Preseason is over and the Charlotte Hornets’ rotation appears set. Here’s how it should look

·6 min read

Kelly Oubre is soaking it in as one of the newcomers, analyzing the cast the Charlotte Hornets have assembled in his first season with the franchise.

Even through the constant juggling they’ve done in the preseason, caused by a variety of absences including his own, Oubre likes the team’s composition and believes they have the necessary makeup to do something notable.

With, of course, one caveat: that the injuries cease.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Oubre said Friday. “We definitely pray that we can have our full team healthy throughout the whole year. Obviously, it was preseason and we missed guys through COVID, we missed guys through injury and things like that. But once our full team gets healthy and everybody is pretty much locked in on the goal at hand, I feel as if we are the only people who can stop us. So it’s looking very promising.”

In a matter of days, the Hornets will begin the journey to determine if Oubre’s words are prophetic. With the preseason behind them, it appears coach James Borrego has nearly deciphered who’s in and who’s out of the rotation. Exact combinations and other factors still must be sorted through over the coming weeks, but there seems to be a rough outline of how it might shape up.

Here is a projected look at where their roster should stand, and the players who should be in the rotation when the action tips off against Indiana at Spectrum Center on Wednesday.

Locks

LaMelo Ball: As the floor general, it’s his responsibility to set the tempo and get the team into the correct sets. The reigning rookie of the year is also their main playmaker and primary ball-handler. With their offense flowing through him, much of their fate relies on his decision-making.

Terry Rozier: He signed a four-year, $97-million contract extension this summer. His scoring average per game has steadily increased since his arrival in Charlotte two years ago and his penchant for filling it up provides them with a serious threat on the perimeter. Oh, and he’s the team leader.

Gordon Hayward: He’s in the second year of a four-year, $120 million contract. Staying healthy and being available when needed is the primary thing for the 31-year-old vet. It’s been well-documented how different the Hornets are when he doesn’t play.

Miles Bridges: Heading into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, he stands to gain a lot financially when he signs his next deal. He’s the team’s longest-tenured player and has improved steadily each season, generating more of an all-around game. And he’s formed a terrific tandem with Ball.

Mason Plumlee: He was acquired via trade in August and is scheduled to earn $9.2 million in the second season of a three-year, $25 million contract. In his limited preseason action, he showed he’s not going to be asked to be a heavy scorer. Setting screens, catching lobs, rebounding and using his length to give them some much-needed rim protection are his main tasks.

Kelly Oubre: Free agent signee this past offseason. Versatility is a huge part of the 25-year-old’s game, and the Hornets want to use that in a variety of ways. Depth was an issue a season ago for them and he should play multiple positions. He is almost like an insurance policy they hope can step in and plug a void if need be.

PJ Washington: He could very well be the first man off the bench because of his ability to play power forward and center. When he’s nailing shots from 3-point range the Hornets are hard to beat. This is a huge season for him and the Hornets want — and need — tangible growth.

Ish Smith: Signed as a free agent in August, the veteran point guard is tabbed to come in behind Ball and serve as a floor general for their second unit. The Concord native is also a steady locker room presence.

Jalen McDaniels: When the coach says everything you’ve shown in the preseason suggests you have to play, it’s a pretty good indicator of where things stand. His $1.7 million salary for 2020-21 could turn out to be a bargain if his incremental ascension continues.

Should make the rotation

James Bouknight: With a natural ability to score, he could eventually be slotted as the backup to Rozier. His minutes are going to hinge on his defensive awareness and the game’s situation. That will dictate things for the rookie initially.

Cody Martin: If they are having trouble stopping a wing player offensively, it’s a good bet his name is called. Although he doesn’t possess a consistent jumper, he’s one of the team’s better defenders and the staff loves his grit and mindset.

Nick Richards: Someone has to be Plumlee’s positional backup and that is where he comes in depending on that night’s matchups. Continuing his progression from the Las Vegas Summer League two months ago, the second-year big man seems to be figuring things out much better and is elbowing his way into the discussion.

Outside looking in/Greensboro shuttle

Kai Jones: Bringing along the No. 19 selection in 2021 draft slowly is at the forefront of their game plan, and he’s unlikely to get any meaningful minutes at the season’s outset. Expect the Hornets to enhance his development be shuffling him up I-85 on occasion.

Vernon Carey Jr: The Hornets have been waiting for signs the 20-year-old can duplicate the 21-point, six-rebound performance in Brooklyn in April during his first career start. Save for a brief flash or two during summer league, it hasn’t happened yet and he finds himself on the exterior of the big man rotation.

JT Thor: He may end up as a second-round gem thanks to his length (6-9), wingspan and jump-shot range. But he remains raw and needs to gain more experience, which will be hard to do unless he spends part of the season with the Swarm.

Two-way contract

Arnoldas Kulboka: He has the potential to be a diamond in the rough if he can improve defensively. This will be the first full year in the United States for the Lithuanian, so besides learning how to best excel as a pro, he also has to get acclimated to living on a new continent.

Scottie Lewis: The 2021 second-round pick has some nice athleticism and good traits, but still needs more seasoning and playing time where he can learn and fight through his mistakes.

Cut

Wes Iwundu: An afterthought acquisition in the sign-and-trade sending Devonte’ Graham to New Orleans, he was always going to have a difficult time cracking into the Hornets’ wing position battles.

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