Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout the 2017 NBA offseason and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds.
By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Tuesday, September 26, 12:37 p.m.
Bright and early on Tuesday morning, the Charlotte Hornets officially opened their fifth training camp under Head Coach Steve Clifford, looking to return to the playoffs for the third time under his tenure. Plenty of new faces are set to dawn the purple and teal for the first time this season and there are a handful of storylines to keep an eye on as the team begins its preparations for the 2017-18 NBA campaign.
Howard and Clifford Back Together – Undoubtedly the team’s signature offseason acquisition, the Hornets acquired eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard from the Atlanta Hawks in June. A three-time recipient of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, Howard brings the Hornets a badly-needed rebounding and rim protection skillset. His arrival in Charlotte also means reuniting with Steve Clifford, who he played under when the latter was an assistant for the Orlando Magic (2007-12) and Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13).
Clifford has always spoken extremely highly of Howard, constantly reinforcing his status as an elite NBA defender and one of the smartest players he’s ever been around. Howard will likely start at center, which will move incumbent first-string center Cody Zeller to the bench. Clifford has mentioned there will likely be situations where the two big men could play together depending on the opposing team’s matchups. All early indications point to Howard being tremendously excited to be in Charlotte and back with Clifford.
Kemba Walker’s Encore – In his sixth NBA season, Walker erupted for career highs in scoring (23.2 points), field-goal percentage (44.4 percent), three-point percentage (39.9 percent) and three-point field goals made (240) on his way to his first All-Star appearance. A second-straight selection for the NBA’s midseason showcase event hasn’t happened to a Charlotte player since Glen Rice made three-consecutive trips from 1996-98.
Walker is coming off a third-straight offseason knee surgery, although he has been cleared to practice since around the start of August as opposed to last year when he didn’t receive clearance until a few days into training camp. All in all, it’s an encouraging sign for the Hornets point guard based on the monstrous season he was still able to produce last season.
Batum’s Low-Key Summer – Swingman Nicolas Batum chose not to play for the French National Team at this summer’s FIBA European Championships, a decision that caused some backlash in his home country at the time. Instead, he spent the offseason working on his game individually and with his family. If anything, it was a much-needed mental break for the 28-year-old Frenchman after committing each of his last nine offseasons to the National Team.
Despite putting up career highs in scoring (15.1 points), assists (5.9) and free throws made (243) last season, Batum struggled with his shooting efficiency (FG% – 40.3 percent, 3P% – 33.3 percent). Towards the end of last season, he adamantly planned on dedicating himself to the Charlotte franchise over the summer in order to help the team get back to the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see what improvements in his game are showcased early on in training camp and the preseason.
Guard Rotation – The integration of newcomers Michael Carter-Williams, rookie Malik Monk and Julyan Stone into the team’s guard rotation will be another situation to monitor during training camp and the preseason. All these arriving players will be learning a new system after incumbent guards Ramon Sessions (New York Knicks), Brian Roberts (Olympiacos/Greece), Briante Weber (Los Angeles Lakers) and Marco Belinelli (Atlanta Hawks) moved on to different organizations over the summer.
Backcourt depth was one of Charlotte’s biggest weaknesses last season as the team struggled significantly with Kemba Walker off the court. The quicker Carter-Williams, Monk and Stone can become familiar with their new teammates, coaches and style of play, the better positioned the Hornets should be at the start of the regular season.
Final Spots Up for Grabs – As it stands now, the Hornets have 13 players signed to guaranteed deals and can take on two more before reaching the NBA’s maximum allotment. Treveon Graham (G/F) and rookies T.J. Henderson (G, N.C. State), Isaiah Hicks (F, North Carolina), Luke Petrasek (F, Columbia) and T.J. Williams (G, Northeastern) will all be vying for the final two roster spots.
Marcus Paige (G, North Carolina) and Mangok Mathiang (F/C, Louisville) have already both signed two-way contracts with the Hornets organization. Although they are technically eligible to make the 15-man roster if they impress enough in training camp, it would be more likely financially they’d be brought on later in the season once they reached the two-way contract’s 45-day limit at the NBA level.
One would think Graham has already positioned himself nicely for one of those final two spots. The VCU product appeared in 27 games for Charlotte last season and led the team in scoring (17.7 points) and rebounding (8.3) at the 2017 Orlando Pro Summer League.