NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #12 Charlotte Hornets

Will the resurrected Charlotte Hornets and their Big Three compete in the Eastern Conference?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 12th-ranked Charlotte Hornets!

The Charlotte Hornets are back and sporting the old colors and uniforms the Queen City's been clamoring for. Charlotte made several steps in the right direction last season, finishing 43-39 and sneaking into the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. After an eventful offseason, coach Steve Clifford has a few shiny new toys to play with and the Hornets have the potential to contend for their first Eastern Conference title.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 43-39
Eastern/Western Conference Rank: 5th
NBA Rank: 12th
nERD: 53.8
Playoff Chances: 77.21%
Championship Chances: 3.20%

The algorithms have the Hornets repeating last year’s 43-39 record, however in a weak Eastern Conference, the Hornets are projected to finish fifth in the East. There are a lot of ifs with this team, but they have the potential to surpass that projection by several wins. Clifford turned Charlotte into a tough defensive team and if some of the new additions can mesh with the current nucleus, the Hornets could have an extremely successful return season.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Noah Vonleh (via draft)
P.J. Hairston (via draft)
Lance Stephenson (via free agency)
Marvin Williams (via free agency)
Brian Roberts (via free agency)

Notable Losses
Brendan Haywood (trade)
Josh McRoberts (free agency)
Luke Ridnour (free agency)

After the Jazz matched the colossal offer sheet the Hornets threw at Gordon Hayward, Charlotte went out and snagged Lance Stephenson for three years and $27 million. One of the bigger enigmas in the NBA, Stephenson brings the Hornets a two-way game changing type of player. Combine his talents with a much improved Kemba Walker and MVP candidate Al Jefferson, and you have Charlotte’s best Big Three impression since the Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning era. Noah Vonleh is a high-upside power forward who has the potential to be a versatile playmaker in the Hornets’ frontcourt. Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts provide the team with much needed depth after the team lost Luke Ridnour and one of the most underrated players in the NBA in Josh McRoberts to free agency.

Three Burning Questions

What should fans expect out of Lance Stephenson?
This is the question that will seemingly make or break the Hornets season. When Stephenson has his head right, he's one of the most dynamic players in the NBA, with the ability to dominate on both the offensive and defensive ends. The 6’5” guard led the NBA in triple-doubles last season and finished second in the voting for NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Then there are the times when his head is not right and Stephenson can be a serious detriment to his team. He was called for 14 technical fouls last season, and his antics in the Eastern Conference Finals with LeBron James were well documented and caused the focus for the Pacers to stray from winning games.

However, Charlotte gave Stephenson a lot of money this offseason, and the 24-year old has a chip on his shoulder with something to prove. Expect him to come out looking to reform his image, while benefitting from the presence of Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker on the court with him.

Will Al Jefferson be able to stay healthy and repeat last year’s performance?
Al Jefferson continues to fly under the radar as one of the top big men in the NBA due to his size and injury history. Jefferson was forced to miss nine games at the beginning of 2013-2014, and missed Game 4 of Charlotte’s playoff series with Miami. When he was healthy last season, Jefferson put up his best numbers since 2008-2009, putting up 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, garnering some MVP attention. Now he's all healed from the postseason foot injury and is looking to dominate the paint once again in 2014-2015.

Can this team win an Eastern Conference title this season?
After the new look Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, the comparatively weak Eastern Conference is an unproven landscape of young talent. The Hornets are in the mix with the likes of the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks as the top up-and-coming franchises in the East. Despite the influx of young talent and depth the Hornets have experienced this past season, Charlotte is still a season or two of development and experience away from truly competing for a title. There's no doubting that the future is bright for the new/old look Charlotte Hornets.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

SG, SF Lance Stephenson (Yahoo O-Rank: 77)
Expect Stephenson to greatly outperform the Yahoo O-Rank of 77 in his first season with Charlotte. He will now become a focal point of the offense instead of taking a back seat to Paul George, and expect his points per game to go up especially. A consistent provider of threes, steals, rebounds, and assists, Stephenson should continue as one of the most versatile fantasy options in the game.

PF, C Cody Zeller (Yahoo O-Rank: 192)
2014-2015 is a big season for Cody Zeller as far as finding his place in the Charlotte rotation. The 21-year-old looked lost for most of his rookie season in averaging just 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. However, the potential is still there and there won’t be much pressure on the young big man to produce with the added depth Marvin Williams brings to the frontcourt. The Hornets drafted Noah Vonleh with their first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft however, and the fellow Hoosier could steal minutes from Zeller if he progresses quickly.