The Hornets are expected to take another step in its development into a consistent playoff team. three) can raise his three-point shooting the way he improved at the foul line, where Walker converted at a career-best .837 percentage, 35 points higher than 2012-13. With Jefferson and Walker making a nice inside-outside tandem the Hornets believe added a third piece with the acquisition of free agent guard Stephenson, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the Hornets on July 16. The 6-5, 210-pound, small forward is a potentially explosive talent, finishing runnerup in the voting for 2013-14 Most Improved Player after putting up a line of 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists, one of only four players in the League to do so. But the downside to the 24-year-old Stephenson is his immaturity, which manifested itself in the Eastern Conference Finals, with his juvenile attempts to get into the head of LeBron James. The Hornets believe they can tap the sky-high potential that made him too good to pass up and make him a nice running mate with Walker. Last year’s starter at shooting guard, Gerald Henderson and veteran Gary Neal, who shot better than 40 percent from three after being acquired from Milwaukee will add depth and quality shooting off the bench. Third-year pro Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will start his third and what he hopes will be his most consistent season. Kidd-Gilchrist has looked to improve his midrange game and put in lots of hours with Price working on and noticeably improving h i s jumper. That added firepower will be much-welcomed as the Bobcats were bottom 10 in threepoint field goals made and three-point field goal percentage. Outlook T h e f r a n c h i s e formerly known as the Bobcats has suffered plenty since its inception in 2004- 05, but it looks like good times may finally be here. This team is good enough to win the Southeast, something not even the original incarnation of the Hornets was able to do, and, with i t s defe n s e - f i r s t Streeter Lecka/Getty Images approach, is poised to make some noise In the postseason. Clifford’s squad must continue to play its signature defense, continue to get solid inside-outside play from a healthy Jefferson and ascending star Walker. More important, the Hornets need Stephenson to live up to his potential physically and grow up behaviorwise. The veteran example set by Williams could help, not only for Stephenson, but budding fours Zeller and Vonley. Finally, there must be consistency offensively and contributions off the bench. If all that is there expect some major payback for the Bobcat years. If not it’ll be reverting back to them SPOTLIGHT: Al Jefferson It’s taken a while—10 years to be exact —but people are finally recognizing Jefferson as one of the best bigs in the game. Circumstances haven’t really helped the 29-year-old’s cause (he hits the big 3-0 in early January), as he played on bad Boston teams before being part of the deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston. That was his legacy for a long time as Jefferson persevered on three losing teams in Minnesota then three more mediocre teams in Utah. Only one time did he enjoy a .500-or-better season and a playoff berth. Prior to the 2013-14 season he chose to sign with Charlotte and his and the franchise’s luck suddenly changed. The durable Jefferson, who’s quietly averaged 70 games a year (he was 50-for-50 in the strike-shortened 2008-09 season) thrived, averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds on .509 shooting, his highest totals in five years. Don’t believe he is one of the game’s elite bigs? He was one of only five players in the entire NBA and the only player in the Eastern Conference to have a 20-10 season. His impact on the Hornets was even more profound, as he led the team in scoring 41 times, in rebounding 61 times, in steals on 19 occasions and in blocks 29 times, all while helping get Charlotte back to the playoffs. He was named Third-Team All- NBA last season, only the sixth Hornet to earn All-NBA honors and the first since guard Eddie Jones in 1999-2000. It’s on Jefferson’s back that the Hornets will try to end other long droughts.
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