The Charlotte Hornets struggled in the 2016-17 season as they failed to reach the playoffs, winning only 36 of their 82 contests.
Steve Clifford’s men had reached the post-season in the last campaign after notching a 48-win term, but were beaten in the first round by the Miami Heat in a seven-game thriller.
The Hornets had to rebuild in the off-season after losing Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee during free agency, although they managed to retain the services of Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams – signing both players to long-term deals.
Charlotte added Roy Hibbert and Ramon Sessions on low-cost deals during the free-agent market, while the club used their first-round pick in the 2016 Draft to select Malachi Richardson.
However, he was shipped straight to the Sacramento Kings for Marco Belinelli, who only lasted the season with the Hornets before he himself was traded away.
Clifford’s men will look back at the campaign with huge disappointment as the club made an extremely bright start to the season, boasting a winning record at the end of 2016.
However, two bad months at the start of the new year halted their charge for the playoffs, leaving the Hornets five games off the pace in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte have responded by adding experience to their side in the form of Dwight Howard – trading away the aforementioned Belinelli and Miles Plumless to acquire the eight-time All-Star.
Whether his presence will benefit the Hornets remains to be seen, but the Hornets have the potential to bounce back in the next campaign as long as lessons are learned.
Clifford’s side got off to a strong start to the campaign, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks on the road by a comfortable margin as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist produced a dominant performance with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Kemba Walker took over the mantle in their next contest against the Heat at the American Airlines Arena, scoring 24 points and notching four assists in a close victory to avenge their defeat of the post-season.
Their home opener ended in defeat as not even a stellar outing from Walker was good enough to stop the Boston Celtics walking away from the Spectrum Center with a victory, ending the Hornets’ winning start to the campaign.
However, the response from Charlotte was emphatic, winning four matches on the bounce. Walker continued his impressive start to the campaign, leading the points column in victories over the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and the Utah Jazz.
Walker produced one of the best outings of his career against the Toronto Raptors, notching 40 points, although it was not enough to guide his side to victory.
Four defeats on the bounce towards the end of November checked the Hornets’ momentum, including two overtime defeats to the New Orleans Pelicans and the New York Knicks.
Charlotte returned to form in the next outing against the Knicks to end their losing run and put in a dominant outing to overcome the Memphis Grizzlies on the road.
December began well with another strong run of results, with Walker once again operating at a high level. The Hornets defeated the Dallas Mavericks in a defensive struggle before reeling off another three wins on the bounce, only to suffer four defeats on the spin to put them back under pressure.
Walker rallied his side to end the year on a high note, with five wins in seven games, although not even a 37-pointer from the point guard was good enough to keep pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers on the final game of 2016.
Charlotte began the year at 19-15, but a disastrous run of form on the road put their post-season hopes in severe jeopardy. The opening match of 2017 ended in defeat, despite a fine performance from Walker as his side slipped to a seven-point loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Batum led the Hornets to respond in their next outing, scoring 28 points in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, the result proved to a false dawn as the club would lose their next five matches on the spin, which all came on the road, dropping Clifford’s men below .500 for the first time in the campaign.
Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist stemmed the tide with a three-match winning streak, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers, Nets and the Raptors. That would be the final time the Hornets would peak above .500 for the rest of the campaign as a horrendous run of losses would end their playoff aspirations.
Charlotte lost 11 out of their next 12 contests before the All-Star break, while a defeat followed in the first contest emerging from the eight-day rest period at the hands of the Detroit Pistons.
Frank Kaminsky ended the losing run with a 25-pointer against the Kings, while Walker and the center combined to lead their side to victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
March yielded nine wins and a number of impressive performances for Clifford’s men, but it was a case of too little too late to save their playoff hopes. The Hornets defeated the Wizards, Hawks and Raptors to highlight their talent taking them to the 35-win mark, but their season would end in April on a low note dropping their final five matches of the campaign.
The Hornets will have been frustrated by their exploits in the second half of the term as the club could very easily have secured a low seed in the playoffs. Charlotte would not have made a huge run in the post-season, but they were at least talented enough to quality for the post-season.
Walker was the standout player and he had an outstanding season, averaging 23.2 points per game. He was the only Hornets man to notch over the 20-point mark in the campaign, highlighting his importance to the club.
Batum offered support along with Kidd-Gilchrist, who bounced back from his shoulder injury to enjoy one of the best seasons of his career. However, going forward the Hornets will need more from those players to compete with the better teams in the Eastern Conference. As a result, backing them at +10000 with SkyBet to win the Conference should be approach with caution.
Howard should provide leadership following his trade move. His experience will be extremely valuable to the younger players in the side to stop long stretches without victories that ended up costing the Hornets down the stretch, while he remains one of the top defenders in the game.
Charlotte selected Malik Monk with the 11th selection in the 2017 Draft. The 19-year-old was a star in the college game with the Kentucky Wildcats, averaging 19.8 points per game. He was named SEC Player of the Year by the AP and should be able to make an immediate impact at the Hornets and alleviate the scoring pressure on Walker.
Backing him at +900 with Bovada sportsbook to be Rookie of the Year would be a solid bet considering his ability and the chances he will be afforded next term.
Malik Monk To Be Named Rookie Of The Year