The Charlotte Hornets surprised some around the NBA by making it to the league’s play-in tournament.
Although Charlotte lost in its playoff attempt, the 2020-2021 season still provided plenty of excitement for Hornets faithful.
The 2021-2022 season stands as another opportunity for Charlotte’s young core to take a step forward and press for the postseason.
In years past, the NBA has seen young teams make an unexpected leap to the playoffs and perform well.
Last season, the Atlanta Hawks, Southeast Division rivals of the Hornets, surprised many around the league by making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Although that would be a lofty expectation for the Hornets, the team remains talented and hopeful for next season.
3. Young Core Takes A Step Forward
The Charlotte Hornets and coach James Borrego are finalizing a multi-year contract extension, sources tell ESPN. Borrego has overseen significant development of a young roster and reached 2021 Play-In despite several major injuries. Borrego had one year left on deal.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 7, 2021
The Hornets secured a level of consistency for their young core by retaining the services of their young head coach James Borrego.
Borrego helped guided Charlotte to the play-in tournament despite a number of significant injuries throughout the season.
This stability can only help reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball improve on his play.
The Hornets elected to build their backcourt around Ball after agreeing to trade former starter Devonte’ Graham to the New Orleans Pelicans for a lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick.
This confidence in Ball and Rozier makes sense, considering their playmaking abilities.
The Hornets added another talented guard to their young core in the 2021 NBA Draft when they selected James Bouknight with the No. 11 overall selection.
A successful 2021-22 campaign sees Ball, Bridges, and Bouknight, the Hornets’ killer Bs, all make significant strides.
2. Roster Additions Will Help
The Hornets brought in Gordon Hayward last season, but the All-Star veteran’s contributions were limited due to injury.
This offseason, Charlotte welcomed Bouknight in the draft, as well as talented big man Kai Jones, who they traded up to select in the first round.
Bouknight provides another perimeter scorer for Borrego.
He averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game as a sophomore year last season at UConn.
Jones, meanwhile, stands as another athletic freak for the franchise and should produce off the bench.
Prior to free agency, Charlotte fortified their frontcourt with the acquisition of Mason Plumlee from the Detroit Pistons.
He’s a solid lob threat and will be an upgrade over Cody Zeller.
The Hornets also signed swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. in free agency.
Although he has bounced around the league of late, Oubre provides Charlotte with a capable wing complement and some much-needed insurance should Hayward get injured again.
James Bouknight said nah 🚫✌️ pic.twitter.com/tNZDONvX7k
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 8, 2021
1. Playoff Push
The Hornets made it to the play-in tournament despite lineup inconsistencies due to injuries.
Although their bid for a postseason berth ultimately came up short, Charlotte can use that experience to ready themselves for a legitimate playoff push in 2022.
What helps the Hornets in this regard is the wide-open nature of the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte can’t claim to be among the conference’s elite: the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks.
But beyond those two, much of the East is up for grabs.
In the next tier below the Nets and Bucks stand teams like the Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia 76ers.
Each of those squads, though, have legitimate questions heading into next season.
Those questions cloud predictions and keep the door slightly ajar for Charlotte.
Beyond those teams, the Hornets might find themselves jostling for position with the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
With the further development of their young core under Borrego, Charlotte should fight for a top-six seed and avoid the play-in tournament altogether.