The first game of the Hornets preseason will see a reunion with longtime star point guard Kemba Walker, who averaged 19.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game in his time as a Hornet, to go along with 48.5 total win shares and three NBA All-Star appearances. The point guard played eight seasons with the Hornets before signing with the Celtics this offseason. Walker played in 605 games with the Hornets and is the franchise’s all-time leader in minutes played, field goals made, 3-point field goals made, free throws made, points, offensive win shares and value over replacement player (VORP).
In the offseason, the Hornets let Walker walk, in favor of a youth movement behind players such as Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon and P.J. Washington. The team exchanged point guards with the Celtics, so this game marks a homecoming for Terry Rozier in TD Garden, a player who averaged 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in his time as a Celtic. Rozier’s time in Boston included a memorable playoff run in which “Scary Terry” averaged 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game on 53.8 true shooting percentage in the 2017-18 postseason.
The preseason will give the Hornets an opportunity to see what they have in their young players, and more importantly, see what kind of rotation will best utilize the young talent on board while giving the veterans ample time to prove themselves for another NBA contract. According to reports, head coach James Borrego told the veterans that the team will blend young talent and veterans, and is potentially looking to start Bridges at power forward over longtime starter Marvin Williams.
Borrego is also calling upon Bacon to take on a larger scoring load, and he will likely start as well. As for other positions, longtime starter Cody Zeller will likely continue to start, as he is a proven talent, while Nicolas Batum and Malik Monk compete for the starting shooting guard position, with Rozier starting at the point.
Washington, the 12th overall pick by the Hornets in the 2019 NBA Draft, will likely see his first playing time as a Charlotte Hornet, seeing as he was not able to join the team for Summer League due to injury. Washington will probably play off the bench since the starting forward positions are nearly set in stone barring injury.
Expect to see a bench rotation of Washington, Devonte’ Graham, Malik Monk, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Willy Hernangomez going into the year. Williams might begin the year in place of Washington in the rotation, who may see time alongside 2019 second-round pick and former Wolfpack guard Cody Martin in the G-League.
Because the Hornets have only 13 standard players with guaranteed money, the preseason will provide a good shot for other players on the roster attempting to make the team. These players include Joe Chealey, a two-way contract player for the Hornets last season who made a strong impression during Summer League, Kobi Simmons, Thomas Welsh, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins, and Cody Martin’s twin, Caleb Martin, who also played for the Wolfpack.
These players will also compete with Hill and Franks for the two-way contract spots, but the better bet is that these players try to make the team outright. Chealey has a good shot of making the team, as he has NBA experience and the Hornets liked him enough to bring him back, while Thomas Welsh also has a good shot, having played for the Denver Nuggets last season on a two-way deal.
Not included on the Hornets preseason team is forward Jalen McDaniels, selected with the 52nd overall pick out of San Diego State. McDaniels has yet to sign a contract with the team, and may never do so. If he does not, he might be inclined to sign a G-League contract that would give the team his signing rights next offseason, similar to Chuma Okeke from the Orlando Magic or Jaylen Hands from the Brooklyn Nets.
The Hornets will get to look at all of these facets during their other four games, versus the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum, at the Memphis Grizzlies and versus the Detroit Pistons.
While the ultimate goal of the preseason is to figure out rotations and give bottom-of-the-roster players time to shine, these games are all against teams that made some interesting shake-ups over the offseason.
The Heat added Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, who added Josh Richardson, a solid two-way wing with good upside, from the Heat and Al Horford, an all-star caliber two-way talent that will tremendously help the team.
The Memphis Grizzlies are likely entering another tank year, but added college phenom Ja Morant, thanks to some NBA Draft Lottery luck, and Brandon Clarke, who had arguably the second-best collegiate season in the nation statistically only to Zion Williamson, to a corps that already included the ever-impressive Jaren Jackson Jr.
Lastly, the Hornets finish up preseason in the Spectrum Center versus the Pistons, who have high expectations this year after adding Derrick Rose to a strong star tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Griffin is coming off of a great season in which he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 36.2% shooting from deep. The team also added intriguing young forward Sekou Doumbouya from France, who touted some impressive measurables and potential in the combine.
Fans can first catch the Hornets in action against the Celtics on October 6 at 6 p.m. The game can be streamed on the Hornets app and can be listened to on WFNZ (610 AM/102.5 FM).