The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in the 2019-20 season. Projected to be a bottom-tier lottery team, the Hornets instead sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and have become a League Pass darling. They feature a trendy pick for Most Improved Player in Devonte’ Graham and can legitimately plan for Graham and Terry Rozier as their backcourt of the future.
The Hornets’ minus-6.0 point differential is probably a better indicator than their 13-19 record of how they’ll perform going forward. But at half a game outside of the playoffs, and with flattened lottery odds, Charlotte can realistically continue pushing for the postseason while the team develops its young core. Other than a surprise playoff berth, here’s what the team should be hoping for this holiday season.
#1: A 3-point jumper for Malik Monk
One of the reasons Graham has had an opportunity to thrive on the Hornets is because of how bad their young two guards have been, namely Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. Monk has higher expectations because he was a lottery pick (and will forever be remembered as the player taken one pick ahead of Donovan Mitchell), but despite being a sniper at Kentucky, Monk’s shooting hasn’t translated to the next level. Monk is shooting 28.7% from beyond the arc, simply an untenable number for a shooting guard.
He’s doing some other things well, like driving to the basket more frequently, pushing the pace, and holding his own on the defensive end. Unfortunately, until Monk proves to be a threat from distance, he can’t be a starter and he can’t play heavy minutes. The Hornets project to have some high draft picks in their near future, but it would help their team-building significantly if Monk could be a rotation guard going forward. In order to do that, he has to make shots.
#2: An All-Star berth for Devonte’ Graham
Maybe that’s a little greedy, but Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving have missed a lot of time this season, and Graham has been arguably a top-five guard in the Eastern Conference. He has at least earned consideration for Most Improved Player, turning from a nobody to a starter with real offensive juice. Graham is taking 5.9 pull-up threes per game and making 38.4% of them, right in line with Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard. Charlotte’s offense is also 13.9 points per 100 possessions better with Graham on the court.
Graham was an afterthought entering this season and now headlines the game plan for every opposing team. Even if a spot in the All-Star Game is beyond reach, Graham should at least be angling for a spot in the 3-point shootout. He will definitely already be in Chicago for the Rising Stars game.
#3: A trade market for their vets
Marvin Williams has been the definition of a good soldier in Charlotte, never letting the fact that he is on a terribly-run team with no hope of contending affect the quality of his play. He comes off the bench to let the younger bigs like P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges get some reps, and all Williams does when he comes into the game is set good screens, protect the rim (even on switches!), and space the floor. He’s having the most efficient shooting season of his career at age 33, but he’s been languishing on lottery teams for seven of the last eight seasons.
Williams is on an expiring contract and would be helpful for a number of playoff teams. He makes $15 million, so his cap hit might be a bit too high for some of the top contenders to create matching salary, but while Andre Iguodala will be the big wing name on the market, Williams belongs in the conversation as well. The Hornets also have a number of other available veterans in Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Zeller is the most attractive of the bunch, despite being oft-injured, and Kidd-Gilchrist still has the theory of being an excellent multi-positional defender. Charlotte could use some future draft picks in exchange for any of those players to build for the future. Hopefully, the trade market is robust enough to provide the Hornets some value for their veterans.