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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA End of Season Worst to First Countdown: 22. Charlotte Hornets

2014/2015 Projection: 45-37, third place Southeast Division, sixth place Eastern Conference

Actual Finish: 33-49, fourth place Southeast Division, eleventh place Eastern Conference

2014/2015 Finish

Actual 2014/2015 Finish

Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 94.2 (28th)
  • Points Allowed: 97.3 (7th)
  • Team FG%: .420 (29th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .440 (8th)
  • Team FT%: .748 (19th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .318 (30th)
  • Rebounds per game: 44.1 (10th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 44.1(21st)
  • Turnovers per game: 11.2 (1st)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 12.0 (27th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Kemba Walker (17.3)
  • Rebounds per game:  Al Jefferson (8.4)
  • Minutes per game: Kemba Walker (34.1)
  • Assists per game:  Kemba Walker (5.1)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Bismack Biyombo (.543)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Mo Williams (.890) 
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Cody Zeller (1.00)
  • Steals per game: Kemba Walker (1.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Bismack Biyombo (1.5)

SDH’s Hero to Honor: +Cody Zeller 

Last season Cody Zeller was seen as a an outright bust after being selected fourth overall in the 2013 NBA Draft and made such a weak impression with a rather pedestrian rookie season (6.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, .426 FG%); however this season, Zeller came back more confident and in instances showed why he was so highly touted as an NBA draft prospect.  Although his 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game do not look that much apart from his rookie season, his field goal percentage rose significantly to .461 and he even had a chance to start 45 of the 62 games that he played.  He certainly hit his stride in the first week in March where he posted 12.4 points, grabbed 7.4 boards and shot .611 from the field in the first five games--all of which his team won; however sadly the streak ended on a sour note as he fell to injury and failed to finish up the regular season.  Nonetheless, that small sample size in March proved that given time and touches, Zeller would certainly pose as a formidable foe in the paint and might just possibly become the Hornets new go to guy in the post once current starter Al Jefferson's contract expires and the end of next season.     

SDH’s Face to Forget: Lance Stephenson

After coming in with so much hype and anticipation, Lance Stephenson has to be considered as the most disappointing story-line of the 2015 NBA season as he came into Charlotte an up and coming star, but ended up a complete disgrace in the eyes of his supporters and fans.  Many applauded Stephenson's decision to decline the rather stingy offer that +Indiana Pacers boss +Larry Bird gave him after he had such an amazing season helping Indy to reach first place in the East while leading the team to the Conference Finals in which they would be eventually beaten by the +Miami HEAT.  His signing with Charlotte for fewer years and at less money was seen as a middle finger to both Bird and the Pacers organization as he looked to prove that he was deserving of an equally lucrative contract that his former teammate Paul George had receive; however, sad to say that his plan became quite awry when he came in looking out of sync and completely contrary to the confident young stud that led his team in assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage the season prior.  His once strong shooting stroke suffered drastically as he slowly became less of a factor with every passing game in the regular season to a point where he went from being a starter to almost slipping completely out of the roster rotation.  Now with the season over, his future in the Queen City looks rather bleak as he had not only himself, but those who gambled on him--namely owner +Michael Jordan and his right hand man Rich Cho--look like complete fools and may find himself and his market value plummet the same way his team did this season falling out of playoff contention.

After years of struggling to find its footing in both the +NBA and the public, it looked as if a new era of professional basketball was about to emerge in the city of Charlotte North Carolina as not only did the team finished well in 2014 making the playoffs, but also entered 2015 with a new look and a stronger roster.  Actually, to be accurate, it was more of a repossessed look as team owner +Michael Jordan decided, in his own words, to "bring the 'buzz' back," and renamed it the +Charlotte Hornets, after the original NBA franchise which broke the hearts of its fans, moved further South and became the +New Orleans Pelicans.  Although this was an obvious publicity stunt and marketing ploy, it seemed suitable for fans to see the name of their past franchise because they never assimilated themselves neither to the Bobcats brand or the orange and navy blue color scheme which seemed to clash with their collective tastes.  Jordan's primary henchman and right hand man Rich Cho, also went to work strengthening the team from the inside adding more depth to the roster with his most important being locking up one of the most prized free agents at the time, +Lance Stephenson--a player who felt spurned by his former team, the +Indiana Pacers, when the team's boss +Larry Bird offered a contract extension far lower than he expect and went to Charlotte to prove his doubters wrong.   Along with the additions of sharp shooting stretch four Marvin Williams, highly touted rookies +PJ Hairston and Noah Vonleh, as well as former +San Antonio Spurs point guard Gary Neal--a player with three NBA titles to his credit--the Hornets looked to be a team on the rise and not only return to the playoffs, but also  contend very heatedly for the Southeast Division title against the +Washington Wizards+Atlanta Hawks  and +Miami HEAT.  

Unfortunately upon opening tip off everything become completely unraveled as the team came out of the gates completely out of sync which resulted into the team that was once believed to on the rise becoming a complete embarrassment winning eleven less games and missing the playoffs.  Both Jordan and Cho must have wanted to crawl under the nearest rock once they saw their best laid plans crumble right in front of them as Marvin Williams, who was paid 7$ million per year for three years, became an absolute bust while both rookies Vonleh and Hairston failed to make any impact whatsoever as the played a combined 70 games only producing 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game; however their biggest shame came in the form of their greatest hope.  Lance Stephenson was supposed to be their "ace in the hole," as he came off a career season in 2014 not only finishing as the second leading scorer for the Pacers, but also the team's top assist man with 5.5 per game, second leading rebounder with 7.3, and most accurate shooter with a .491 field goal percentage; however, upon arriving to Charlotte, that all disappeared.  Upon opening tip off Stephenson's shooting proficiency completely disappeared while his defense, and despite showing flashes of the solid rebounding and passing that he gave in Indiana, he still remained a fraction of his former self leading many to believe that he was not the prized stud that many in the media propped him up as being. Throughout the course of the season, it seemed as if "Murphy's Law" had hit the Charlotte Hornets and their fans as everything that could have gone wrong did leaving both Charlotte deflated and discouraged and both Jordan's and Cho's faces red with embarrassment.

What makes reliving this disgrace of a season even more painful was the fact that this team had most, if not all of the same roster from the previous year and came in deeper, not only in terms of talent but also post season experience as Williams, Stephenson, and Neal spent much of careers as big time contributors in the playoffs.  One would think that such extensive winning resumes along with their distinct skill sets could bring some much needed leadership to a young group of up and comers who just had a small taste of winning and had their mouths watering for more; however, those three proved to be pretty useless as they seemed even more clueless than the younger players who were looking to them for support and guidance.  That was certainly the case with Marvin Williams, the ten year veteran who had been originally tabbed by head coach Steve Clifford as the team's starting power-forward coming into the season, but was quickly pulled out due to his minimal offensive production (7.4 ppg, .424 FG%) and his equally terrible presence on the defensive glass (just 4.9 per game in 26 minutes of playing time.  Williams was supposed to be the perfect complimentary role player that was supposed to fit in seemingly into the team while quite offering veteran leadership and wisdom in the team's front court while Gary Neal was brought in to do the same in the back court supporting the team's rising star point guard +Kemba Walker; however, both would miss the mark as Williams' role diminished as the season passed and Neal was then eventually traded to the +Minnesota Timberwolves for another veteran, Mo Williams who proved to be a far better scorer than Neal, yet not good enough to lead the team to the playoffs.  

Stephenson had to be the biggest disappointment out of all those players since he had both the most to gain and the most to lose as he gave up to 45$ million to prove not only Bird and the Pacers, but the world that he was worth a superstar's salary; however, along with his shooting touch, he also lost the most important facet of his game--his confidence.  At first, it did not seem as bad when he fell into that shooting stroke because he compensated for that with his passing, rebounds, and energy; however, with each passing game even that went into decline and it did not take long for him to be supplanted in the starting lineup by Gerald Henderson--a player who was expected to be on his way out upon Stephenson's arrival.  Nonetheless, his supporters, as well as Larry Bird's detractors, hope that this past season was just an aberration--a small bump in the road of what will be an otherwise a long and fruitful career--and that he will return to the form in which he wowed not only his fans in Indiana, but also made him a virtual household name.  At just 24 years old and in only his fourth season in the league, Stephenson is not near reaching his peak as player and hopefully he will write off this past season as a learning experience, figure out where he needs to adjust his game and move on from there because he simply too talented and has too many intangibles to allow one season to ruin his value as a player.  After finishing the first of what can be considered a less than satisfying season, Stephenson has two more left to show not only fans in Indiana and Charlotte, but also the world that he is truly an elite caliber player in which one--not the NBA, not the fans, not even Larry Bird--can no longer just simply underestimate and ignore.

If worst comes to worse and Stephenson is not capable of returning to his 2014 form, then it will not be too much of a loss for the Hornets since they can easily unload his contract if they need to as it has just two seasons left with the last year being a player option so they can easily trade it during the off season or they can even waive him at the end of next season.  The same can be said for Marvin Williams who basically has just two years and 14$ million left so both Jordan and Cho can breathe a slight sigh of relief as their two gambles will not cost them long term; plus, in spite of the team's disappointing finish, the Charlotte Hornets still has plenty going for it with its young roster as well as cap flexibility and can easily bounce back to playoff contention next season.  Despite its less than desired result not making the playoffs, Charlotte finished 2015 among the league's top defensive teams as the Hornets ranked among the top ten teams in points allowed, opponents' field goal percentage and rebounding thus showing that there is still something worth salvaging on this team; however, defense is as only as good as the offense that comes from it and for the Hornets, that was their primary weakness.  If Charlotte wants to return to the post season, the team will have to find a way to generate offense from all the hard work they put on the defensive end because it will all be for naught if they can hold their opponents to 97 points per game and .440 shooting if they can only score just 95 and shoot .420 from the field.  At least fans in Charlotte can hold solace in the fact that their team has just that one missing ingredient and once that is finally added, then they can get back onto winning, returning to the playoff, and bringing back the NBA spotlight to a city that has missed it for so long.