30 Teams in 30 Days

2021-22 Charlotte Hornets season preview: Roster changes, depth chart, key storylines and games to watch

The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Up next is the Charlotte Hornets

2020-21 season record

33-39, 10th in Eastern Conference

Notable additions

James Bouknight, No. 11 pick in 2021 NBA Draft

Kai Jones, No. 19 pick in 2021 NBA Draft

JT Thor, No. 37 pick in 2021 NBA Draft

Scottie Lewis, No. 56 pick in 2021 NBA Draft

Ish Smith, free agency

Kelly Oubre Jr., free agency

Mason Plumlee, trade

Wes Iwundu, trade

Notable departures

Devonte' Graham, sign-and-trade

Cody Zeller, free agency

Malik Monk, free agency

Depth Chart

Starters Second Third Fourth Fifth
PG LaMelo Ball Ish Smith DJ Carton
SG Terry Rozier James Bouknight Scottie Lewis Xavier Sneed
SF Gordon Hayward Kelly Oubre Jr. Cody Martin Wes Iwundu
PF Miles Bridges P.J. Washington Jalen McDaniels Arnoldas Kulboka JT Thor
C Mason Plumlee Kai Jones Nick Richards Vernon Carey Jr.

3 key storylines

LaMelo Ball's Year 2 leap

Despite missing 21 games over a six-week period last season, Ball did enough to be named Rookie of the Year, posting averages of 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game. For everyone who doubted that his style of play would transition to the NBA, the ROY recognition was a statement.

Ball's presence, and certainly his alley-oop combination with Bridges, created plenty of much-needed buzz around the team.

There are no two ways about the fact that Ball is the face of the Hornets' rebuild, which began once Kemba Walker departed as a free agent in the 2019 offseason. Coming off a long break, the 20-year-old is bound to get even better. The question to answer would be how much better?

Will we see a Trae Young and Luka Doncic type second-year leap, where Ball could be part of the 2021 All-Star team and be a strong contender for the six guard spots on the three All-NBA teams? That's got to be the ceiling right?

The advanced stats on Ball's impact in his rookie season weren't necessarily discouraging, but there's certainly plenty of room for improvement.

Team's potential without injuries

The Hornets' roster from last season, which had eight players average nine points or more for the year, finished with a 33-39 record despite multiple key rotation players missing multiple games.

As mentioned earlier, Ball missed 21 games, a key veteran in Hayward missed 28 games, while the duo of Devonte' Graham and Malik Monk missed 17 games and 30 games, respectively.

That's plenty of games missed by players who play a huge role in the team's depth and rotation. The Hornets, despite ranking 23rd in offensive efficiency and 16th in defensive efficiency, made their way into the Play-In Tournament as the 10th seed.

In the 2020-21 season, a healthy Hornets team should expect to at least make the Play-In Tournament once again, if not qualify for the playoffs as one of the East's top six teams.

Young revolution continues

Although Ball is front and center of the franchise's rebuild, the organization made the most of their picks in the most recent NBA Draft by picking twice in the Top 20. Charlotte selected James Bouknight with the 11th overall pick and acquired Kai Jones, the 19th overall pick.

Apart from the Hornets' offseason and trade acquisitions, their draft selections were also a major factor in the Hornets nailing the offseason. Bouknight is a terrific scoring guard, who could be in the team's long-term plans to start alongside Ball in the backcourt. On the other hand, Jones is a floor-spacing big who is a lethal rim-runner as well.

Not to mention, the team's two picks in the second round, JT Thor (37th overall) and Scottie Lewis (56th overall). With these selections, especially the first-rounders, the franchise maintains the balance of youth and experience on the roster while favouring the youth and prioritizing the long-term prospects of the roster.

5 games to watch

Oct. 29 at Miami Heat

The first of the Hornets' four nationally televised games comes not long after opening night when they visit the Heat, one of the league's most improved teams from the 2021 offseason and arguably a top-three team in the Eastern Conference.

Nov. 8 at Los Angeles Lakers

Ball's homecoming to Los Angeles against his brother's former team in the Lakers, who are also considered the title favourites in the West, is the fourth of an early season five-game Western Conference road trip for the Hornets.

Although the Hornets lost 116-105, Ball put on quite the show when he went up against LeBron James and the Lakers. How will Ball and the Hornets fare this time around at the Staples Center?

No. 26 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

This contest will be highlighted by the head-to-head clash between the reigning Rookie of the Year in Ball and the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NBA Draft in Anthony Edwards. Last year, Ball outplayed Edwards in both matchups as the Hornets swept the season series.

The first game against the Timberwolves is the only home game for the Hornets over a 15-day period in late November and early December. How will the matchups between these two young stars go this season?

Nov. 29 at Chicago Bulls

With the Chicago Bulls acquiring Lonzo Ball, LaMelo's older brother, during the offseason, we will witness three matchups between the siblings this season. Last year, although LaMelo outplayed Lonzo in both games, it was an even split in the season series with each team winning on the road.

With the Ball brothers set to go up against one another three times this season, who will have the final say?

Dec. 1 at Milwaukee Bucks

Every team is bound to give the Bucks, the NBA's defending champions, their best shot. The Hornets will face the Milwaukee franchise four times this season, the first of which tips off the month of December for the young squad.

Over the three contests last year, the Hornets bested the Bucks twice.

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

More from NBA.com

#KobeCP3
On This Date: A possible Kobe-CP3 partnership is vetoed
Yash Matange
CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum (collapsed lung) out vs. Warriors
Yash Matange
Bob McAdoo
Q&A: Bob McAdoo reflects on his MVP days
Maurice Brooks
Jimmy-Butler-12072021-FTR-Getty
How long is Jimmy Butler out?
Kyle Irving
Raptors forward OG Anunoby
The latest on Anunoby's hip injury
Scott Rafferty
#DameCJSoundsystem
Soundsystem: What's up with the Blazers?
NBA.com Staff
More News