There arguably isn’t a franchise in the NBA that had a worse off-season than the Charlotte Hornets. Their No. 1 choice to become head coach, Kenny Atkinson, had the job for not even a week before deciding to change his mind and return to the Golden State Warriors as an assistant.
Steve Clifford, who coached the team for five seasons from 2013-2018, is taking over as head coach instead. Clifford could be facing an uphill battle as it looks like he will be without one of his best players in Miles Bridges.
Bridges broke out in a major way during the 2021-22 season, setting career-highs across the board and leading the team with 20.2 points per game. He put himself into a position to earn a lucrative contract, likely a max offer this summer. However, his NBA career is in jeopardy after he was charged with felony domestic violence and child abuse this offseason.
Charlotte has a huge void to fill in their lineup without Bridges. It won’t be easy, but they are going to have to figure out a way to replace his production. An NBA scout that spoke to NBA Analysis Network offered up a suggestion about how the Hornets can compensate for the loss of Bridges.
“When you take Bridges out from what the Hornets were doing last year, that’s a big void to fill. He was their leading scorer. Right away, Gordon Hayward becomes much more important. They need him to stay healthy. They can put the ball in his hands more. I think now is the ideal time to see what LaMelo can do with a bump in usage, too.”
Gordon Hayward is certainly talented enough to handle a bigger role in an offense. The question is, can his body hold up? He has played in only 93 games in two seasons with the Hornets and in his final season with the Boston Celtics suited up only 52 times.
LaMelo Ball was already the face of the franchise, earning his first All-Star nomination last season. The ball is in his hands a lot already as the point guard, but he will likely be asked to take on a larger scoring role without Bridges. It is something that he is certainly capable of. Ball has a good shooting stroke and just needs to work on improving his efficiency around the basket and in the paint.
Filling Bridges’ spot in the starting lineup will likely be Kelly Oubre Jr. or P.J. Washington. Both were also mentioned by the scout as players to keep an eye on as their roles are bound to increase.
“Kelly Oubre Jr. and P.J. Washington will have to step up. I think both of those guys are headed for sort of a make-or-break type of year. They’re each due for new deals soon. What better way to boost your value than to step up? If they can knock down open looks and defend, that’s a good start, but filling that void with Bridges gone will require more dynamic things from them.”
We have seen how Oubre can thrive playing power forward during his season with the Phoenix Suns. he averaged a career-high 18.7 points per game that season, knocking down 35.2 percent of his 3-point attempts. That was also a career-high in addition to his 6.4 rebounds per game.
Washington was the starting power forward last season before an injury kept him sidelined at the start of things. Bridges took full advantage of his opportunity, relegating Washington to a reserve role. He has a chance to earn himself quite a payday as his skill set fits well into the positionless basketball now being played.
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Washington can earn minutes at both power forward and center, providing the kind of versatility that teams love. He is a reliable 3-point shooter, making 37.5 percent of his attempts in his career and is also an improving defender. The chance to put up some stats in an expanded role couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kentucky product.
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