A dark horse team can best be described as an organization or franchise that is completely overlooked by the rest of the league and/or fans, but then finds a way to put it all together and shocks the world. Today we’re going to focus on shocking the Eastern Conference, leaving the world for another time. Allow me to convince you why the Charlotte Hornets will become one of the toughest Eastern Conference teams next season.
Roster: The Hornets current predicted starting lineup consists of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, and Dwight Howard. Walker, who is coming off of his first all-star appearance, is a proven star in this league and is considered one of the best players at his position. There is no doubt heading into next season that Walker will be the leader of this team for years to come.
Nicolas Batum, although was a bit streaky last season, is still a solid supporting guard who will average over twelve points per game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has struggled mightily with his offensive game, but is an elite defender who night after night can contain the opposing teams best player. Marvin Williams is by far the weakest link of this lineup, but can contribute on some nights and could take a big step in his progression next season. Dwight Howard was once one of the best players in the league, but has definitely lost a step and is not the player he was once was. However, he is still a great rebounder and rim protector who could contribute to a championship team.
Now onto the bench unit. For Charlotte, I imagine Malik Monk will be their featured bench piece, as they took him with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Monk was one of the best scorers in college basketball last season, and he has potential to become the best shooter on this team. During his short, one-year career at Kentucky, Monk averaged 19.8 points per game, shot 45% from the field, and nearly 40% from behind the arc. If Monk develops properly and allows Kemba Walker to take him under his wing, he will one day be a featured guard in this league. As for other Hornet bench players, Charlotte will feature Frank Kaminsky, a young but talented forward, as well as Jeremy Lamb, who is an inconsistent shooter, but will look to change that next year.
Season Prediction: With the roster I described above, and Steve Clifford leading the team, Charlotte should be playoff bound. Last year the Hornets ended with a disappointing record of 36-46, which was only good enough for the Eastern Conference 11 seed. Clearly not where the team wants to be, but I expect to see a big improvement in the win column.
Behind another all-star year by Kemba Walker, along with a redemption season for Dwight Howard, I see the Charlotte Hornets winning anywhere between 42-48 games. Many things would need to fall in place for this to happen. Beyond Walker and Howard, Nicolas Batum needs to be in the conversation for the Most Improved Player, and Malik Monk will hopefully exceed his season expectations. My final prediction for the Charlotte Hornets season is a record of 44-38, earning them the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. From there I see them putting up a fight in the first round, and if they do indeed make it out, most likely falling in the conference semis. However, that is still a solid season, and one to be proud of for a team that most have falling out of the playoff picture.