PRETENDER: Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets’ current seven-game winning streak has been helped by some weak opponents; the team has beaten the Suns, 76ers, Pacers, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Pistons, and Rockets. Only their game against Philadelphia was on the road. The Hornets have won those games by an average of about 15 points, so this should not be a knock on the Hornets’ success. A true contender cruises through their easy stretches just as much as they buckle down during the hard stretches.
But it should serve to put their current run in context. A surge fueled by Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum and the legion of young big men might work in the regular season, but in a seven-game series in the playoffs, the Hornets don’t have the top-end roster strength to compete with the Cavaliers or the Raptors.
Walker has been an incredibly watchable player at point guard, and his emergence as the Hornets’ best player has been enjoyable to witness. But even with his emergence as a legitimate number one option, the Hornets still lag in other areas.
One of the key statistics that may sink the Hornets in the long run is their rebound rate. Charlotte is an average to below-average team in terms of pacing, registering 97.8 possessions per game.
This alone does not sink a team – in fact, the Cavaliers and Raptors only have 95.5 possessions per game – but what separates the Hornets is that they are grabbing only 49.7% of their available rebounds, compared to 52.2% and 51.5% from the Cavs and Raptors, respectively. Throw in the fact those teams are scoring more efficiently that the Hornets’ 104.6 points per 100 possessions (CLE – 107.6, TOR 107.0), and it’s becoming increasingly clear the Hornets aren’t equipped to win a war of attrition their slower pacing demands.
The Hornets are better than anyone would have predicted, but they still lag behind the best of the East. A third seed (and possibly even a conference finals appearance) is still in play, but this is a best case scenario.
Next: Contender: Miami Heat