Could Charlotte Have Made the Expanded Playoffs With Kemba Walker?by Patrick Champion July 12, 2020 0 comments
After 2019 free agency, the Charlotte Hornets were in dire straits. Their top two scorers had signed with other teams, and they had to replace them with unproven young players that hadn’t even come close to matching their predecessors’ production.
The departure of Kemba Walker was somewhat ugly, as well. Charlotte had a chance to offer him a max contract, but owner Michael Jordan wouldn’t shell out the big bucks. As such, Charlotte lowballed him, and he ended up with the Boston Celtics, a team that can actually contend.
As such, going into 2020, expectations were low for Charlotte. Top-to-bottom, most analysts (and fans) agreed that they had the worst roster in the league, and they were predicted to be a high lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, if not the first pick.
However, the Hornets outperformed expectations. At the time of the NBA’s suspension of play, they were 10th in the Eastern Conference and 23rd in the league overall. Although they didn’t make it into the expanded playoffs, they were the first team out.
Now, this team was in no way a worldbeater. Most of their 23 wins came against teams that were also rebuilding and also weren’t able to make the playoffs, with a few upsets sprinkled in. Additionally, some of their 42 losses came against teams they should have beaten.
Although this team did exceed expectations, they were nowhere near a finals contender. That was reflected in their record, and it is unlikely that any player could boost them up to that level save a superstar like LeBron James or Kahwi Leonard. However, if they added the aforementioned Kemba Walker, how would that change their record? How would it affect other players’ development?
Would they be better or worse, and could they make the expanded playoffs?
For starters, with Kemba Walker on the team, the Hornets would not need to sign Terry Rozier. Although this means that Rozier would not get a large contract, it means that the point guard depth chart in Charlotte would consist of Walker, Malik Monk, and G-league player Joe Chealey.
Kemba Walker returning to the Hornets could affect some other players’ development, however. Kemba Walker was responsible for a lot of the Hornets’ offense in 2019, scoring 25.6 out of the team’s average of 110.7 points per game. One player who could be most affected is Devonte’ Graham. Graham, a potential Most Improved Player candidate, averaged 18.2 points per game this season after only averaging 4.7 points in 2018-19. However, if Walker was in the picture, it is unlikely Graham would be able to replicate his offensive production due to Walker taking a lot of touches.
So how would the Hornets do overall? To make the expanded playoffs in the eastern conference, the Hornets would need a record of above 24-40 to beat out the Wizards for the nine-seed. Believe it or not, the Hornets have a good chance of reaching that mark. Combining the production of Walker, as well as the great play of rookie P.J. Washington would mean that the Hornets have a good enough offense to vault them into the ninth spot. Additionally, if Devonte’ Graham can replicate 50 percent of his improvement this year, that would further bolster the Hornets into an expanded playoff spot.
Even though the Hornets felt the need to move on from Walker this year, he could have boosted the team to their peak.