The Charlotte Hornets finished the 2020-2021 NBA season with a 33-39 record, which led them to the play-in game as the 10th seed. The team would be bounced out of the playoffs, after getting blown out by the Indiana Pacers in the first play-in game. Although Charlotte did not make the playoffs, the team outperformed their expectations.
The team dealt with many injuries that derailed what could have been their best season in franchise history. The team dived halfway through the season with injuries to rookie LaMelo Ball and veteran Gordon Hayward. Ball was able to make a comeback right before the season ended and helped the team secure a play-in game spot. Hayward on the other hand was not able to come back, and his absence hindered the team’s potential.
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The team outperformed what many had expected them to play. In most power rankings at the beginning of the year, Charlotte could be found towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. With that said, Charlotte did only finish as the 10th seed in the conference. However, that was due to injuries plaguing the team. At one point in the season, Charlotte was the fifth seed, then Hayward and Ball went down with injuries.
Although the team finished lower in the standings than how they played, the team showed great improvement from the prior year. The team has shown a great progression from years past. As the team found their franchise player in Ball. He made an immediate impact on the team, his offensive playstyle helped others on the court rebound their careers. The rookie is looking like Charlotte’s new franchise player.
With the season over, the team still has some question marks with players. Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham are still players with talent that head coach James Borrego has yet to figure out. A missed opportunity in Charlotte was to have the two guards come off the bench, and be the one-two punch offense for the team. However, Borrego never played through these players. A missed opportunity could have helped the team improve when missing Hayward and Ball.
Team Award Winners
MVP – LaMelo Ball
Ball averaged 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game during his rookie campaign. The rookie was a highlight machine throughout the whole season. Ball is an incredible passer, and his playmaking skills brought out the best of every player on the court. The rookie dominated on the offensive side of the ball, being able to not only create for others but also create for himself.
When Ball went down with a wrist injury, the team started to take a dive. Going from the fifth seed to finishing as the 10th seed. If Ball was healthy, the team could have secured a playoff spot. His impact greatly improved the Hornets, and his absence proved that.
Defensive Player of the Year – P.J. Washington
This Hornets team did not have any notable defenders this season. No player out-shined on another on the defensive end of the ball. Washington on the other hand, was the only player on the roster to have a defensive rating above 110 and averaged 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Although not the best defender in the league, Washington did take a big step defensively this year.
He started putting his body in front of defenders in the paint. His tenaciousness around the rim defensively has also improved, as Washington is becoming more aggressive in blocking shots. The forward is also a reliable perimeter defender. Although he can’t guard the faster guards, he is able to defender shooters and switches on pick and rolls.
Sixth Man of the Year – Malik Monk
Monk had a great rebound season. Averaging 11.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Monk only played in 42 games this season, as Borrego has yet to find a consistent role for the hyper-athletic guard. In the 42 games, Monk came off the bench and provided the much-needed firepower. Monk has the ability to light up the court when he gets hot.
The guard has had multiple 20 point games, in which he went out on the court and won the Hornets the game. Monk shot 40 percent from three this season and had games to which he shot above 60 percent from deep. Even though Monk barely played over half the season, his value on the bench was incredible and consistent. If Borrego played him more, Monk would have been a candidate for the sixth man of the year.
Biggest Surprise – Gordon Hayward
Hayward went down with a foot injury halfway through the season. Before his injury, the veteran forward was having one of his best seasons since his time with the Utah Jazz. Averaging 19.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, the forward was in the conversation of becoming an all-star. Hayward coming into the season was expected to put up empty stats, as many believed Charlotte would tank the season.
However, one of the big reasons Charlotte became a contender for the playoffs, was due to the play of Hayward. Injuries have taken a toll on the 31-year-old forward, and in his time in Boston, it looked as if he was slowing down. Since coming to Charlotte, Hayward has been able to revitalize his career, looking like the sharpshooter and playmaker of his younger days. Hayward surprised most this season with how diligent he played even with another injury.
Biggest Disappointment – Cody Zeller
Zeller was a huge disappointment this season. The center would go down with an injury in the season’s first game, and from that point on, he would lose his starting job to Washington. Zeller coming back from injury had trouble regaining his minutes. As the season progressed, Zeller saw himself further down the depth chart. Coming into the NBA as the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, Zeller was projected to be a double-double machine. He wasn’t expected to average 20 points a game but to average double-digit points and rebounds a night. Not once had the former top-five pick averaged more than seven boards a game in a season.
With the team progressing upwards and having players such as Terry Rozier, Hayward, and Ball. Zeller was projected to have a career year. All the center had to do was grab rebounds. Zeller only averaged 6.8 rebounds this season, and that stat is definitely inflated. As the third-string center, Zeller played against the second unit of most teams and still struggled. Zeller will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Charlotte will most likely not re-sign him.
The biggest event for this Charlotte team is finding a healthy No. 2 guy. Ball is the clear No. 1 guy, but both Hayward and Rozier are not championship caliber second options. Rozier had a breakout season this year and could have been the team’s MVP this season if not for the rookie. Rozier had a career year, averaging 20.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Even with great numbers, Rozier will not bring a championship to Charlotte. His play has him dominating the ball, and his playmaking is below average for the NBA in today’s market.
Hayward is too injury-prone to be relied on as the second guy behind Ball. If Hayward was younger and healthier then this would not be a problem for Charlotte. However, the forward is turning 32 next season and has had an injury every season since 2017. Charlotte this offseason needs to find a complementary player for Ball. The team should look for a center, or another forward through a trade or in free agency. DeMar DeRozan would be a great fit in Charlotte, as the forward will be a free agent this summer.
The Hornets would have a late lottery draft pick in the 2021 NBA draft. With that pick, the team should look into drafting Zeller’s replacement. Prospects that the team should look into for this upcoming draft are centers Kai Jones from Texas, Alperen Sengun from Besiktas, or Usman Garuba from Real Madrid. Either of those three players would be an upgrade from Zeller and could be the missing piece at the center position to help the team make the playoffs.
The only front office and coaching move that needs to be done in Charlotte is letting go of Borrego. In his third season with Charlotte, he has accomplished nothing. His rotations during the late game are awful and explanatory. His minute distribution is irregular and confusing. Monk is a talented player, yet there are games where Monk just sits on the bench the whole game. Washington is a good rebounder and defender but is not fitted for the center position.
Borrego is a madman, trying to force certain mechanics of the new age of basketball onto a team that can’t perform it. There are plenty of coaches that can replace him and instantly improve Charlotte’s chances of making the playoffs. Jason Kidd would be a great fit in Charlotte, as he would have the opportunity to work with Ball. Ball has the same capabilities as Kidd when he was in the NBA. Kidd will be able to hone in Ball’s talent and potential, and unlike Borrego’s, Kidd knows how to create reasonable rotations that flourish young players.
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