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How the Hornets Became a Contender

Kemba Walker Charlotte Hornets

The NBA has long been known as a copycat league, and after the Golden State Warriors rode a three-point happy offense all the way to a championship last year, you knew other teams were going to try and replicate their success. But despite a valiant effort from multiple clubs, only one franchise has managed to properly do so: the Charlotte Hornets.

Considering the underwhelming history of the franchise, that may sound surprising to you. Since the city of Charlotte regained its team in 2004 (then known as the Charlotte Bobcats) they've made the postseason just twice, but have posted nine seasons with 40+ losses.

After a total rebranding entering the 2014-15 campaign, the Hornets fell flat on their face en route to a 33-49 record. A major offseason overhaul occurred and a new style of basketball was enforced, an aggressive move that has completely shifted the makeup of the team.

A changing of the guard in North Carolina

Charlotte finished dead last in three-point percentage last season largely in part due to the inefficient shooting of Lance Stephenson, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. General manager Rich Cho brought in Spencer Hawes, Jeremy Lin, Nicolas Batum and drafted big man Frank Kaminsky early in the first round. The moves were the start of something special, and it’s reignited a team that was in serious need of a boost.

As of March 30, the Hornets were tied with the Boston Celtics for fifth in the Eastern Conference at 43-31. Since February 6 they’ve gone 19-5 and are clearly peaking at exactly the right time. Safe to say, this is a squad no one wants to see in the postseason.

What changed for Charlotte? In 2014-15 they ranked last in effective field goal percentage and are 14th this season. They were 27th in catch and shoot three-pointers but now sit atop of the Association in that category. In what’s perhaps the most telling stat, the bunch from Buzz City ended last year 28th in offensive efficiency and currently sit in 10th. What a difference a year makes.

While teams like Chicago, Indiana, Washington and Memphis scrapped their old identities to try and emulate the trigger-happy Warriors, those plans have gone completely awry. Only Charlotte is left standing in that group, and they have no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

It’s no secret the NBA is in a major state of transition. Gone are the days of lumbering big men clogging up rosters and producing at an efficient rate (sorry, Roy Hibbert). The three ball is perceived as the wave of the future, and it speaks volumes when you take into account that each of the four teams left standing in the playoffs last year ranked in the top five in three-pointers made.

Is there hidden value in backing the Hornets?

NBA bettors should (rightfully) worry about wagering on teams that are clearly looking ahead to the postseason this time of year. But Hornets head coach Steve Clifford appears to be more than content with featuring his starters, which means they could continue to be a profitable bet down the stretch.

Charlotte’s remaining opponents have a combined record of 271-322 – a winning percentage of 46 percent. The Hornets are the ninth-best bet in the NBA at 39-34-1.

It’s very possible sportsbooks could continue to underestimate just how good the Hornets are here on out, which could lead to quite a bit of cash in your pocket if they can keep the train rolling. Charlotte isn’t the butt of jokes in the NBA anymore; they’re the ones that are laughing now.