Charlotte Hornets season preview
This preview originally appeared in our 2023-24 VSiN NBA Betting Guide, which was released on Thursday, October 5. To become a VSiN Pro subscriber and get all of our NBA coverage throughout the season, click here.
Hornets Betting Odds
NBA Finals: +50000
Win Total: 31.5
Playoffs: Yes (+475)
It isn’t quite a free agency addition for the Hornets, but Miles Bridges will be back after he serves the final 10 games of his suspension. Bridges is two years removed from a career year, which saw him average 20.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game on 49.1%/33.1%/80.2% shooting splits. And Bridges did all of that while providing Charlotte with a good bit of defensive versatility. And if you’re trying to figure out the reason the Hornets went from a Play-In team in 2021-22 to a lottery team in 2022-23, you might as well start with Bridges’ absence.
With Bridges back in the mix, playing alongside LaMelo Ball and P.J. Washington, this is a team that we need to take more seriously in 2023-24. Ball is one of the game’s better offensive engines, as he averaged 23.3 points, 8.4 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game in 36 games last season. Ball has also become a much better three-point shooter than he was as a rookie, as he shot 38.9% in his second year and then 37.6% in his third year (on 10.6 attempts per game). Ball just needs to figure out a way to lock in defensively, at least a little. His effort on that end of the floor is flat-out embarrassing. As for Washington, Charlotte brought him back on a steal of a contract, inking him to a three-year, $46.5 million deal. Washington averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game last season, and he’s a guy that can do a lot of things at the power forward spot.
If all three of those players stay healthy, it isn’t outrageous to think that Charlotte can exceed expectations by quite a bit. Second-year center Mark Williams should become a reliable rim-running big man in short order, making him a perfect pick-and-roll partner for Ball. And veterans Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward are two very reliable players, capable of playing complementary roles or shouldering the load when other key players are out.
The Hornets also had the second pick in the draft last year, when the front office opted to select Alabama wing Brandon Miller. Many people questioned the decision to pass on Scoot Henderson, but there’s no denying that Miller is the better immediate fit. With Ball already on the roster, Henderson wouldn’t have been able to play his natural position right away. But Miller can play alongside most of Charlotte’s key pieces. Last year, Miller averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for the Alabama Crimson Tide, and he shot 38.4% from three on 7.5 attempts per game. His jumper should translate immediately and that’ll be big for the Hornets, as there is always good looks to go around in a Ball-led offense. But Miller also has a lot of wiggle to him, despite standing at a lanky 6-foot-9. He grew up idolizing Paul George and you can see a lot of the eight-time All-Star in Miller if you squint a little.
If Miller can flush a poor Summer League performance down the drain and give Charlotte a good 25-30 minutes per game, there isn’t much stopping the Hornets from getting back into the Play-In mix. I even think 27th overall pick Nick Smith Jr. can give Charlotte a little juice off the bench as a rookie. Smith never quite figured things out with the Arkansas Razorbacks last season, but he was the third-ranked player in the ESPN 100 in the 2022 class. He oozes talent as both a scorer and a playmaker. I’m also pretty high on what he’ll be able to accomplish defensively. And Smith was one of the few standouts on Charlotte’s Summer League team, so perhaps his game is a better fit for the NBA than it was for college. It has happened before.
All in all, there’s more talent on this roster than meets the eye. And Charlotte was eighth in the league in offensive rating two years ago, when Ball and Bridges were both healthy. Last year, the Hornets were dead last in the NBA in offensive rating. I’m counting on a lot of positive regression, and I can see this being a top-15 offense in 2023-24. And with an old-school head coach like Steve Clifford at the helm, you can probably count on the Hornets being about average defensively. They were 20th in the NBA in defense two years ago and fell to 22nd last year. But a full season with Bridges, along with some improvements from Williams in Year 2, should make things better. Even Miller is a solid defender on the wing, where he knows how to use his length to his advantage and is smart within the team concept.
Win Total Analysis
Betting the Over on the Hornets is a bet on Ball staying healthy, which is a risky proposition. The talented guard played just 51 games as a rookie, bounced back to play 75 games in his second year and then played just 36 games in 2022-23. But his injury last year was extremely fluky, so I don’t want to make the mistake of labeling him injury prone. And even if he plays something like 65 games this season, it’s hard to see Charlotte not winning at least 32 games — especially with Rozier and Smith being good options to fill in for him off the bench. With that in mind, I’d suggest playing the Over on this.
It might be hard to just ignore what we saw out of a miserable Charlotte team last year, but this was one of the more exciting up-and-coming teams in basketball two years ago. Since then, the Hornets have only added more seasoning and more talent. And I believe that the new crop of talent fits the modern NBA style extremely well. So, I’m expecting Charlotte to bounce back and start showing some promise again.
Win Total Recommendation: OVER 31.5