The Charlotte Hornets are a team on the rise. They have added big time talent in the last two off-seasons via free agency. Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson are poised to lead the rebranded team to new heights.
But what about individual performances? Al Jefferson and Lance Stephenson were two of the biggest All-Star snubs last year. Will either make it this year? Will both?
Let’s start by examining the case for Lance Stephenson to be an Eastern Conference All-Star. Stephenson plays the shooting guard position. This is a position that is especially light on talent as of late.
Stephenson’s chief competition starts with Dwayne Wade. Wade is well past his prime. But the All-Star game is sometimes more about popularity than production. If Wade continues to only play two-thirds of the games for a weaker Miami Heat team, I could see how a rising team like the Charlotte Hornets could steal some of the headlines. Still, for what Wade no longer is as a player, he is still dynamic when he plays.
Another elder statesman All-Star in the East is Joe Johnson. Johnson is one of the most talented scorers in the league. He plays for a large market team. But if the Nets struggle again like they did last year, the door is open for Stephenson.
Another perennial All-Star lock is Paul George, Stephenson’s former teammate. But his horrific injury playing for team USA obviously opens the door for new All-Stars.
I also think Bradley Beal will continue to get better. Beal was a player I wish the Hornets took in 2012 instead of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Beal is a scorer, 3 point shooter, and most importantly he will be playing on a much improved Washington Wizards team.
Other competition could be DeMar DeRozan for the Toronto Raptors. DeRozan had a nice season last year and will continue to be the number one option for the Raptors.
But I believe Lance Stephenson could be the best overall player out of all of these talents. He may not be the scorer that Beal or Johnson is. He may not have the athleticism of DeRozan, or the resume of Wade. But defensively, Lance is a monster. Charlotte makes their money defensively. Lance was also a 4th or 5th option offensively for the Pacers at times last year. For the Charlotte Hornets, he will have more opportunities to score and put up numbers.
I believe if the Charlotte Hornets continue to rise, Lance Stephenson will be a big reason why. And the national media and fans will notice and make him a worthy All-Star in 2014-15.
Let’s state the obvious, Big Al is the best offensive big man in the game. Period. It’s not even close. The only two guys capable of slowing him down consistently are Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol.
The league and media noticed in a big way last year just how good Jefferson was for the Charlotte Hornets. Jefferson finished 7th in the MVP voting, yet wasn’t an All-Star. That will change this year.
Jefferson got off to a slow start because of injury issues. But once he got it going, he was truly unstoppable. Injuries are the only thing stopping him from a great year this year.
Competition wise in the East, there are some talented bigs. Al Horford will be healthy for the Hawks. Brook Lopez will be healthy (maybe) for the Nets. Both have been All-Stars before. Both should put up big numbers.
Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol could be locks if the Bulls reach their potential. If Derrick Rose is healthy, watch out for the Bulls. If the Bulls are a terror, they could be well represented at All-Star weekend.
Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are also threats in the East. However, their talent may be hard to see because of Monroe’s free agent situation. Drummond is a monster. But until he develops some post skills, he will just be an athletic freak. Drummond even humorously asked to train with Jefferson after a game last season to learn some tricks from the master.
I would say Roy Hibbert would be a threat, but without Stephenson or George to help this year and after his self implosion last year, I have no idea what to expect out of the Pacers.
I expect Big Al to make it this year. Sometimes it takes a year or two of competitive basketball for the country to catch on to something. Many people still call the Charlotte Hornets the Bobcats. It will take time to rightfully earn respect. But Stephenson and Jefferson are too talented to not get some credit for an incredible turnout for the franchise.
It’s time for people to notice.