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Charlotte Hornets take mental approach to making improvements
Adding Howard bolsters rotation potential
 
Published Monday, September 25, 2017 8:44 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

A successful Charlotte Hornets team has a “mentality of progress.”

Last season, they did not have it, particularly when it came to their second rotation. Coach Steve Clifford articulated his high expectations for their depth at Monday’s media day, and the ways he anticipates it benefiting them this season.

“If we have the year that I hope we have, there will be a lot of award winners,” he said.

Heading into their fifth season under Clifford (160-168), the Hornets failed to qualify for the playoffs last year after earning a berth the previous season. He envisions a team ranking in the NBA’s top five defensive teams and top 10 on offense in for a successful season.

Charlotte’s biggest offseason move came with the acquisition of center Dwight Howard from Atlanta, where he averaged 13.5 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game. Having previously worked with Howard in Orlando with a trip to the 2009 Finals, Clifford foresees the eight-time All-Star playing a significant role in Charlotte. Howard has a career average of 17.5 points per game and 12.7 rebounds over 954 games, making him one of six players to average a career double-double in points and rebounds.

“Not only does it give us someone I know is still an elite basket protector, an elite shot-blocker, people forget that he was one of the more efficient players in the league offensively,” Clifford said. “It puts Cody [Zeller] into a role that I think he can excel in.”

Accompanying Howard in the starting rotation are guards Kemba Walker and Nic Batum, who averaged 15.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 34 minutes last year. Walker earned his first All-Star accolade last season, but Clifford insists that his level of play has been that high for the last two seasons. Walker, who started all 79 appearances last year, averaged a career-high 23.2 points, 5.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 34.7 minutes per game.

“Kemba’s been an All-Star point guard now for two years. There are just so many good point guards in the East,” Clifford said.

During the offseason, Batum decided against playing for France in international competition. He took a lot of heat for it, but Clifford praised Batum’s fitness level entering his third Hornets season. Despite his disgruntled countrymen, Batum’s family encouraged him to put Charlotte first, and in many ways they have. He’s even gone as far as buying a home in the Queen City.

“I settled here,” Batum said. “I rented my first year, but I bought a house here…and a lot of diapers and toys.”

Charlotte opens preseason play in Boston on Oct. 2.

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