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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 25. Charlotte Hornets

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  10-22, fifth place Southeast Division, 12th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 95.7 (24th)
  • Points Allowed: 100.3 (18th)
  • Team FG%: .429 (25th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .462 (24th)
  • Team FT%: .737 (22nd)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .322 (28th)
  • Rebounds per game: 42.2 (15th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.0 (19th)
  • Turnovers per game: 10.7(1st)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.4 (24th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

  • Scoring (ppg): Al Jefferson (18.0)
  • Rebounds per game:  Al Jefferson (8.0)
  • Minutes per game: Kemba Walker (35.7)
  • Assists per game:  Kemba Walker (5.6)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Bismack Biyombo (.582)
  • Free Throw Percentage:  Gerald Henderson (.880)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Marvin Williams (.373)
  • Steals per game: Kemba Walker (1.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Bismack Biyombo (1.3)

Worst of the Class: Steve Clifford
By all accounts, Steve Clifford should be fired for the poor mishandling of a team that stocked full of talent which made the playoffs last season, but has thus far under-performed and rest at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.  Too make matters worse, at the end of December, his team rests near the bottom on both the offensive and defensive end which is considered unfathomable considering the tools at his disposal.  He has one of the league's top scoring big men in Al Jefferson as well as an up and coming young star in Kemba Walker returning to lead the team, plus the team added one of the best two way players in the league last season in Lance Stephenson.  By all accounts, a team with a core of talented player such as Walker, Stephenson and Jefferson along with one of the deepest and most balanced rosters in the league should fare rather well in what many consider a rather weak Eastern Conference; however, that is far from happening.  If things do not improve soon, not only will the Hornets will miss the playoffs, but Clifford himself will also be looking for a new job.  

First of the Class: Lance Stephenson
In the eyes of most Hornets fans and the media that show their games, Lance Stephenson has been portrayed as a major disappointment since coming over as a free agent last Summer.  Many expected him to come out of the gates posting bigger scoring numbers than he did playing with the +Indiana Pacers last season; however, looking at that aspect is rather unfair considering what other facets he also brings the team.  For starters, despite his uncharacteristically poor shooting, Stephenson has been integral to the team's offensive execution bu helping push the tempo and find the open man in transition.  Plus, let us not forget that he also ranks among the top shooting guards in the league in assists and rebounds per game where at one point, he actually led the team in both statistical categories.  So in spite of not living up to the lavish expectations of the Charlotte media and team fan base, Stephenson has provided so much more than he has been given credit for complementing the team's two stars Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson while at the same time compensating for his shooting slump with intangibles that are rarely recognized in stat sheets.     

After having reached the playoffs last season followed by a rather successful off season which saw their team bolster itself to be even stronger than before, basketball fans in Charlotte must be wondering "what the (expletive) is going on with their Charlotte Hornets?"  After all, they came into the season with arguably the deepest and most balanced rosters in the league that had an already strong returning crew along with some very high profile additions to boot; yet, instead of making waves in the regular season, they have been actually swept by the waves of others falling at the bottom of the standings at the start of the season.  The Hornets started well enough looking rather respectable as they won four of their first nine games, but that all fell apart when they finished the month of November and went into December losing their next ten in a row.  Charlotte managed to bounce back winning six of their next ten and it looked as if their season was headed on an upward swing; however, that all came to a halt as they finished 2014 on a rather sour note losing their last four games.  Now Charlotte will enter 2015 with a record that is thirteen games under .500, resting at fourth place in the Southeast Division and the fourth worst record in the Eastern Conference leaving folk from Charlotte along with the rest of the basketball fan all over the world scratching their heads in confusion and bewilderment.

How can a team that had that had so much going for it with a perfect blend of size, talent, athleticism, veteran experience and roster depth suddenly fall out of grace so quickly after an impressive playoff run the previous season?  To be fair, much of those losses were quite bittersweet as they lost ten of those 23 games by five points or less and had the ball bounced their way in the last few seconds, the Charlotte Hornets would be riding high with a 23-10 record instead of looking down a 13 game hole that they had done for themselves.  Yet with every heart wrenching loss, there were games where the Hornets looked absolutely horrendous such as the two game pounding at the hands of the +Portland Trail Blazers (11/15/2014) and the +Dallas Mavericks (11/17/2014) by a whopping total of 52 points.  Then after a three game stretch where they narrowly lost to the Pacers (11/19/2014), +Orlando Magic (11/21/2014) and +Miami HEAT (11/23/2014) by a grand total of just eight points, they would simply get abused by the +Los Angeles Clippers  (11/24/2014) as they crushed the Hornets like cockroaches beating them by 21 points.  Had they held on against such teams as the +Memphis Grizzlies (11/1/2014), +New York Knicks (11/2/2014), Blazers (1/11/2014), Heat, Magic, Pacers--all games that had been lost by just one basket--then humongous blowouts by the Mavs, Clippers, +Golden State Warriors (11/15/2014), +Atlanta Hawks (11/29/2012), +Brooklyn Nets (12/13/2014), +Denver Nuggets (12/22/2014), +Oklahoma City Thunder (12/26/2014) and the +Houston Rockets (12/31/2014) would not have stung as badly as they do now.

One possible reason for the Hornets' current predicament is the fact that their defense has not been up to snuff as it was last season thus making it more difficult to hold onto those hard fought close games and allow themselves to get battered by 20 to 30 points in others.  Last season, Charlotte only allowed their opponents to score 97 points per game, which was fourth in the league and held them to a respectable .442 shooting from the field; however, now that has gone out the window with the Hornets ranking near the bottom in both categories.  In the 33 games they played thus far, Charlotte held their opponents to under 100 points in twelve of them where they posted a respectable record of 6-6; however in the other 21 games, they did not fare very well as they just won four of those games--two of which went to overtime, while the others were by a slim margin of just four points.  In the other 17 games in which they both allowed their opponents to score 100 or more points, the results varied from marginal decent to absolutely dreadful as nine of them were by ten points or less while the other eight ranged from 15 to 30 points margins.  While Charlotte allowed their opponents to hit over the 100 point mark, the same cannot be said about them as they failed to hit the century mark in 11 of those aforementioned 17 games, thus showing not only that their defense has all but collapsed this season, but their offensive production has not been up to snuff, either.

Even last season, the Hornets were not the shining beacon of offensive production ranking near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage; however, even with the new faces that were supposed to change that, the Hornet's offense has become markedly worse.   Last season, although they ranked near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, at least they managed to match the same shooting proficiency whereas now there is a nearly five percent gap between the percentage they shoot and the percentage that they allow against them.  To make matters worse, not only do they allow their opponents to out shoot them by a pretty big margin, but they also let them out-rebound them, albeit at a far slimmer one; nonetheless, it is that slim rebounding margin that may have been the difference between winning and losing a game in the final seconds.  Charlotte was already at a disadvantage coming into games and not being able to shoot the ball as well as they opponents, but to allow themselves to be out-hustled on the glass is downright shameful because the Hornets needed the rebounding to at least compensate for their poor shooting.  As a result, Charlotte no longer looks like the team that bounced back from a league worst seven win season three years ago to become a playoff contender; instead, they have shown themselves a team that has yet to find itself despite coming off such a strong year last season.

Much of the problem may have to do with the loss of a key player from last season's playoff team who not only help spread the floor on the offensive end, but also provided a solid defensive presence in the paint as well.  Last season, +Josh McRoberts, who is now with the Heat, provided such an integral piece of Charlotte's playoff puzzle as he gave them solid outside shooting with his .361 accuracy from beyond the arc plus provided the team with an excellent passing as well with his 4.3 assists per game which was second on the team.  What was great about McRoberts was that, unlike his higher profile teammates Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, he did not need the ball in his hands to be effective and was an excellent complementary player who allowed Kemba to focus more on his scoring rather than having to facilitate his teammates while spreading the floor enough to give Jefferson room to work down low in the paint.  With him out of the picture, the Hornets lack that glue player which may not have shown his impact on the stat sheets, but still made his presence felt by doing much of the little things that usually go unnoticed.  As for the one the team's front office had signed to replace him in Marvin Williams, he has yet to prove worthy of the two year 14$ million dollar deal that it signed him to as he has been practically a no show for much of the season.

Similar to Williams, Charlotte's other high profile addition, Lance Stephenson, has failed to live up to the expectations of the local fans as well as the media mainly due primarily to his offensive struggles upon suiting up as a member of the Hornets.  Last season he was not only the second option behind Paul George while playing for the Pacers, he was also the team's leading rebounder, leading assist man as well as steals to go along with him being the league leader in triple doubles. When he spurned the extension offer from the Pacers' +Larry Bird choosing instead a shorter contract with Charlotte, many thought this was the coup of the off season as Charlotte acquired a bonafide all star talent and would greatly enhance their already strong core of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson.  Unfortunately, Stephenson's introduction to the Hornets has been rather rocky as he came onto the court shooting ice cold and while he has still provided the team with plenty of assists and rebounds, it was his ability and potential to become a elite scorer that both the fans and media primarily anticipated to see.  Fortunately for Charlotte, his all around play has compensated for his current streak and as the season progresses he will regain his shooting touch because he is simply too talented and smart of a player to allow such a cold spell to continue.

The same can be said for this Hornets team as they too have come off a very rough start, but with 49 games left in the regular season, there is plenty of time to bounced back from their current slump and return to playoff contention once again.  Despite the Hornets predicament, the Eastern Conference is still rather wide open and save for the top four spots that are currently held by the +Toronto Raptors, the Hawks, Wizards, and Bulls, the other four playoff spots are still up for grabs.  Teams such as the +Cleveland Cavaliers, +New York Knicks, Miami and Brooklyn who were expected to make huge stride have thus far failed miserably in living up to expectation, with Cleveland barely hovering over .500 for much of the season, the Knicks completely falling apart and both the HEAT and Nets barely hanging on to what little leverage they have left.  Even teams that have been essentially written off for the season such as the +Boston Celtics, Magic, and Pacers have a slim, yet still solid chance of  making a late run at the post season so with all this uncertainly, there is still a chance that Charlotte to not only return to the playoffs, but maybe even improve from their 43 wins last season.  So cheer up Hornets fans and do not panic because there is still a lot of basketball to be played and as it was said before, your team is simply too deep and too talented to not make the post season, especially in a rather weak Eastern Conference.