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Chicago Bulls Eastern Conference competition preview: Charlotte Hornets

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This month we're going to try and talk about the teams the Bulls will be competing against for Eastern Conference seeding. That's a generous criteria that'll include a lot of teams, because the East is still a big morass of mediocre. These are also meant to jibe with the SBNation NBA preview that is going on.

Charlotte Hornets

Last year: 33-49 (11th in Eastern Conference)
'15-'16 Vegas Over/Under: 32.5 wins

The Hornets (I still called them the Bobcats as recently as this week) were a popular pick to rise in the East standings last season, fueled by adding once-BaB-LoveInterest Lance Stephenson. Instead, Stephenson had one of the worst seasons in NBA history and the whole team more or less imploded.

Additions/Subtractions

In: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Frank Kaminsky, Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lamb

Out: Lance Stephenson, Bismack Biyombo, Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, Mo Williams

The Hornets tried some addition by subtraction in just getting Stephenson out. They also did some legitimate addition by packaging recent lottery pick Vonleh to get Nicolas Batum from Portland in his contract year. Kaminsky better be pretty good, given the hilariously-leaked (Danny Ainge is the best) package of picks from the Celtics they turned down on draft day. Biyombo has been cited elsewhere as a key loss but he couldn't be trusted at all on offense so I am not that bothered by it. Remember when Lamb was the key in the Harden trade? I wish the Bulls signed Jeremy Lin.

Depth Chart
POINT GUARD
SHOOTING GUARD
SMALL FORWARD
POWER FORWARD
CENTER
STARTER
Kemba Walker Nicolas Batum Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Cody Zeller
Al Jefferson
RESERVE
Jeremy Lin Jeremy Lamb
P.J. Hairston
Marvin Williams
Spencer Hawes
RESERVE
Brian Roberts Troy Daniels Tyler Hansbrough Frank Kaminsky III

This is kind of messy: they have a lot of frontcourt options but outside of Jefferson they're all question marks (Williams is low-key one of the worst FA signings in recent history). And the MKG-Batum pairing at the wing doesn't suggest a true shooting guard.

What to expect

At The Hive is just hoping to make the playoffs again. With the Thibsian Steve Clifford they should be solid defensively (even last year they were still top-10) but the outside shooting is still a major issue. As they note, Kemba Walker has only shot over 40% once in his career. Even Nic Batum saw his 3pt-% dip last season.

They also have injury concerns up and down the roster, with Jefferson all of a sudden in his 12th season, Walker having knee issues last year, and MKG already separated his shoulder in preseason.

[update: so that MKG injury was actually extremely serious, and he might not play this year. So disregard a lot of this!]


Can they compete with the Bulls?

I think Charlotte will bounce back after their Lance Stephenson debacle to get in the playoff picture, but won't get to that upper-middle tier with the Bulls. Their strength (such as it is) is frontcourt depth but it still pales in comparison to what the Bulls have. They may be able to grind out a few dull, defensive wins (remember, Clifford is very Thibs-like) but won't have the offensive weapons to sustain much success. Maybe they can make a midseason deal for a scorer with Williams' expiring contract, but they're probably out of the business of using future assets for the time being. It'll be an even more active offseason next summer, with not only Williams and Batum coming off the books but Jefferson as well.