"The Crossover" is a season preview series we're running here at Raptors HQ in which we'll talk to other SB Nation team sites in the Eastern Conference to give us an idea of what to expect from the competition, what their expectations are for both their own team and the Raptors.
1. Can the Hornets survive the Lance Stephenson experience?
The Hornets won't only survive with Stephenson, they'll thrive. The Bobcats were an incredibly efficient defensive team last season, which also happened to be head coach Steve Clifford's first year at the helm. That was with Al Jefferson and Josh McRoberts logging the majority of the frontcourt's minutes, neither of whom are regarded as especially good defenders. Clifford's defensive scheme relies heavily on the backcourt's ability to prevent passes and dribble penetration, and while Henderson is a decent wing defender (I'm sure you remember his matchups with DeRozan), Stephenson is considerably better and will help reinforce the team's defense-first approach. In addition, Stephenson is widely regarded as a ball dominant player, but when you look at his numbers from last season (11.2 field goal attempts per game, 4.6 assists per game, and a 19.4 usage percentage), you realize that he knew his role and gladly stayed within it for the most part. He'll fit in with the Hornets seamlessly.
2. Will the shooting ability of Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist improve this year?
From everything we've heard, both have markedly improved their shooting strokes over the summer. Assistant coach Mark Price worked extensively with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on his shooting form, and while we haven't seen much of it, there's a gif floating around that shows him shooting a 3-pointer with no hitch whatsoever. That is a massive improvement in and of itself. Henderson's 3-point shooting has steadily improved every year since he was a rookie much like DeRozan's, and there's no reason to believe that trend won't continue. While neither player is likely to be a marksman from deep this season, there should be a noticeable improvement from both of them in that department.
3. How do you feel about the drafting of Noah Vonleh?
Vonleh's an interesting player because he's very young and possesses elite physical tools. He has hands bigger than Kawhi Leonard's and a wingspan longer than Kevin Durant's. He's also displayed a solid jumpshot and promising ball handling ability, which is somewhat rare for a player at his position, especially at just 19 years old. He'll need to add some strength to deal with NBA power forwards and centers on the defensive end, but luckily he won't be relied on to play big minutes for a few years. All in all, we're very happy with the Vonleh selection. The sky is the limit with him.
4. Thoughts on the return of the Hornets name?
It was a great move. Once the original Hornets left Charlotte, interest in the NBA vanished almost overnight. When the league expanded back in 2004, the city was reluctant to accept the Bobcats, and while there were certainly some dedicated fans, the organization struggled to capture the interest of casual fans. Some of that was due to the fact that the team was terrible in its 10-year tenure. Now that the Hornets are back, those same fans have reappeared. Everyone wants Hornets gear, season ticket sales are up, and buzz is at an all-time high. Michael Jordan and Rich Cho made an excellent decision to bring the Hornets back to Charlotte.
5. How do you think the Raptors will do this year?
I live in Toronto, so I follow the Raptors as closely as I do the Hornets. I was pleasantly surprised with what they accomplished last season, and see no reason for the team not to build on that success, especially with so much continuity with the roster. The Raptors are going to be a tough team in the Eastern Conference, especially if Valanciunas and Ross continue to grow. Neither had to do much outside of playing defense and spotting up for easy buckets, so it'll be interesting to see what the team can accomplish if those guys step up. I'm also very intrigued by the selection of Bruno Caboclo. I loved what I saw from him in the Las Vegas Summer League, and while he's going to need a few years to develop, he's going to be a solid rotation player at worst. He's hungry, hard-working, and humble. That's a rare combination in the NBA.