Note: My article title says that they “are becoming” title contenders, because their not there yet. But so far through the season, the Hornets have left me with nothing but optimism for their future. They’re off to a 6-2 start which currently puts them at a tie for second place in the East. That along with some of their basic stats such as a point differential of +8.4 per game(3rd in league), opponent field goal percentage of .423(3rd in league), and a league best 10.9 turnovers per game, are enough to convince most fans that the Hornets are a good team that plays smart basketball. And while that’s a completely true statement, there’s so much more to the Hornets beyond that. First, let’s examine their roster. The key to everything is their rising star point guard, Kemba Walker, who was robbed of an all star selection last year, but hopefully will receive it this year. Walker is a fantastic 1 on 1 scorer who is known particularly for his great reliability in the clutch. As for his stats, he’s averaged 25.9 ppg and 5.6 apg, while doing it on 47% from the field and an outstanding 44% from 3. The next most prominent player in Charlotte’s lineup is the Frenchman, Nicolas Batum. Batum is a great team player who thrives in every part of the game and is integral keeping the team together and focused. The next 2 guys to mention are the big white guys: Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, and Spencer Hawes (the fact that a team is currently able to have 3 slow, personality-lacking, and large white guys who get time and are useful is surreal and should be worth extra wins in itself). Zeller starts while Frank and Big Spence serves as a backup. All 3 have decent jumpers and skill, but the most intriguing one of all is Kaminsky, who showed dominant he could be in his days at Wisconsin. The defensive studs are lanky forwards Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. However , both couple their great defensive play with almost equally bad offensive play. Although, Williams has developed a little farther on offense, but MKG’s offense is so bad that his shot form literally gives me pain every time I see it. But not every guy on the team can be a scorer, and having defensive minded wings never hurts. A few other players have made impacts for Charlotte so far this year, such as surprise starter Traveon Graham, crafty shooter Marco Bellenelli, and the lumbering Roy Hibbert, who hasn’t played, but is still hilarious to watch for his ineptitude. But after examining their roster, it’s still hard to see how this team is playing so well, until you realize what the true key to it is. Not some secret stat or undervalued role player, the actual savior of the Hornets is their coach, Steve Clifford. Clifford has now done enough to convince me he is one of the top coaches in the league. In 2 of his 3 years as the head coach now, he has led a roster full of underwhelming talent into the playoffs, and last year almost upset Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat in a thrilling first round series. Clifford hangs his hat on defense, which is a very smart thing to do when your team may not have the most prolific scorers. He’s also found ways to have his teams score at the right times in order to take over games. Just the other night, I was watching the Hornets play my Sixers in a close game in the third quarter. Then all of a sudden, Batum and Walker kept rattling off 3s and Zeller always seemed to get another basket to fall. The lead quickly ballooned to a 20 points and Charlotte cruised to victory. Yes I know the Sixers are awful, but it was still impressive to watch how easily the Hornets took control of the situation. The Hornets are at the point where they’ll probably end up with a top 4 seed out east and will hopefully get a chance to match up with either Cleveland or Toronto. And while they’re perfectly capable of pulling upsets against both of those teams, Charlotte is still probably one piece away from coming into their own as true top dawgs. But the core is in place with Kemba, Batum, and Clifford at the helm. Don’t sleep on the Hornets, because they are rising.
All stats and Facts from espn.com: Link- http://www.espn.com/nba/team/stats/_/name/cha http://www.espn.com/nba/statistics/team/_/stat/team-comparison-per-game