The 2020 offseason has seen the Charlotte Hornets take major strides in the right direction.
As a franchise that has failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last four seasons and hasn't won a postseason series since 2002, it's often seemed as though the Hornets don't get lucky often, save for a miraculous game winner every now and again.
But during the NBA Draft Lottery on Aug. 20, there was plenty of luck on their side.
Despite having the ninth-worst record in the league, Charlotte moved up in the draft lottery to win the third pick in a draft class that, according to a consensus of experts, had three prospects that graded head and shoulders above the rest.
After Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman went first and second, into the Hornets hands fell LaMelo Ball, who very well still would have been the Hornets' pick had they selected first or second overall. In Ball, Charlotte gets a player that is arguably the most talented in the draft and a person who is, without a doubt, the biggest star among everyone that heard their name called.
With respect to his profile, LaMelo is the biggest star this franchise has seen since the days of Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Don't get me wrong, Kemba Walker is without question the greatest to ever don the purple and teal but Ball has brought about a … buzz … that hasn't surrounded this franchise in decades.
They've even brought the pinstripes back.
Over the past two seasons, Charlotte has had just seven nationally televised games - five aired on NBATV, one was the 2018-19 season finale (and Kemba's final game as a Hornet) and the other was Kemba's emotional return to Charlotte as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Naturally, a much brighter spotlight is going to be placed upon Ball and the Hornets this upcoming season and based on how its roster is coming together, this Charlotte team is one that fans around the league are sure to enjoy watching.
If you know about the Hornets, you might have scratched your head at the selection of Ball, as he's set to join a talented backcourt that already features point guards in Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier.
Graham, 25, is coming off of a breakout season in which he averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 37.3% from deep and despite not getting much consideration from voters. He received co-signs from both LeBron James and Luka Doncic, who felt he deserved to be a finalist for the league's Most Improved Player Award at the very least.
Rozier, 26, completed the first of a three-year deal signed with Charlotte in the 2019 offseason, putting forth the best statistical season of his career with averages of 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 40.7% from beyond the arc.
But how can two 6-foot-1 point guards make things work with Ball, who enters the league as a pure point guard with a wiry, 6-foot-8 frame?
"I like the fit, they're two playmakers," Hornets head coach James Borrego said of the fit between Ball and Graham after the draft. "I like him with Terry as well - I mean, we're going to play all three together.
"I don't know how much, but those three will play together and just like we used Devonte' off the ball some last year, we used Terry off the ball, this is going to be a very positionless style of play as we head into next season."
Just last season, we saw the Oklahoma City Thunder lay the blueprint down for successful three guard lineups with Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However different the Ball-Graham-Rozier trio is, Borrego's quotes do outline the ways in which the three can play off of one another.
"I expect those three guys to play well together. You want playmakers on the floor." Borrego continued. "In today's game, the elite teams, the best teams have multiple playmakers on the floor, multiple ballhandlers, multiple shooters.
"We have added some depth to our playmaking, shot making, shot creation and to me, that's where the league is at."
As LaMelo is the least efficient shooter of the three - at least for now - his elite passing ability will allow him to create for both Graham and Rozier at times. Last season, Graham converted on 42.2% of his catch-and-shoot 3s while Rozier shot an even more impressive 45.7% on catch-and-shoot triples.
Not only will Ball's passing aid in the half court, but it will also aid Charlotte in pushing the pace, where it ranked dead last in the league last season.
Following the draft, the 19-year-old spoke glowingly of some of his new teammates, "I'm definitely excited. I've been seeing them since I was young, for real. Miles (Bridges) at Michigan State and Huntington (Prep) and all that.
"And P.J. (Washington), I played against him when he was at Findlay (Prep) … It's gonna be exciting"
In Bridges, Ball has a pretty scary lob threat…
.@T_Rozzay3 launches it to @MilesBridges from half-court! 😱 @HornetsOnFSSE | #AllFly pic.twitter.com/eail8GfQuf- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) February 29, 2020
And the same could even be said for Malik Monk.
☁️☁️@AhmadMonk ☁️☁️@HornetsOnFSSE | #AllFly pic.twitter.com/WBgUoIXn1D- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) November 24, 2019
Washington, on the other hand, did a little bit of everything as a rookie last year, from picking and popping to catching lobs and knocking down 38.5% of his catch-and-shoot 3s last season.
Welcome to the NBA, @PJWashington!- Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) October 24, 2019
7️⃣ 3-PT FG (Most by any player in his NBA debut)#AllFly pic.twitter.com/XlcpGGvsBb
A group like this is the dream of any playmaker, not to mention the Hornets' other draft additions of Vernon Carey Jr. (No. 32 overall pick), Nick Richards (No. 42 overall pick) and Grant Riller (No. 56 overall pick). In Carey and Richards, Charlotte adds youth to its frontcourt and young bigs have a tendency to play above the rim.
That is especially the case for Richards.
Birthday boy @iamnickrichards celebrated with a dunk party. Five jams. 7 of 7 from the field. HBD, Nick 🎂😼🏀#BBN #TGT pic.twitter.com/6r3vUzuFMY- Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) November 30, 2019
Riller, a 6-foot-3 guard, adds even more depth to a crowded backcourt but is a certified scorer that many considered to be a draft darling during the process leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft. Look no further than his scoring 2,474 points during his four-year career at College of Charleston to understand what it is that he does best.
Of the above group, Rozier, who will turn 27, is the oldest member and in this league, veteran leadership is needed to add structure to a team that relies on its youth.
Enter 30-year-old Gordon Hayward.
The one-time All-Star has reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $120 million with the Hornets, making him the most high-profile free agent the team has brought in during its 32-year history. Some might criticize the figures of the deal but the fact of the matter is that Hayward is a very good player that is coming off of a season in which he averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game for a legitimate title contender.
Aligned with Borrego's comments on playmaking, Hayward is yet another player that can create for himself and others, which will improve Charlotte's offensive efficiency by making things easier for other players.
Hayward, his former Celtic teammate Rozier and recently re-signed big man Bismack Biyombo, are the three Hornets that have each played - and had major roles in - the Eastern Conference Finals, which is a stage the Charlotte franchise has yet to reach.
Add in Cody Zeller, who is the only other member of the roster to have appeared in at least one playoff game (the team plans to either waive or trade Nicolas Batum), and the team has a strong group of four leaders that understand what's needed to compete in the postseason.
In a unique year in which seeds seven through 10 will enter a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots, the vastly-improved Hornets have an opportunity to make things interesting.
After this offseason, don't be surprised when they do.
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