The 2023-24 NBA season is upon us. A pair of marquee matchups are happening tonight while most of the rest of the league (including the Charlotte Hornets) tip off their seasons on Wednesday. Every team is 0-0, and varying degrees of hope spring eternal for most teams.
Depending on who you ask, the Hornets might be one of the teams with the least amount of hope. Various sports books have the Hornets’ regular season win total at either 30.5 or 31.5. It seems absurdly low given that the Hornets won 27 games last season with essentially a skeleton crew on most nights. Barring a second consecutive season of catastrophic injury luck, the Hornets roster is vastly better than most of the groups that led to a 27 win season.
For better or worse, Miles Bridges is back. The morality and ethics of the decision to bring him back are questionable, but his on court ability will undoubtedly improve the roster. He was playing at a borderline all star level last we saw him in a Hornets uniform. The Hornets also added Brandon Miller in the draft. He’ll take some time to get up to speed and probably won’t be a huge difference maker early on, but he should provide some outside shooting pop and all around good basketball play before long. The Hornets are well stocked on the wings.
LaMelo Ball is healthy and wearing ankle braces for the first time in his life. He missed time with four separate ankle injuries last season. Hopefully the ankle braces and some better luck will remedy that problem. When he plays, Ball makes the Hornets offense look so much easier, even when he’s not making highlights.
With those additions alone, the Hornets should be significantly better than what they were last year. It’s a similar roster to the group that won 43 games two seasons ago, only with a more mature LaMelo Ball and an actual defensive presence at center in Mark Williams.
The Hawks, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Magic, and Raptors are the next tier of teams projected to finish ahead of the Hornets. All of them have win totals in the 36 to 42 range. At worst, the Hornets should be competing with those teams for a play-in spot, and I know how much we all love being in that position. But at their best, the Hornets can compete with the Knicks and maybe even the discombobulated 76ers for that sixth seed and guaranteed playoff spot. And for all we know, even the Heat might decide to not win very many regular season games again.
The Hornets are in a good spot to fly under the radar and win more games than the NBA world expects. They have plenty of bulletin board material and plenty of evidence that no one believes in them. They should be able to sneak up on teams and find themselves in the playoff hunt at season’s end. If they aren’t there, then the new ownership group has some decisions to make this offseason in regards to the coaching staff and front office, and those decisions shouldn’t be difficult ones.