Through two preseason games, All-Star guard Kemba Walker is averaging 12 points, two assists and hitting nearly two-thirds of his 3-point shots.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, Walker is doing that — and will be doing any regular season and playoff production — in a Boston Celtics uniform.
The Hornets were carved up by free agency, losing both Walker and Jeremy Lamb from last season’s 39-43 team. In addition to Walker and Lamb, who combined for 40.9 points per game, the Hornets lost center Frank Kaminsky (8.6) and saw guard Tony Parker (9.5) retire.
In their place are a crew of promising but unproven young players, hardly the recipe to get a team that competed for a playoff spot until the final few games of last season over the hump and into the postseason.
Instead, it looks like a long season in Charlotte as the Hornets begin to rebuild the core of their team for years to come.
The focal point for the Hornets this year will likely be Terry Rozier. The guard out of Louisville was signed shortly after Walker left.
Rozier spent his first four years in the league with Boston. Last season, his production took a step backward. His scoring fell from 11.3 points per game to 9.0, and his shooting and 3-point accuracy both fell.
He’ll get the chance to put up some shots this year as one of the primary scoring options the team will have. Through three preseason games, he leads the team with 34 shots taken.
Rozier also leads with 12 assists, however, and involving some of the promising young wings and big men will be one of his priorities this season.
PJ Washington, the team’s first-round pick out of Kentucky in the spring, has shown promise. The rookie power forward is leading the team with 13 points per game in the preseason and has hit 70% of his shots. He’s also tied for the team lead in threes made and is second in rebounding.
Unlike recent rookies, he’ll have a chance to play immediately instead of cutting his teeth in the G-League. “We need him to play,” coach James Borrego said at media day. “This is a big year for PJ, for our program. He’s going to play minutes. I’d love to have him here with us all season, playing significant minutes.”
Miles Bridges, last year’s first-rounder out of Michigan State, also looks ready to take a step up. The small forward averaged 7.5 points and 4.0 rebounds last year in 21.2 minutes per game. He’s only scoring 9.7 points per game in preseason, but he’s averaging nearly eight rebounds. He’s only hitting one-third of his preseason shots, which will need to improve substantially.
Bridges is also expected to be a key player in the team’s defensive effort this season.
The team has also been developing players with the G-League Greensboro Swarm, and the Hornets will lean on them more heavily this year.
Dwayne Bacon, a second-round shooting guard who has split the last two seasons between Charlotte and the G-League, appears ready to step into a regular role on the big club. Ready or not, the minutes are going to be there.
Bacon is tied with Rozier for second-most points in the preseason and has totaled 11 rebounds in three games. He’s only hit one of 10 3-pointers in the early going, however.
Last year’s second-rounder, Kansas product and Raleigh native Devonte Graham, also looks ready to make the trip down 85 from Greensboro for a full-time gig in Charlotte. Graham is averaging 10 points per game in the preseason and is second to Rozier in assists. Sixteen of his 26 shots taken have been from three, so he’ll be able to step right in and spell Rozier during games.
Undrafted rookie free agent Caleb Martin has also made the most of his preseason looks. He’s scored 34 points with 12 rebounds in the exhibition games and has gotten more minutes than twin brother Cody, who was a second-round draft pick.
The team also has some veteran talent to fill out the rotation. Big man Cody Zeller (10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds last year) is back, and former Tar Heel Marvin Williams (10.1 points) re-signed with the team to show he still has a little left in the tank.
Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Malik Monk are all recognizable names who have missed time during the preseason but are still expected to play key roles.
Monk, in particular, has bulked up. The first-round pick two years ago added 20 pounds, and Borrego is expecting him to turn up the heat defensively.