3 reasons the Hornets are legitimate playoff contenders after a 3-1 start

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The Charlotte Hornets are off to a solid 3-1 start this season. They were on the verge of a 4-0 record, but the Boston Celtics managed to grab the overtime victory on Monday. Nonetheless, the first four games gave us some interesting points about the Hornets that need to be discussed. Quite simply because they are the main reasons why the team can be considered as legitimate contenders this season.

Miles Bridges is a completely different player

In the first four games of the 2021-22 NBA season, Bridges is averaging 25.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. This is a major improvement from his 12.7 point and 6.0 board averages last year. Obviously there are a ton of games left to play and Bridges’ averages could normalize as the season progresses. However, in the first few games fans saw a more composed and patient version of him, at least on the offensive side of the pitch.

Prior to this year, Bridges was considered a hyper-athletic forward capable of leaping off the roof and kicking the ball with authority. He also had a three-point shot in the bag which he doesn’t hesitate to show. This season, all of those tools are still in his arsenal, but more polished than ever. It is also now more reliable in the mid-range. He won’t hesitate to stop around the free throw line or even work at the post.

Combine Bridges’ individual progress with his developing chemistry with the very confident LaMelo Ball, then you have a player who has stepped up a notch. Don’t be surprised if Bridges enters the Most Improved Player conversation or even an All-Star nod.

Reliable bench led by Ish Smith

When Smith was acquired during the offseason, he was to become that veteran locker room presence as well as a mentor for LaMelo. As such, analysts believed the Hornets needed to strengthen their bench further. LaMelo needed a stronger backup. But in the first four games so far, Smith has been a fantastic player. He is averaging 10.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

The man is 33 years old but remains one of the fastest and most devious guards. Coach James Borrego trusted Smith so much that he was inserted into the dying minutes of their 111-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

Besides Smith, Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels and PJ Washington played significant minutes for Borrego. Kelly Oubre Jr., who started in place of injured Terry Rozier, was also important to them. In the event that Rozier returns and Oubre is relegated to the bench, we should expect the latter to still have a good impact.

The making of games by Mason Plumlee

Like Smith, when the Hornets acquired Plumlee as a center, not everyone was too excited. It’s not because Plumlee is a terrible player, but some felt the team needed a center of the modern species – someone who is more mobile and has a touch of depth. Plumlee does not exactly match these descriptions. He’s the guy who likes to get dirty in the paint. He likes to get physical, crush the boards and slam the ball.

But in their first four games so far, Plumlee’s game has stood out. He’s averaged 2.7 assists so far, which is above average for a center. Statistics reveal that overtaking is indeed one of its hidden strengths. Last season he actually finished fifth in assists among centers. In the previous season, he had finished seventh. Plumlee’s passing numbers aren’t that high, but it certainly helps when you have another player who has this skill inherent.

This helps the Hornets’ smooth ball movement, which is a good reason for their good start. Plumlee, after receiving one of LaMelo’s many nifty passes, won’t always be in a rush to score. More often than not, he will always look for the best possible option. If it requires passing the boulder, then it will.

Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves


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