Tom Sorensen

Charlotte Hornets need a gamble to get better. Here’s a big one to consider.

When they came to Duke, Harry Giles (1) was a more heralded prospect than Jason Tatum (0). Could he be the answer for the Charlotte Hornets?
When they came to Duke, Harry Giles (1) was a more heralded prospect than Jason Tatum (0). Could he be the answer for the Charlotte Hornets?

The Charlotte Hornets finished about where they should have this season. They aren’t terrible, but they’re below average, and unless they have a brilliant offseason, they’re likely to stay there.

Limited by the salary cap, they lack the money to compete for season-saving free agents. They signed Michael Kidd-Gilmore, Nic Batum and Marvin Williams to lucrative extensions, and they traded for Miles Plumlee. They owe Plumlee $12.4 million each of the next three years.

You saw the Hornets this season. Who improved? Who was better in 2016-17 than he was in 2015-16?

I can find two players. One is all-star point guard Kemba Walker, who has improved every season. The other is second-year big man Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has become adept at finding open teammates, a nice quality for a player who is 7-feet tall.

But that’s it. Newcomer Marco Belinelli provided what the Hornets expected, a veteran who could hit from the outside.

I’ve probably written 25 times about how much I like Kidd-Gilchrist. Yet, although his health improved, his game didn’t. He wouldn’t start for a good team. He’d offer value as a reserve with relentless energy.

Speaking of reserves, Charlotte’s bench was, Kaminsky excepted, weak. One reason the Hornets struggled in the fourth quarter is that starters were tired and reserves were inefficient.

To improve, the Hornets are going to have a find a player another team deems expendable and hope that he thrives in Charlotte. General manager Rich Cho has found such players – Josh McRoberts, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee.

The Hornets also will have to draft well. We don’t know where the Hornets will pick. The NBA draft lottery is May 16 and the draft June 22.

There is an intriguing prospect – Harry Giles. Giles played for Duke this season, kind of. He twice ripped his knee in high school and missed two seasons.

This season, his freshman season at Duke, was going to be different. And then it wasn’t. He had arthroscopic surgery in October, and when he returned the rotation was established. Giles was a helper. He averaged 11.5 minutes, 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Yet going into the season Giles, and not lottery pick to be Jayson Tatum, was the more heralded player. Giles is 6-11 and athletic with great touch. He can do everything but stay healthy, and he won’t turn 19 until April 22.

The NBA draft is as loaded as it is intriguing. Perhaps Giles is gone when Charlotte drafts. Perhaps a player with talent and good health falls to them. Perhaps Giles does. If so, that’s a gamble I take.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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