Charlotte Hornets: Return would have provided valuable experience

On Thursday NBA owners approved a 22-team plan to resume the season. The Charlotte Hornets were not included.

For basketball fans, this past Thursday marked a big day in the sport’s return. Late last week NBA commissioner Adam Silver proposed a plan that would resume the season for 22 of the league’s 30 teams. The proposal was approved by NBA owners by a 29-1 vote and includes a targeted return date of July 31 with all games being in Orlando with no fans in attendance. Unfortunately though, the Charlotte Hornets are not one of the teams that will be resuming their season.

Per the newly approved return plan, the 22 teams include all 16 teams who were in playoff positions prior to the season being suspended, as well as any team within six games of the eighth seed in either conference. Teams will play eight regular-season games, and depending on conference standings, there could be a “play-in” tournament to decide who gets the final playoff spots. The playoff format itself though will remain unchanged, with each series being a best-of-seven.

A return to play could have provided extremely valuable game experience to Charlotte’s young players.

Unfortunately for the Hornets, they are the first team kept out of the 22-team field. They missed the six-game cut by just one game—Charlotte was seven back of Orlando at the time of suspension—and while it would have been unlikely that they would have provided any kind of playoff threat, an extra few games would have been great game experience for the team’s young players. With the exception of the center position, no player in the Hornets’ regular starting lineup is older than 26.

Forwards Miles Bridges and PJ Washington both turn 22 this year, and Devonte’ Graham is still only a second-year player. Even Terry Rozier, who just turned 26, was in his first season as a starter and was showing growth. As mentioned above, this young group of players probably wouldn’t have been playoff contenders had they returned; however, gaining those extra minutes could have been extremely beneficial to the roster’s development and would have provided them with more experience heading into next season.

Bridges for example, needs to continue to show he can be consistent at both ends of the floor. A lot was expected of him this season, and while he had his moments, he was also wildly inconsistent for a majority of the campaign. To his credit though, he did solve many of those issues as the season wore on, and was undoubtedly playing the best basketball of his career when the season was suspended. Washington is another young player who simply needs experience.

The rookie from Kentucky came out of the gates blazing, but he certainly hit a learning curve after that. Washington never fouled out, but it wasn’t uncommon for him to pick up two or three fouls within a very short span, making him much less of a factor in several games. What that likely suggests is that he just needs more time to adjust to the game speed of the NBA, something that can only be achieved through live game action—something the Hornets were denied by the league’s return plan.

Despite the Hornets not being able to return this season, they still showed a lot to like in the games they did play.

It stinks that the Hornets are done for the season, and sure the extra development time would have helped in the future, but it would be wrong to not note the early success from the team’s rebuild. Perhaps nobody—and I mean nobody—could have predicted that Graham would’ve had the season he had. After spending a significant amount of time in the G-League as a rookie, Graham played like a borderline All-Star throughout much of the year. When the season was put on hold, he was fifth in the league in made threes, fourth in assists, and was perhaps the front runner for the Most Improved Player award.

Charlotte’s young forward tandem also showed plenty to get excited about, and Rozier proved that he was more than capable of handling starting point-guard duties. Even Cody Zeller had one of, if not the best, seasons of his career.

Sure the Hornets’ 23-42 record is far from pretty, but most people didn’t see this team winning more than 20 games all year, and they surpassed that mark without even playing their final 17 contests. That’s no doubt a testament to head coach James Borrego’s talent and player development skills. Next up for the Hornets will be the NBA Draft Lottery, which is now scheduled for August 25, followed by the draft on October 15. Charlotte will have the eighth-best lottery odds and will be in prime position to add another young star next to an already budding roster.