While there is no official award for League Pass Team of the Year (although, maybe there should be), all NBA fans know that there are certain teams each season that draw you in when checking out the nightly slate of games.
In order to be a qualifier for the unofficial title of League Pass Team of the Year, there are a couple of boxes you have to check:
- Limited nationally televised games
- Middle-of-the-pack or fringe-playoff team that plays in a lot of close contests
- Up-and-coming players that are worth watching develop
- Nightly highlight reel-worthy plays
And that's just to name a few. While it's not a prerequisite, it's also a bonus if the broadcast team completes the total package.
In the 2020-21 season, there's one team in particular that completes that checklist - the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets, despite drafting a show-stopping future superstar in 19-year-old phenom LaMelo Ball, still only had one nationally televised game in the first half of the schedule. After the team got out to a quality - and entertaining - start to the season, they were rewarded with four more nationally televised games in the second half of the schedule.
That being said, this left 67 games available to NBA League Pass users to dive into the captivating and electrifying rollercoaster ride that is this year's Hornets. But what is it about this team that has made them the love affair of a general NBA watcher?
Keep your enemies closer
Part of what makes the Hornets must-see-TV is the fact that just as often as not, their games come down to the wire.
They own the league's closest point differential to even (0.0) at -0.4 and have played in 22 "clutch" games this season, meaning games within five points in the final five minutes. Their 16 wins in clutch games are fifth-most in the NBA and their 16-6 record gives them a winning percentage of .727, the fourth-best in the NBA.
So not only is Charlotte competing in a lot of tight games, it is closing them out at a similar rate as some of the best teams in the NBA, like the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers. As a result, the Hornets have produced more than just a handful of big-time shot-making moments down the stretch of games.
While any game-winner is noteworthy, Gordon Hayward's buzzer-beating layup against the Orlando Magic has actually been a calm finish compared to some others the Hornets have experienced this season.
Can I interest you in Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham trading big buckets to close out the Indiana Pacers?
Or former lottery pick Malik Monk, who has gotten in on the fun twice this season, with one timely shot sending a game into overtime against the Miami Heat (that the Hornets would eventually win)...
... And a last-second and-one that helped Charlotte complete a miraculous eight-point comeback in the final 50 seconds of a game against the Sacramento Kings.
But really, Rozier has been the team's closer all year long (which we'll expand upon shortly). He also hit a game-winner against the Golden State Warriors...
... And buried two clutch buckets to take care of the Detroit Pistons.
Even when this team loses close games, they do it in a viewer-pleasing fashion, like Graham going on a personal 8-0 run to push the Phoenix Suns to overtime.
When you decide to watch a Hornets game this season, you're signing up for nail-biting games with exhilarating finishes. What else could you ask for?
Prove People Wrong: the Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward experience
When Charlotte worked a sign-and-trade to send franchise icon Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics for Rozier, criticism rained down on the front office. Rozier's three-year, $58 million deal was seen to be much too affluent for the at-the-time reserve guard, with big shoes to fill for the player he was swapped for. One-and-a-half seasons later, not only has Rozier exceeded the value of his contract, he's helped the Hornets' brass look brilliant for the decision.
Rozier is having a career year, averaging 20.7 points per game while shooting an efficient 47.6 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3, all of which are the best marks of his six seasons in the league. The most pleasant surprise - which was touched on above - is that Rozier has turned into one of the best closers in the NBA this season, stepping up to put Charlotte firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Terry Rozier in the clutch this season:- StatMuse (@statmuse) March 31, 2021
*The best mark by any player with 20+ attempts. pic.twitter.com/Dql4u3eja1
And then there's his new-but-familiar teammate in Hayward, who also landed with the Hornets in a sign-and-trade fashion with the Celtics. Hayward's four-year, $120 million contract was laughed at this offseason, but not many people are laughing now. The 31-year-old appears to be in the perfect situation to maximize his talents, producing his best season since his lone All-Star appearance as a member of the Utah Jazz back in 2016-17. Averaging nearly 20 points on uber-efficient splits with six boards and four assists per game, Hayward has been the perfect stabilizer for this youthful Hornets roster.
The team is overachieving and a lot of that is in part to the efforts of these two players who were not just counted out by the same former franchise, but NBA stakeholders as a whole.
Who doesn't love an underdog story? Or a comeback story? That's what the Hornets are utilizing to their advantage this season.
Frequent Flyer Miles
This reason is pretty simple and self-explanatory. Miles Bridges can flat out fly.
Ball to Bridges has become far and away the best alley-oop combination in the NBA, and Bridges is not-so-quietly putting together one of the best individual season in-game dunk highlight packages... ever.
Notice how the Hornets official YouTube account used "Volume 1" in that headline? That's because on a nightly basis, this high-riser is adding to his collection of rim-rattling finishes that will undoubtedly have more volumes to come.
And remember the mention in the intro about how it's a bonus if the team has a quality broadcast team? Charlotte's play-by-play announcer Eric Collins couldn't be a better fit for the product this team puts on the floor, turning each and every SportsCentre Top 10-worthy play into an And-1 mixtape with his electrifying calls.
The Ball-to-Bridges combination, or "AirBnB", as they've dubbed themselves, is just another plus to this complete viewing package.
And of course, the (currently on pause) LaMelo show
While everything else above plays a role, let's be honest, Ball is the reason the Hornets have become one of the most watchable products in the NBA.
The 19-year-old has had an aura about him since he was launching halfcourt shots in high school games, going viral all over the internet for doing things like dropping 92 points in a single game. From Chino Hills to Spire Academy to Lithuania to the NBL's Next Stars program, there weren't many people that held true and envisioned the youngest Ball brother making an immediate and significant impact in the NBA, but here we are.
Succeeding from the get-go, Ball has been remarkable as a rookie. It only took 20 games for him to become the full-time starter, establishing himself as future superstar and franchise cornerstone ever since. Ball averaged 19.5 points, 6.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting a quality 46.4 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from 3 in 21 starts prior to an unfortunate wrist injury that will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Leading his entire rookie class in total points, rebounds and assists by the All-Star break, Ball achieved something that has only been done by five all-time greats - Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Alvan Adams - all of whom went on to have Hall of Fame careers.
He is much more than just the highlight clips you see on Twitter. He's a floor general and a game-changer. He's the Rookie of the Year frontrunner.
Whatever "it" is, LaMelo Ball has "it."
And although a broken wrist will keep the No. 3 overall pick out for at least the next three weeks, there is still hope that he'll be able to return late in the season to help the Hornets continue their playoff push. As long Charlotte can stay in the hunt until then, we may get to see the league's newest sensation try and take his team on a bit of a postseason run.
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