The Charlotte Hornets exceeded the expectations of many in the first half of the 2020-21 season. From LaMelo Ball seemingly running away with Rookie of the Year to Terry Rozier’s sudden scoring explosions, there is a lot the average NBA fan might not have seen coming.
Through 35 games, the Hornets are 17-18, good enough for the No. 6 seed in an Eastern Conference that has a bunch of teams jumbled after the top three. With Charlotte in playoff position, there are a few things we have learned in the first part of this season about this organization and its players.
LaMelo Ball is the real deal
LaMelo Ball came into the 2020 NBA Draft with plenty of question marks. While some viewed him as the No. 1 prospect, he still wound up falling to the Hornets at No. 3. Charlotte happily gobbled up the guard, and the franchise is reaping the rewards.
We’re already starting to see the great all-around player Ball is becoming. He may already be a top-10 point guard in the league with his elite-level playmaking and ability to get buckets from all over the court. His defense is also better than what scouts anticipated, as he ranks fifth in the NBA in steals.
Ball has already earned two Rookie of the Month honors and is likely to capture more accolades en route to Rookie of the Year. While his older brother, Lonzo, is starting to really come around with the New Orleans Pelicans, LaMelo is looking even more special as a legitimate franchise-changing talent.
Michael Jordan has turned a corner
MJ has not exactly had a great resume when it comes to building a franchise from the ground up, but he has improved his decision-making in the last two years. Terry Rozier’s contract was viewed as a terrible contract for someone who was a backup for most of his career, but he has lived up to that deal. This season, Rozier has posted career highs in points, field goal percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage.
When Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with Charlotte on his massive deal, it was another criticized move for MJ. However, Hayward is putting up just under 22 points a game and is playing just as well as he was in his last season in Utah.
Both Rozier and Hayward were great offseason additions the last two years, but the best one is still pulling the trigger on LaMelo Ball. Even Jordan is surprised at how good Ball is:
“I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought this early in his career,” Jordan told The Associated Press in an email. “He has exceeded our expectations so far this season.”
This is quite the praise from a guy who is considered the GOAT, and this pick is looking like a coup for His Airness.
With Ball, Hayward, and Rozier leading the way under head coach James Borrego, the Hornets are in prime position to snag a playoff spot. Other young players such as Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, and even Malik Monk have made an impact. Devonte’ Graham is hurting and has regressed from last season’s surprise breakout, but he’s another talented young guard.
With this mix of players, the Hornets like to get out and run in transition. They push the tempo whenever possible especially when Ball is running the offense. Charlotte has also made a habit of winning games in the clutch, boasting by far the best clutch net rating in the NBA. Winning close games is crucial to getting in the playoffs.
It certainly benefits the Hornets that they are playing in the East. Even at 17-18, they’re just 1.5 games behind the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics. Of course, they’re also just 1.5 games ahead of the 11th-place Atlanta Hawks. So, Charlotte must not let up in the second half of the season.
We have learned so much about this young organization and the pieces in it. Who knows what else we could learn as time progresses as we get closer to the postseason. The league should be on notice that the Hornets are coming, and their future is bright with LaMelo Ball as the centerpiece.