The Franchise Leaderboard series looks at active and franchise leaders in five major statistical categories-points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals- for all thirty NBA franchises. Running through two teams per week, we look at the marks set by all-time leaders for each franchise, analyze the respective trajectories of current leaders, compare how they stack up, and do a bit of projecting.
As in every preceding installment, each edition of the Franchise Leaderboard series comes with an accompanying disclaimer: While a great honor, long-lived and unforgotten in history books, franchise leaderdom goes a step beyond the intrinsic value found in efficiency and per-game performance. The name of the game, here, is volume—not only in terms of accruing a particular statistic as much as possible per outing, but also in terms of the number of outings you manage to appear (and accrue your statistic) in. Because, at the end of the day, whether you manage to score 32 points per game but only play in 50 games, or whether you only manage 20 points per game, but do so while appearing in 80 whole games, you are nonetheless left with 1600 points—no farther or lesser along the path to franchise leaderdom, through one season, than your counterpart. On top of all that, of course, is one more variable: the number of seasons, and hence, further outings, you manage. Use as many or as few as you want, but the franchise leaderboard does not discriminate. The system is simple: play as much, as long, or as well as you can or want. But the only thing that puts you above all others, here, is your total (be those points, rebounds, assists, blocks, or steals) and only your total. In short: get yours, by any means necessary. Nothing else applies.
With that (again and again) said, here are the current and all-time leaders for the fourth franchise we’ll look at through history’s lenses, the Charlotte Hornets:
Points: All-time- Dell Curry (9,839) | Current- Kemba Walker (4,618)
A blistering jump shooter and little else, Dell Curry amassed his franchise-pacing 9,839 points on the backs of a relatively meager 14 points per game. Despite failing to place in even the top-10 of per-game scorers in franchise history, Curry managed to leapfrog all of his contemporaries by outlasting them. Playing in a franchise-record 701 games over his ten seasons,, Curry compiled 9,839 total points for the team, a mark that’d unfortunately fall short of any major franchise record anywhere but in Charlotte. Being that it is Charlotte, a franchise that has not only retained its status as a beacon of instability, but one that has been scrapped and re-birthed altogether in the time since, Curry is the proud owner of a franchise scoring record he has held since 1998. Despite the turmoil this franchise has seen, it is somewhat amazing –and more than a tad bit ignominious (not that this franchise is lacking in that regard)–that a mark of just 9,839 points has paced an entire franchise for this long. Though, while the record should make it through 2018—it’s 20-year anniversary—it seems that one of Charlotte’s many lottery picks of the past decade, Kemba Walker, is on his way to letting Curry’s franchise record out of its own misery.
Outpacing Curry in both games logged and baskets scored through four seasons, Walker’s mark of 4,618 points outclasses Curry’s own four-year tally by no less than 966 points. As such, good health has been nothing less than crucial to Walker’s pace. Through four years, he’s appeared in 15 more game than Curry did, despite a season-shortening lockout in Walker’s very first year. Provided the U-Conn product can participate in his usual 90.7% of contests per season, he’d merely have to match his most recent 17.3 point-per-game mark to top Curry’s total prior to the expiration of his current four-year contract. Even still, if Walker’s health in the coming years proves to be a bit less stable than it’s been to date—say, moreso along the lines of his career-low 62-game season from this past year—he’d need to couple that 17.3 point-per-game mark with a 62-game-per-season pace for less than one year beyond the current life of his contract to outdo Dell Curry. By all means, if Walker’s recent numbers are any indication, the safe money says Kemba Walker will be the all-time franchise leading scorer for the Charlotte Hornets within the next five years—provided the front office keeps him around long enough.
Rebounds: All-time- Emeka Okafor (3,516) | Current- Al Jefferson (1,340)
Another record particular to Charlotte and its relatively meager history as a franchise, Emeka Okafor’s 3,516-rebound mark after just 330 games (66 games per season, for five years) would fail to register on an all-time leaderboard for just about any other franchise. Nonetheless, Okafor was far from a stiff on the boards. In fact, only twelve players in the past 44 years have matched both Okafor’s volume and on-court rebounding percentage in their first five years. In truth, Okafor’s rebounding ability, in a per-game or per-possession regard, is no worse than that of many who will represent a squad in Franchise Leaderboard series editions to come. Okafor and his record simply fail to register amongst other all-time franchise rebound leaders due to his unfortunately abbreviated stint with the franchise. Thus, Al Jefferson, despite entering just his 3rd year with the franchise at the none-too-tender age of 31 years old, still has a chance at posing a threat to Okafor and his five-year mark. To date, here is how the two compare:
At this stage, Jefferson’s bid to outdo Okafor will largely depend on the former’s health and durability. While he’s experienced better health in Charlotte than most anywhere else he’s been, the big man’s fettle remains a question mark as he nears the age of 31 with a fair history of foot problems. After one season with the franchise, Big Al was actually on even footing with Okafor, measuring his 792 boards up with Okafor’s 795. The following season (his most recent), however, Jefferson battled a slew of those pesky foot injuries, and saw both his minutes and his tally of boards take a nosedive. As such, he now stands almost 300 rebounds behind Okafor after two seasons. Teetering on the safer side of expectations, if Jefferson could merely match his most recent injury-riddled campaign–8.43 boards a game for 65 total appearances—in the upcoming seasons, he’d need four years (on top of his current stint with the team) to overtake the top spot on the franchise’s rebounding leaderboard. However, while that’s far from an outlandish projection in theory, one more variable potentially stands in Jefferson’s way of doing so, beyond his own health: free agency. Given the big man opting in to the last year of his contract just a few months ago, he will now enter the 2016-17 offseason—one that promises a $22-million salary cap jump for teams—as an unrestricted free agent. Provided the big man secures another contract with the franchise, his shot at overtaking Okafor should sit at pretty fair odds. If not, though, Okafor’s meager record should weather the current crop of Hornet talent for at least a half-dozen more years.
Assists: All-time- Muggsy Bogues (5,557) | Current- Kemba Walker (1,525)
After ten seasons with the franchise, the longest stint of any Charlotte franchise record-holder, Muggsy Bogues’s 5,557 assists made for the most esteemed of the franchise’s five major records. Bogues, the shortest player to ever grace an NBA court, paired a stellar 8.8 assists per game with a less-than-stellar 63.2 games per season (a mark hampered by a season-ending injury one year and an early season trade another) for ten years, and managed a 5,557-assist tally that would outweigh the combined totals of any other two players in franchise history by at least 1000 assists. In truth, that’s both a commendation of Bogues’s floor generalship and an indictment on the franchise through the years. And while Bogues holding onto his record for the next decade or so remains the likeliest outcome, one current Charlotte Hornet does have something of a puncher’s chance at overtaking Bogues in the moderate future. As such, here is how Kemba Walker compares to Bogues hitherto:
If Kemba Walker ever overtakes Bogues as the franchise’s all-time assist-getter, he will surely need more than 632 games (Bogues’s stint with the franchise) to do so. And despite two of Bogues’s ten seasons with the franchise each lasting no more than a mere six games, Walker will likely need more than just ten seasons to do so. By all accounts, if Walker does one day sit alone atop this category, he’ll have done so as a result of a near decade-and-a-half stint as the team’s starting point guard, something that, frankly, a player of his caliber does not often have the opportunity to do. As such, Walker would need to maintain a 5.647 assist-per-game mark—his career average as a starter—and appear in his usual 90.7% of contests per season (far from a reliable mark, given the extended length of such a projection) for the next ten years, on top of his current four-year stint in Charlotte, to outperform Bogues. If Walker actually outdoes himself (to date)—a fair expectation, given the former Husky’s youth—and averages, say, 6.5 assists per contest in the coming years, he’d have to pair that mark with his aforementioned 90.7% appearance rate, into what’d be an age-33 season, to overtake Bogues. If his health in the coming years is anything short of superb in the coming years however—once again, fair to expect—he’ll likely have to play through the age of 34, if not longer, to surpass Bogues’s franchise record. While that’s not quite the most unrealistic of expectations for a player in this space, it is nonetheless difficult to project such an extended stay in Charlotte for a player who likely fails to ever rank amongst the top third of the league’s otherwise transcendent starting point guard crop. Walker’s relevance in this space, in the long run, depends on Charlotte’s willingness to stick with a middling option at the head of its offense for years to come. If Walker outperforms all realistic expectations, or simply plays well enough to keep management from pursuing a replacement, he may prove to be a factor in this discussion sometime within the next decade. In the meantime, Muggsy Bogues can safely place his high chair atop this leaderboard for years to come.
Blocks: All-time- Alonzo Mourning (684) | Current- Al Jefferson (163)
Despite playing just three seasons in Charlotte—his very first three in the league, at that—Alonzo Mourning has headed this category for almost the entirety of the franchise’s existence. In fact, it took Mourning all of just one rookie season to surpass Kenny Gattison’s record, one the latter had taken all of (the franchise’s very first) three years to build up. Over his entire record-setting but abbreviated stint with the team, Mourning paired a 3.2 block-per-game average—a mark that’d lead the league in each of the past three seasons—with a relatively clean stretch of health (he played in about 87.4% of games per season) to post an impressive total of 684 blocks. Al Jefferson, despite outpacing all current Hornet shot-blockers, does not quite compare:
Despite appearing in about 64.2% of the total contests Mourning did, Jefferson fails to make up even 25% of the total blocks the Georgetown product amassed. To date, Big Al has recorded 1.2 blocks per game, appeared in 69 contests per season, and mustered 163 total blocks over his two years in Charlotte. At this rate, Jefferson would have to maintain such numbers for the next seven years, well into his age-37 NBA campaign, to outdo Mourning. Even still, such a projection hinges on the fact that Jefferson would actually be able to block shots well beyond his prime years at rates comparable to his age-29 and age-30 seasons. And if that variable, in and of itself, does not cast enough of a dark cloud over Jefferson’s bid, his future, merely in terms of being on the court for the Hornets, is also far from a sure thing. Jefferson’s health, historically shaky and unreliable, is certainly one wild card. But even if the big man lucks out in that department, he and the franchise would likely have to weather two different free agency periods to actually keep him in a Hornet jersey long enough to surpass Mourning. In truth, none of these three variables seems to lean too heavily in Jefferson’s favor, and the fact that each exists not alone, but in amalgam, ought to suggest, more than anything, that Alonzo Mourning will sit atop this category well beyond Al Jefferson’s stint with the franchise.
Steals: All-time- Muggsy Bogues (1,067) | Current- Kemba Walker (395)
Muggsy Bogues first suited up for the franchise back in 1988, its inaugural season out in Charlotte. Despite not securing a full-time starting position until his fourth season with the team, however, Bogues would go on to lead the team in steals per game in each of his first six years, and seven of his eight full seasons (two of his ten total campaigns with the franchise were either cut woefully short by an injury, or hampered by an early-season trade). Coupling his stellar 1.7 steal-per-game tally with a total of 632 appearances for the franchise—a mark only surpassed by Dell Curry—Bogues ranks atop the atop the franchise leaderboard with 1,067 total steals, and has done so after every single season of the franchise’s NBA existence. Fast-forward to 2015, twenty-seven years after Bogues first put on a Charlotte Hornet jersey, and Bogues’s grapple hold on this record remains as firm as ever. However, one player on the current roster likely holds as good a chance at overtaking Bogues as any player not named Gerald Wallace ever has in franchise history. While Wallace, on both a per-game and per-possesion basis, was certainly a superior thief to Kemba Walker, his time with Charlotte was cut short by a mid-year trade about two seasons too soon. Unless Walker falls victim to a similar fate, he should have a similar opportunity in a few years’ time. Through four years, however, Walker is a fair bit behind Bogues’s franchise pace:
Kemba Walker currently sits 189 steals behind where Bogues himself ranked after four seasons with the franchise. And while Walker doesn’t have a realistic shot at garnering the 1,067 steals in the 632 contests Bogues managed to do so in, he does have a chance at outdoing Bogues in as many seasons, given the fact that Bogues played in less than 10% of a season’s worth of games on two different occasions. As such, if Walker maintains the 1.5 steals-per-game mark he’s averaged as a starter to date, he would overtake Bogues sometime during his age-30 season, what’d be a 10th year in Charlotte. As far as the on-court production, Walker should very well manage 1.5 steals per contest through the age of 30. The biggest potential hindrances, in his case, would likely either have to be some sort of freak injury hampering his on-court ability, the load he’s able to carry, or his career altogether. Provided he remains lucky enough to weather any of such potential threats to his current pace, free agency would figure to be the other biggest wild card in Walker’s race to the top of this category. Provided Charlotte keeps him around a few years beyond the current life of his four-year extension, Walker could very well have through the age of 30 (and even longer, if it all works out) to surpass Bogues’s mark. And provided he does, in fact, stick around long enough to challenge the all-time record-holders of Charlotte’s past, the steals leaderboard could very well be the second-most feasible category for the U-Conn product to one day head, a potential free agent pitch no other franchise could realistically present to a player of his caliber.