Formerly known as the Charlotte Bobcats, the Hornets made huge strides this past season, making the playoffs for the first time since their 2009 campaign where they got swept by Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. This is the first time since Michael Jordan has owned the team where Charlotte looks to be a force in the Eastern Conference.
When the Hornets inked Lance Stephenson to a 3-year $27-million contract this offseason, we learned they are willing and ready to take the next step as a franchise. Stephenson is not only going to be the biggest X-factor for Charlotte, but is one of the biggest X-factors in all of the NBA.
Stephenson is a do-it-all type of player. His elite athleticism makes it easy for him to drive to the basket. He plays intense defense and is always looking to jump in front of poorly thrown passes. But what is going to make him most valuable for Charlotte will be his 3-point shooting ability. While shooting 35% from beyond the arc last season I wouldn’t call Stephenson an elite 3-point shooter, but he is ever improving and has made some big shots for Indiana. He also loves shooting from the right corner and is very effective from that spot.
Outside of their inconsistent shooting guard Gary Neal, Charlotte doesn’t have anyone returning this season who has shot above 35% from 3-point land. If Stephenson continues to improve his stroke, Charlotte’s stock will skyrocket.
Many teams have been scared away from Stephenson after his immature antics this past season, especially after the Conference Finals against Miami. Sometimes he has a tendency of trying to do too much and ends up making a bone-headed play.
On the other hand, Stephenson was probably the biggest snub from making the All-Star team last year. He showed moments of absolute basketball domination. He incorporates his own version of a Jordan-esque pump fake that disorientates defenders and allows him to get to the rim with ease.
Stephenson loves getting inside his opponent’s head and is actually pretty good at it. His trash talk is a game changer and often gets overlooked as a skill. When a player has the ability to make his opponent over think, even if it’s just for a split second, they absolutely have an advantage.
Pairing Stephenson with the likes of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seems like a stellar lineup. This is a team now that will punch you in your lip and challenge you to swing back. We should also not forget about Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh, Charlotte’s two top 10 picks of the past two years. These guys have a lot of talent and look for them to grow as a unit together.
It seemed like Indiana wasn’t the right atmosphere for Stephenson near the end of the year. There was some obvious tension between Lance and the Pacers’ organization. Hence no one was surprised to see him leave.
If Lance Stephenson goes out and plays ball to his full potential, the Charlotte Hornets could be a top four team in the East this year.