The Charlotte Hornets
are like Paulie Malignaggi.
I didn't want to bore you with obscure tennis analogies and comparisons (but I'm gonna sneak them in anyway), so I chose an obscure boxing analogy as the main comparison instead.
The Hornets are like former World Champion Boxer, Paulie Malignaggi, excluding Malignaggi's bullshit posturing and loudmouthing, which 80 percent of prominent boxers are also guilty of. Just like Malignaggi, who has a 33 and 6 record, the Hornets win even without any resemblance of offensive firepower or prowess. Out of his 33 wins, Malignaggi has only 7 knockouts. The Hornets' point differential is currently at -1.8. In this category, out of all the teams that are inside the Playoff bracket right now, the Hornets rank last. Even with these ugly stats and ugly games, the Hornets win, or win enough to contend for a playoff berth in the East.
Malignaggi wins by diffusing his opponent's offense, some non-threatening but round winning volume punching, and controlling the pace and rhythm of fights. This is the Hornets. On any given night, their defense is better than the other team's offense. They have one guy who is a proven shooter, Mo Williams. (P.J. Hairston and Troy Daniels could become NBA shooters. It is too early to tell. The latter had some moments last year, but both of them barely have any record of consistent NBA production.) They have a volume shooting, sometimes clutch point guard in the injured Kemba Walker, who is their second best offensive player. The Hornets use their defense and deliberate pace to control games, and grind down opponents. Malignaggi's defense is top flight, but it is not quite Floyd Mayweather, and when things go wrong for a very good but not great defensive fighter, things really go wrong. Out of his 6 losses, half of them were by knockout. Sometimes, a very good defensive athlete just runs into an unstoppable or more talented offensive one. You can see this in tennis when Roger Federer plays David Ferrer. The former has owned the latter because even with Ferrer's very good defense, Federer's offense just overpowers him (Ferrer is 0-16 against Federer). The Hornets can be blown out of games when their defense breaks down or when their will and legs are simply not there. They don't have the shooting, system, or offensive talent to win shootouts or tread water when their defense is mediocre.
Comparing teams to boxers, the Hornets are Malignaggi, and the Grizzlies are Floyd Mayweather. The Grizzlies have not won anything like the Money Man, but they are both defensive marvels with very good offenses that gets ignored because of the heavy focus on offense. With Floyd, I understand, because as he mentioned before, getting hit is no fun. While the Grizzlies have the talent to be a better offensive team, the Hornets are not as fortunate. There is no Marc Gasol or Mike Conley to make plays or create shots. The Hornets have to rely 100 percent on their defense every game. Like Malignaggi showed in boxing, and Gilles Simon and David Ferrer proved in tennis, you can be very successful in many sports by having a very good defense with a below average offensive repertoire. However, the chance that you become great is slim. Great defensive boxers and tennis players like Mayweather, or Rafael Nadal, are great because they have an offensive game they can turn to as well when needed against certain opponents. With the right match ups, the Grizzlies can win the Western Conference. Due to their lack of offensive talent, the Hornets are not at that level, but they are very good and a unique team that are appreciated by a number of crazy and idiosyncratic fans, including yours truly.
Hornets' Watchability Essay
It takes a real NBA fans, or a slightly cynical purist to appreciate the stubborn defensive styling of the Hornets. When they play another good defense/offensively challenged team, quarters can get ugly. (See the 18 to 9 fourth quarter in the most recent Wizards-Hornets game.) But I'm the type of dude who loves watching David Ferrer and Gilles Simon tennis matches (and I love when they play each other and take tennis back to 1989 just like how the Hornets are taking pro basketball back to the late 80s/early-mid 90s for those too young to remember). And I appreciate defensive boxers because boxing is an art. You're supposed to hit and not get hit in return. This is where the boxing-basketball comparisons fail a bit. The Hornets are not artful, but for me they are still an intriguing watch. I love Al Jefferson's throwback post-moves with spins, fakes, half hooks with no turns, and weird floaters. I am following Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's attempt at a long NBA career without being a decent offensive player. Marvin Williams' love for mid-range jumpers are perfect for this team. And when he returns from injury, Kemba Walker is like Damian Lillard with bad credit. I admire the Hornets' attitude of playing their style no matter how it may look and actually winning with it. I have weird tastes in my sports fandom, and I actually went to see the Hornets last year in person-- on purpose, and I'm thinking about going this year too.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
The bottom end of the Eastern Conference's playoff bracket is usually a crap shoot. And Steve Clifford always has the Hornets playing great defense to keep them in games and rack up wins if not style points. This will likely continue and the Hornets will be firmly in that 6 to 8 seed slots in the next 3 to 4 years. As MJ and the front office try to gain a strong foothold in their market that is more of a college basketball area, playoff births are important. Just like defensive boxers and tennis players, the Hornets can actually spring a first round surprise depending on the matchup. Unless they draw the team with LeBron James, I can see them winning a playoffs series in the next few years. However, GM Rich Cho will have to use all of his degrees to turn this team into conference finals contender. Superstar free agents don't clamor to play in Charlotte. Cho will have to build his team through the draft, second tier star free agents (sometimes you get Al Jefferson other times, you get Lance Stephenson), and under the radar role players. I root for every small market team not located in Oklahoma, and would love to see the Hornets make an NBA Finals or Conference Finals one day. But right now after all the draft busts and bad signings in the pre-Cho era, playoff births and maybe the Conference Semi-Finals is not bad, it's pretty good, pretty pretty, pretty good.