same at 97, good for 7th in the league. But offensively, they were ranked 28th, that should be better with the additions they made and the depth they have. I'd expect to see offense be about 25th in the league, improving slightly and scoring close to 99 points a night. I like the attitude of the players and coaches this offseason, but even with the additions, I don't see this team above .500 and have a hard time believing they'll be in the playoff hunt.