Old name for new and improved Charlotte Hornets
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
The professional basketball team in North Carolina used to be pretty good.
There was a time when the Charlotte Hornets made the playoffs seven times in 10 years, including four conference semifinals appearances. Now that the name has been changed back to the Hornets, maybe the tortured fans in Charlotte will forget the Bobcats even existed.
In the Charlotte Bobcats' decade of horror they won 36 percent of their games, never won the division, only made the playoffs twice and didn't win a single playoff game. They had just one player represent them in an All-Star Game: Gerald Wallace, who is also arguably the best player in the franchise's 10-year history, despite never averaging over 20 points per game.
But in a stretch from May to mid-July this year, the team not only changed their name back to the Hornets and updated their court and jerseys, but they added some talent as well. For the first time since Y2K, there's optimism surrounding this team.
In June, Charlotte drafted Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh with the ninth pick and acquired former UNC Tar Heel swingman P.J. Hairston in a draft-day trade. A month later, the Hornets signed polarizing, yet productive guard Lance Stephenson, who led the league in triple-doubles last season.
Joining Stephenson in the backcourt is Kemba Walker who, despite working with only one other viable offensive option last season in Al Jefferson, managed to average over six assists a game. Walker will definitely appreciate having Stephenson as someone who can score off drives to the basket and create his own shot after three years of watching Gerald Henderson struggle to do the same.
Jefferson is the rock in the middle. The 10-year veteran found a second wind in Charlotte and had his best season since 2008. Big Al averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent from the field and was named Third Team All-NBA over the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol.
Charlotte will hope that Jefferson stays healthy after missing 10 games last season, including the series-ending Game Four loss to Miami after playing the entire series battling a foot injury.
Where the Hornets need to see development is at the forward spots. Starting small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sports perhaps the ugliest and least efficient jump shot in the NBA (he shot just 22 percent outside of three feet last year) and is a minus on offense in general.
Kidd-Gilchrist is still just 20-years old, however, and the Hornets hired former First Team All-NBA'er Mark Price last season to help fix the leak. Price, who is the NBA's all-time leader in playoff free throw percentage, also won the three-point shootout twice in his playing days and holds a career three-point average just north of 40 percent, which is top-30 in league history. Whatever Price told Kidd-Gilchrist last season obviously didn't work, but there is still hope this tutelage will prove fruitful.
The power forward spot will be occupied by a former Hoosier, whether it be Vonleh or the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Cody Zeller. Zeller started only three games last season as a reserve behind energizer bunny Josh McRoberts, and averaged just six points and four rebounds per game.
With McRoberts gone to Miami, the competition is between Zeller, who averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in three Summer League games, and the super-athletic and versatile Vonleh, who posted respective averages of 9.1 points, 10 rebounds and one block in his seven summer appearances. No matter who ends up winning the starting spot, it will be an upgrade from last season.
Not only could Charlotte have a solid starting five, but they will also have contributors on the bench as well.
Aside from whoever loses out between Zeller and Vonleh, the Hornets have sweet-shooting combo guard Gary Neal and the dependable Marvin Williams, who started 50 games for the Jazz last season as a small forward and stretch four. Hairston will also play considerable minutes after scoring over 21 points per game with the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League last year, while Henderson is also more befitting to a reserve role.
It seems like an offense-heavy second unit, but that's exactly what the Hornets need. They were 5th in the league in team defensive rating last season, but 24th in offensive rating. They were behind only Chicago, Indiana and Memphis in the amount of points they gave up per game but were the seventh lowest-scoring offense in the NBA. In other words, they needed more players who could put the ball in the net.
Entering his sophomore season as the team's head coach, Steve Clifford has a team capable of finishing with a top-four seed in the East. The last time the Hornets had a top-four seed was in 2002, the final season they were the Hornets. Or so we thought.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo