Optimism Abounds With The Hornets
October 30, 2014
The NBA season is upon us. The 2014-15 campaign started Tuesday night. You may have missed it as we are inundated with sports these days. Actually, this is the one week during the year when all four major professional sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) leagues are all playing. Yes, it has been a long time since the Charlotte basketball franchise entered a season with so much optimism. And it is not because the franchise finally got its original nickname (Hornets) back. It is because Charlotte finished last season with a winning record for just the second time in team history. And it is because of new additions to the roster.
It is not a secret that the Hornets’ biggest issue over the last several years has been their inability to shoot from the outside, particularly from beyond the three-point line. Even though Charlotte was a playoff team last season, it still ranked 23rd in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage at 35.1. Adding shooters to the roster was the biggest need entering the offseason and the front office made a concerted effort to address and correct those deficiencies. I believe the mission was accomplished. The roster now features free agents Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and first-round draft pick P.J. Hairston, all of whom are above-average three-point shooters.
Stephenson, a shooting guard, shot 35.2 percent from beyond the arc last season, while Williams, a power forward, shot 35.9 percent. Hairston is the one, however, that Charlotte is counting on to provide instant offense and a high percentage from three-point distance.
While in college at North Carolina, Hairston, a shooting guard, shot 39.6 percent from three-point range during his second and final year in Chapel Hill. Last season as a member of the Texas Legends in the NBA Developmental League, Hairston sank 35.6 percent of his threes.
The ultimate plan is that improved perimeter shooting will create space for All-NBA player Al Jefferson in the post.
Let me spend some time talking about Stephenson. The Hornets convinced the 24-year-old to shun Indiana and shock the basketball world by signing with the Hornets. Owner Michael Jordan made it clear that he envisions Stephenson leading the way offensively in the backcourt. He is versatile, as evidenced by his NBA-leading five triple-doubles last seasons. He and league MVP Kevin Durant were the only two players averaging at least 13 points, 4.5 assists and seven rebounds per game. Head coach Steve Clifford has stated publicly that he believes Stephenson will score nearly 20 points a game, if not more.
The Hornets now have three potential 20 point a game scorers in Stephenson, Jefferson, and Kemba Walker. Throw in the new offensive toys Clifford now has at his disposal to go along with one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, one can understand why optimism abounds in Charlotte.
Sid Likes the Clippers
I believe we will see a changing of the guard in the NBA in the upcoming season. The defending champion San Antonio Spurs will finally realize how old they are. Miami will REALLY miss Lebron James. Oklahoma City will not recover from Kevin Durant missing the first few months. In my eyes, that leaves the Los Angeles Clippers as the favorite to win the 2014-15 NBA title.
After a full season under Doc Rivers’ leadership, with the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them and with playoff shortcomings to avenge, the time seems right for LA’s “other” team to break through. The time is right for Clippers point guard Chris Paul to prove that he is a champion. Now in his 10th season, fourth in LA, Paul has verbally made comments that he wants to improve upon his playoff reputation. He only needs to facilitate a bit more to power forward, Blake Griffin, to take the Clippers further. Griffin is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high 24 points a game. Griffin was healthy all summer and reported to preseason camp in the best shape of his life. He should only get better, as few remember that he is only 24 years old.
Despite all the drama over Sterling’s ouster and the transfer of ownership to Steve Ballmer, the Clippers actually are in the midst of an historic stroke of good fortune.
Clippers’ Chris Paul
After spending decades as a laughingstock and second-class citizens in Staples Center, the Clippers are loaded at a time when the Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a three-year rebuilding period. The two prized free agents this summer, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, decided to stay in the East.
The Houston Rockets lost Chandler Parsons to the Mavs and struck out on all available free agents.
Durant will miss the first two months of the season. The Clippers do not have a big weakness and have several key ingredients you need to be a part of the championship run. They have an elite coach (Rivers), an elite point guard (Paul), a proven rim protector (DeAndre Jordan) and a legitimate MVP candidate (Griffin). I will go with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers to come out of the East to meet the Clippers in the NBA Finals.
The Cavs now have James and fellow free agent Kevin Love to go along with Kyrie Irving. It will take awhile for Cleveland to gel as a unit but it will happen before the playoffs hit. And coming out of the East is not nearly as difficult as it is out West. James won’t have to do as much ball-handling with Irving on the court, and he won’t have to carry the rebounding load with Love gobbling up lots of boards. All the Cavs are lacking is continuity, but they have six months to figure that part out.
I will enjoy watching the Chicago Bulls this season. Derrick Rose is healthy and they added Pau Gasol. They will give Cleveland a battle all season. And you know San Antonio will be heard from, no matter how old their roster is.
My surprise teams include Toronto out of the East and Portland out of the West.