GDHQNBA15_2pg-Charlotte Hornets

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EASTERN CONFERENCE SOUTHEAST DIVISION Charlotte What’s in a name? The 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets hope a finish higher than third in the division. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 2001-02, the last time the franchise was nicknamed the Hornets. In their last year as the Bobcats, they had their first winning season in four years (43-39) and doubled their win total for the second straight season. In the playoffs, they made things quite uncomfortable for eventual-Eastern Conference champion Miami, despite losing in four. Now, in their first year back as the Hornets they’ve set their sights on making back-to-back playoff appearances for only the third time in franchise history and the first since three straight from 2000-02. With core-stars Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker in place and the addition of talented Lance Stephenson and veterans Marvin Williams and Jason Maxiell, the Queen City could be the Queen Bee in the Southeast. Defense Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan is no stranger to defense (1988 Defensive Player of the Year and nine-time First-Team All-Defensive Teamer), should be proud of the Hornets’ commitment to defense in their first-year under Coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets, who ranked in the bottom five in just about every defensive category in 2012-13, flipped the script, finishing in the top 10 in those same categories last season. They allowed 97.1 points per game, the fourth fewest points in the NBA and down 5.6 ppg from the year before. Charlotte also cleaned the glass, as opponents grabbed the fewest offensive rebounds, 9.6 rpg, (they pulled in 11.8, the sixth-most in 2012- 13), they committed the fewest fouls and were in the top 10 in the League in defensive rebounds, blocks, opponents’ field goal percentage (.442), two-point field goal percentage, (.468), field goals made, twopoint field goals made and opponents assists. Jefferson fortified a strong interior defense, pulling down 10.8 rebounds per game, eighth in the League and his best total in five years. He also swatted away 1.1 shots per game, which tied for 28th with his backup, third-year pro Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo adapted to making the fewest starts of his career and became a valuable piece off the bench, as he chipped in 4.8 rpg. The Hornets looked to improve the power forward position by bringing in a pair of nine-year pros, former Tar Heel Marvin Williams, who is expected to start, and Jason Maxiell. Both are there as much to mentor up-and-comers (an coincidentally former Indiana Hoosiers) Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh. The 7-0 Zeller, last year’s No. 4 overall pick grabbed 4.3 rebounds, sixth best among NBA rookies, on his way to Second- Team All-Rookie status in and came on strong, averaging 4.9 rebounds per game over the team’s final 27 games, up almost one board from the first part of the season. The 6-10 Vonleh, Charlotte’s 2014 first-round Draft pick (No. 9), was Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year after leading the conference in rebounding and finishing top 10 in blocked shots. Vonleh was slowed during preseason and will miss the beginning of the season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. Charlotte needs to get better is in defending the three, as opponents shot a healthy .369 from behind the arc and Clifford would probably like to see more turnovers, as the Bobcats forced the third-fewest and committed the second-fewest steals. Offense The Bobcats followed the axiom that the best offense is a good defense, as their offense was middle-of-the-pack last season. That certainly wasn’t due to the lack of an inside presence, as Jefferson was a force in the paint. But that may change in 2014-15. He led the team in scoring 41 times, recorded 69 double-figure games, had 42 doubledoubles and had all 29 of the team’s 20-point/10-rebound games. The outside complement to Jefferson’s inside power is guard Walker. Walker, who had 60 double-figure games, all five of the team’s 20-point/10-assist games, matched his 17.7 ppg average of his sophomore season. He improved shooting the three, hitting a careerbest, and team-leading 109 three-point field goals but showed there is still room to improve, as he shot .333 from behind the arc. Walker hopes that working with assistant coach Mark Price (career .402 shooter from Kemba Walker Jesse Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images


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