Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Sometimes you’re just biased against some teams for no good reason.
And even though last year’s addition of Nicholas Batum (as well as Kemba Walker taking his game to the next level) completely unlocked a pretty stagnant Hornets’ offense, I still can’t find it in me to seek these guys out. Hell, I was the only one of my friends rooting for Miami in last year’s playoff series, totally impervious to Charlotte’s fast-paced spread shooting attack and awesome road jerseys.
I’m also a little worried that this team may have gotten unsustainable performances from some of their key players. Kemba Walker’s shooting percentages, both from the field and from three, shot up by nearly 4% on a greater number of attempts while Marvin Williams suddenly morphed into a do-it-all combo forward at the age of 30, knocking down 40% of his triples. Hell, even Nicholas Batum was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in Portland before becoming a max-level player capable of initiating the action for a top-10 offense.
With a number 9 defense, the Hornets had all the makings of an outside contender last year, yet fell in the playoffs to a Miami Heat team that had Dwyane Wade pulling vintage ’06 performances out of his ass. But even though head coach Steve Clifford has always been able to cobble together a good defense, I have a hard time seeing this team being even close to as good as last year’s Hornets. Or as watchable..
Big contracts for Batum and Williams meant the Hornets were forced to let “Big” Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin, and Courtney Lee walk, robbing this team of its low-post bully, sixth man scorer, and best wing defender. The Hornets did make a smart, 1-year investment in Roy Hibbert to play back-up center behind Cody Zeller and (perhaps less smart) traded their first round pick for Marco Belinelli to make up for some of Lee’s outside shooting. Most importantly, they should be getting former 2nd overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back after he missed nearly all of last year with a torn labrum.
It’s possible that MKG and Hibbert could make this Hornets defense even better next year. Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the true premier wing-stoppers in the league and Hibbert’s verticality makes him a huge upgrade on the similarly slow-footed Jefferson. Kemba has never been great shakes defensively, but if Clifford rolls out all three wings (Batum, MKG, and Williams) in the starting line-up, this is going to be a killer group that can switch everything defensively and pressure the ball-handler.
I’m worried though, that re-injecting Kidd-Gilchrist into the starting line-up might torpedo the way the Hornets played last year, with all the spacing and three point shooting. MKG is a truly horrendous marksman, with a sub 25% mark from three on his career, and if Kemba or Marvin Williams regresses back to the mean, this could look like one of the older, slower Hornets teams of years past. Not only that, but their bench is due to struggle a lot too, after losing Jeremy Lin who played like a legitimate sixth man of the year candidate in 2015. Charlotte will be hard pressed to prove that drafting Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky over Justise Winslow was a good decision last year and Ramon Sessions is one of the least inspiring options at back-up point guard in the league.
All said and done if I couldn’t get excited last year for one of the most exciting Charlotte basketball teams of the last 7 or 8 years, it’s hard to picture losing my mind over these guys.
Last year’s ranking: 29 (+4)