Grading The 2021 Charlotte Hornets After The Season

After an ugly loss in the play-in game (which the only sort of counts as a playoff berth), the Hornets find themselves back in the lottery and in the offseason earlier than they would have hoped. With such a disappointing finish, including 6-14 in their final 20 games, it’s easy to label the whole thing as a disappointment. Is that the case, though? Let’s look at it. Compare to the midway results here.

Lamelo Ball: B+

Ball was the odds-on, far, and away favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Then he fractured his wrist, throwing his season in doubt. He was able to return, but in his absence fellow rookie Anthony Edwards turned up the heat. And to make matters worse for Ball, his return, likely rushed, was less than stellar.

His shooting numbers dropped and his turnovers rose most importantly. Some of the worst games of his young career came after he returned to the lineup. Three of the last ten games he played resulted in sub-50% shooting, including 10% in one and 26.7% in another. Half of those games saw Ball miss every three he took.

He averaged 3.0 turnovers, up from 2.8 in a much larger sample size. That made his Rookie of the Year lead, and his overall season, look much worse. Still, kudos for trying to fight back and make an impact, but it wasn’t the best statistical showing, hence the slight dip in grade from the midway point.

Terry Rozier: A-

Rozier led the Hornets in scoring and posted great shooting splits 45/39/82. Those are hurt by a poor finish to the season, and he was up above 42% from three for much of the season but was likely burnt out from carrying the load all season. Still, 20.4 as an undersized shooting guard is stellar and Rozier has far outplayed what was once an atrocious overpay.

Rozier shouldered the load in the absence of Graham, Ball, Hayward, and others. He proved his worth and depending on if the Hornets decide to extend him early, may have earned another payday. His clutch time stats were great, too, solidifying the clutch role the Hornets lost with Kemba Walker’s departure. Though largely in part to injuries and role, Rozier did actually outplay Walker this season. Maybe MJ isn’t so bad at this thing.

Gordon Hayward: B-

Hayward was living up to expectations (mostly) before going down with an injury. His points per game dipped a hair below 20 before ultimately being lost for the year to injury. This may have been due to a lingering injury or just reverting to the mean as the previous 24 point pace was unsustainable. Him not being able to get on the court for the last 25 or so games hurts and puts a cloud over what was a bright start to the season.

If he can’t stay on the court, that $30 million price tag looks bigger and bigger. For now, we’ll assume he won’t miss large chunks of time in the future, though.

PJ Washington: B

12.9/6.5/2.5 on 45/38/75 is pretty solid for the fourth option on offense. Plus, as an undersized four who often played the five, Washington had his work cut out for him. Washington posted the fourth-highest offensive rating among all Hornets, and the second-highest defensive rebounding percentage, and the third-best rebounding percentage overall.

He was one of only seven Hornets to post a positive net rating, so overall he was good. PJ’s absence hurt them as they lost a starting power forward and a backup center all in one. He was most consistent over the season, so his grade remains the same.

Cody Zeller: B

Zeller sees a slight uptick in grade despite being injured. He’s not the answer to the Hornets’ eternal need for a big man, but he’s certainly not the problem. Zeller is more suited to be a backup, and maybe a bigger power forward than a center, but nonetheless. Zeller was the best center the Hornets had all year and he performed rather admirable, even though he missed chunks of the season with an injury. His 2.0 net rating was second on the team, making you wonder where they’d be if he hadn’t missed 17 games.

Remarkably, Zeller had the highest offensive rating of all Hornets and the highest rebound percentage overall and led in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Zeller was good for the Hornets, he just probably needs to be the backup.

Devonte Graham: C+

Graham, going into free agency, put up a little bit of a clunker this year. Coming off his ascension the year prior, Graham took a bit of a step back. His shooting numbers dipped, though 37.5 % from three and 84.2% from the line is pretty good. Graham edged out Zeller with a 2.1 net rating, topping the list for Charlotte. His 3.51 assist to turnover ratio was far and away from the best on the team and top-ten in the entire league.

His turnover ratio was the lowest on the team. And 14 points and six assists off the bench is definitely a good thing. Charlotte finds itself at an interesting crossroads with Graham and Monk entering restricted free agency. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with them.

Malik Monk: B+

Speaking of Monk, his shooting numbers dipped just a little after returning from the long ankle injury, and he lacked a little bit of explosion, probably due to lingering pain in the ankle. Nevertheless, Monk finally played up to expectations and solidified himself as the Hornets’ sixth man.

Despite a little bit of a dip, Monk shot 40% from three, second on the team to Hayward, who may have dipped if he had played. Either way, Monk was the sharpshooter he was supposed to be coming out of college. Nearly 12 points off the bench at a 43/40/82 clip is exactly what the Hornets have been needing out of Monk. As I said, Monk is a free agent, and who knows what his future is. He picked the right time to show out, though.

Miles Bridges: A

Bridges’ insertion into the starting lineup after Hayward’s injury proved what a lot of people already thought: Bridges is good. He was a part of the elusive 50/40/86 club (only true stars end up here). He was the only Hornet to actually show up for the play-in game, posting 23 points on 10/16 shooting and eight rebounds. His 110.4 offensive rating was fourth and his 59.6% effective field goal percentage was the best among Hornets.

Since replacing Hayward in the lineup, Bridges averaged 20.1 points with 6.7 rebounds. He also averaged nearly a block per game and .72 steals. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what the lineup looks like. The Hornets need to start Bridges and a small lineup of Ball, Rozier, Hayward, Bridges, and Washington isn’t perfectly ideal. Regardless, Bridges proved he’s a starter- and a good one, too.

James Borrego: C+

The second half of the season was not kind to Borrego. Losing starters left and right was a really bad break but the team still dropped into a free fall from once holding 4th to 10th and blown out of the play-in game. The team was short-handed for the majority of the second half, including losing Ball, Hayward, Washington, Graham, Bridges, and Monk for extended periods of time.

He managed that about as well as you can expect for a team with little to no star power missing all of its stars. You have to give credit to Borrego for doing the best he could and when the team was fully healthy, they were fourth and leaders in a lot of clutch time metrics and records. The second half was bad, but Borrego overall did a pretty solid job. Next year, with health and an additional draft pick, should see the Hornets really compete- like they were before the injury epidemic.