Hornets Quietly Buzzing
March 24, 2016
The Charlotte Hornets are quietly becoming one of the better teams in the NBA. Take a second and think back to you read a sentence like that. It has taken awhile but owner Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho’s vision is starting to showcase itself.
Monday’s 23 point comeback victory, at home, over the San Antonio Spurs garnered the Hornets some national attention. The Spurs, one of the top two teams in the NBA, do not lose games like that. And I like the way Charlotte came back on Tuesday and did not let down while pinning a loss on the Brooklyn Nets.
Why can I get away with saying that Charlotte is one of the best teams in the Association? Because it has assembled one of the league’s better collections of two-way talent.
Did you know that the Hornets are one of only five teams with top-10 efficiency rankings on both ends of the floor. The other four to share that distinction are all championship contenders: the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers.
A large part of Jordan and Cho’s blueprint was create a roster of guys that have a strong work ethic, are high-character guys and guys that play both ends of the floor. In other words, guys that come to play every night.
And they have brought in winners. The Hornets have former March Madness winners throughout their roster.
Kemba Walker (national champion at UConn), Frank Kaminsky (two-time Final Four participant at Wisconsin), Kidd-Gilchrist (national champ at Kentucky), Marvin Williams (national champ at UNC), Tyler Hansbrough (national champ at UNC), Jeremy Lamb (national champ at UConn) and Aaron Harrison (national finalist at Kentucky).
The building blocks of this team start with Walker. The Hornets point guard is having his best season while averaging 21 points a game. He is also has a career-best shooting year in terms of percentage.
The final piece of the puzzle in becoming a perennial playoff team was Nicolas Batum. Depending on the night, the versatile Batum might be the Hornets’ top scorer, assist man, defender or rebounder. Charlotte traded for Batum during the offseason and it has been a win-win as the small forward is having his best season in scoring (15.0 points per game) and assists (5.7).
How far will the Hornets go in the playoffs? They have a chance to win a round or two as they are getting better and better. Since Feb. 1, they’ve compiled the NBA’s third-best winning percentage (.762).
Times have changed.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is behind us. If you read these pages last week, you know my Final Four is busted. So I have to take the time to re-rank the Sweet 16. My selections should be somewhat better as I think I watched more college basketball last weekend than I did all year.
You have to like what the ACC is doing as the conference has six of the 16 remaining schools. I still like Miami to make the Final Four coming out of the South. The Hurricanes looked good beating Buffalo and Wichita State by an average margin of 7.5 points.
My other Final Four team still alive is Oklahoma out of the West. I told you last week that the Sooners will always have the best player on the floor in Buddy Hield. Oklahoma was pushed to the edge by VCU but won 85-81 thanks to 29 second-half points from Buddy Hield, who’s averaging 31.5 points in the tournament. The Sooners starting five are the most talented of any team in the country. Did you know that it has been more than 25 years since a player averaged 25.0 points and reached the Final Four? I think it would be fun to watch a great scorer carry his team all the way.
I had Xavier coming out of the East. They were upset by an amazing three pointer at the buzzer by Wisconsin. I think it should be clear sailing for North Carolina now in this region. Especially if they come out strong against Indiana in the next round.
Michigan State being upset by Middle Tennessee State really messed up my (and most of America’s) Midwest bracket. You would think Virginia would benefit the most since the Spartans have eliminated them the last two years. And they might but I think Iowa State may pull off the upset this week and beat the Cavaliers. The Cyclones won their two games by an average of 15 points and have two excellent seniors Georges Niang and Jameel McKay. This is a fun team to watch and Iowa State/Virginia may end up being the best Sweet 16 game.
There you have it. My new Final Four. Miami, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Iowa State. I like Miami or Oklahoma to win it all. We’ll talk more next week.