30 Teams in 30 Days

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Can LaMelo Ball evolve into the Charlotte Hornets' next superstar?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we'll be dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, the Charlotte Hornets take the spotlight.

2019-20 season record

23-42, 10th in the Eastern Conference

Notable additions

LaMelo Ball, No. 3 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Gordon Hayward, Free Agency

Vernon Carey Jr., No. 32 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Nick Richards, No. 42 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Notable departures

Nicolas Batum (reportedly waived)

Depth chart

Starter Second Third Fourth
PG LaMelo Ball Terry Rozier Nate Darling
SG Devonte' Graham Malik Monk Cody Martin Caleb Martin
SF Gordon Hayward Miles Bridges
PF PJ Washington Jalen McDaniels
C Cody Zeller Bismack Biyombo Vernon Carey Jr. Nick Richards

3 key storylines

LaMelos Ball's superstar potential

It's been a while since the Hornets drafted this high and selected a player of the caliber and talent of LaMelo Ball, who is regarded as the best playmaker from the 2020 Draft class.

With their existing guard line-up of Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham, clearly, Charlotte's strength is their backcourt and Ball's multi-skill talent allows them to use that in multiple ways. Given his elite passing ability, Ball would be expected to have primary ball-handling duties with Graham and Rozier, both very capable catch-and-shoot 3-point shooters , next to him.

In the 12 games he played in his lone season with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia's NBL, he shot 25.0% from beyond the arc, so placing 'shooting' guards around him, generates more open shots that will only help his confidence and rhythm.

Just like his shot, Ball's defence could improve to reach the NBA-level but the deficit in physical strength, something his brother Lonzo also dealt with in his rookie season, can be made-up with effort and his high basketball IQ.

Rookie of the Year type years are usually heavily dependent on the minutes and the role that the rookies get on their respective teams. With the ball in his hands, Ball has the opportunity to dictate the narrative of his season, and ultimately, whether he can make a legitimate run for the award.

Impact of Hayward's veteran presence on Hornets' young brigade

They might have overpaid but there's no arguing against the fact that the Hornets' decision to sign Hayward was a good move. He has played in three of the past four NBA playoffs and while playing a key position of a wing, he brings a ton of experience to the team's young roster.

Charlotte has all of their three first-round picks from 2017-19 still on their roster in Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, and PJ Washington. There's also the young guard brother duo of Cody and Caleb Martin. While Monk and the Martin brothers will have to work to find some playing time in a now crowded backcourt, the wing duo of Bridges and Washington will certainly have plenty to learn from Hayward.

Head coach James Borrego is yet to make an impression in Charlotte, winning just 49 games in the two seasons being hired. With Hayward, he receives a veteran that can help bridge the gap to the team's young supporting cast.

Beginning of a new era?

Since the franchise rejoined the league in 2004, they won 40 or more games just three times - that's the only three times they have made the postseason. However, in Ball, Charlotte has acquired a young, long, 6'7" point guard who certainly raises the team's floor and can help them get back to the playoffs.

Giving Ball the 'green light' to play freely, under minutes that are generally expected of a top-3 pick, will let him grow and mature into the franchise's next superstar - one they can build around to possibly contend for a title in the coming years.

After the 2020 free agency, the Hornets aren't necessarily constructed to maximize Ball and his talents. However, they could be active during the league's mid-season trade deadline to better equip themselves with the right 'skill-set' of players around their rookie, especially if he starts grabbing the headlines with his play.

In Hayward, the team has a 30-year-old seasoned wing, who was an All-Star as recently as 2017. He is a much-needed playoff-tested veteran presence in a locker room where a majority of the players are 25 or under and haven't played in the postseason.

Around this duo, the Hornets have a chance to build a team that can make winning and subsequently, making the playoffs a habit. Whether that's by holding onto and developing a few of their young players in Graham, Bridges and Washington or by trading for better players in the near future.

There's definitely talent there and the Hornets have made plenty of 'right' moves in the 2020 offseason but can they continue trending in the right direction? That's the question they have to answer in order to validate their optimism and grow into a franchise that can remain competitive season-after-season.

5 games to watch

Jan. 8 @ New Orleans Pelicans

When Ball was selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, LaMelo and Lonzo became the first pair of brothers to be drafted in the Top-5 of the NBA Draft. Barring any trades, this makes the Hornets-Pelicans matchups a family affair for the next few seasons.

Which brother will outplay the other? Who will have bragging rights? Aside from the Ball family duel, both these exciting young teams would also have former, current, and future All-Stars on the court in Gordon Hayward, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson respectively.

Boston Celtics, Date: TBD

This would be Hayward's first game against the Celtics since forgoing his playing option and signing with the Hornets. He's been a member of the Boston franchise for the past three years but in the team's two postseason runs that ended in the Conference Finals (2017, 2019), he couldn't really contribute and wasn't available all through.

Either way, he seemed to have left on amicable terms and this contest would also be a good reunion with college head coach - Brad Stevens.

Feb. 12 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

More often than not, it's an entertaining contest when two of the top picks in the recently concluded Draft take the court to go at it. Anthony Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2020 Draft, and Ball play different positions and would have different roles on their respective teams but it will surely be one to tune into.

Feb. 20 vs. Golden State Warriors

How will Ball fare against James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft? Similar to Edwards, Ball and Wiseman play different positions and have different roles on their respective teams but it does make for good TV.

A bonus in this contest would be to see how Ball matches up against one of the greatest point guards of all-time - Stephen Curry.

Jan. 6 vs. Atlanta Hawks

In terms of acquiring talent in free agency, the Hornets could be where the Hawks were in the 2020 offseason. Atlanta is a year ahead but both teams are young teams, whose strength is their backcourt. Beating them, the Hornets would be making the right noises and stealing headlines.

It'll also be interesting to see Ball will compete against a young superstar in Trae Young.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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