When Buzz City announced their return just a few seasons ago, they did so to much fanfare. It started the erasing of a hard journey from futility for the franchise.
The Bobcats years (2004-14) were hard, and followed the stripping of the Hornets franchise from the city of Charlotte due to the embarrassment of their owner. In the history of that Bobcats franchise, they made the playoffs just once – a first-round exit to the Orlando Magic.
To help fix their problems, in 2011 Charlotte tried their luck on 9th overall pick Kemba Walker, a scrappy, small guard from Connecticut. Over the next few seasons, before the name change, the Bobcats would bottom out to the worst record in NBA history, and rebound with a first-round exit with a revamped roster.
The season of the name change, they’d again end up flailing, going just 36-46 to miss the playoffs again. The Charlotte basketball experiment continued to fail, and their starting point guard happened to be average in a league full of elite options.
Until it changed. Last season, Walker revitalised his game, hitting jumpers at a much more consistent rate, and becoming a must-watch player in the league. The Hornets changed their roster, infusing more talent and winning 48 games. They tied for the third-best record in the East and pushed the Miami Heat all the way in a seven-game first-round series.
And heading into the offseason, things were finally looking up for the Hornets. But free agency ravaged the team, taking Courtney Lee, Al Jefferson and a slew off the bench. The Hornets traded a first-rounder for struggling shooting guard Marco Belinelli to try and offset the losses, and retained Nic Batum and Marvin Williams.
The rest of the NBA reacted to the team regressing, seemingly, back to the average in the East.
This season, though, they’ve been anything but. Kemba Walker took his success a year ago ever further, developing into arguably the second-best guard in the Eastern Conference, scoring over 25 points per game, shooting over 45% from the field, and over 40% from three. All of those are clear career highs, and only Steph Curry is averaging the same.
— NBA (@NBA) November 27, 2016
Kemba is quietly becoming one of the best shooters in the league, and as a result, the offense has taken off. The Hornets were among the best offenses in the league a year ago, a stat that was expected to fall off a cliff after the departures of so many of their key bench pieces. With the return of MKG, the team was expected to double down on defense.
And yet, the offense stabilized. The bench, namely Frank Kaminsky, Belinelli and Spencer Hawes have been much improved. The addition of Roy Hibbert has added an inside wrinkle they didn’t have before, and MKG’s addition has revitalized the defense.
Just like that, the Hornets somehow improved a roster that was gutted in the offseason. And the addition of MKG seems to have offset the losses they had before. The roster is competitive across the board, and as surprising as that is, the rise of their marquee man has been much more so.
Experts keep waiting for Kemba to falter, but he’s shown no signs. Instead, he’s only gotten better, turning on the jets in the fourth quarter against San Antonio, and willing Charlotte to wins left and right.
The tiny captain for the Hornets has transformed the roster, and the city into a real threat. And if you haven’t heard of them, it’s time to take notice.
Or you can keep underestimating them, because that’s the way Kemba likes it.
ICYMI, new #KiaMVPLadder
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) November 27, 2016