The Charlotte Hornets, who have a bolstered roster worthy of high expectations this upcoming season, opened the 2021-22 preseason Monday night with a 113-97 victory over Oklahoma City. This was the first of four preseason games for the Hornets, who return to action Thursday, Oct. 7, against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Charlotte’s top scorer Monday was rookie James Bouknight, who scored 20 points and also had four rebounds and three steals; the 6-foot-5 guard was 7-of-12 shooting in 21 minutes. Bouknight, who was selected by the Hornets with the No. 11 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, should be one of the team’s top scoring options off the bench this upcoming season.
Second-year point guard LaMelo Ball also played well, scoring 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting while racking up six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year is expected to lead Charlotte to its first playoff series since 2016.
New addition Mason Plumlee started at center and didn’t attempt a shot, but he contributed in other ways, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing our four assists. While Plumlee isn’t a low-post scorer, his ability to handle to ball at 6-foot-11, as well as his above-average passing, should help Charlotte find open looks for its more offensively-gifted players this upcoming season.
As it stands, Plumlee is expected to start at center with Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges filling out the rest of the lineup. P.J. Washington is expected to be the first man off the bench, while Bouknight, Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie Kai Jones will also be in the rotation.
Charlotte opens the regular season on Oct. 20 at home against the Indiana Pacers. Last season, Indiana knocked the Hornets out of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
According to Draftkings, the Hornets win total is currently projected to be 38.5 this upcoming season. The last time the Hornets won more than 38 games in a season was 2018-19, when they went 39-43 overall and finished two games behind the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, the Eastern Conference didn’t really get any weaker over the offseason. Charlotte will still have to deal with title contenders Milwaukee and Brooklyn, as well as fellow Southeast Division rivals Miami and Atlanta. But Charlotte improved its depth in the offseason, and if Ball makes a leap from his rookie season, it is reasonable to expect to see the Hornets in the playoffs this year.