The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the revelations of the NBA regular season and have surprised many with the consistent level they've played at for much of the year, coupled with an attractive brand of basketball.
They were rightly rewarded for that earlier this month with a place in the playoffs, their second appearance in the last three years.
Since February 1st, the Hornets have gone 21-6, which is the best record in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs during that stretch. To be mentioned in the same breath as two teams who are having historic seasons is a testament to how well Charlotte have done.
One of the reasons for the team's success can be put down to some smart acquisitions last summer, most notably Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers, whose had a huge impact on the team.
Batum, in his eighth year in the league, joined Buzz City in a trade that saw Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh head to Portland.
Playing as the team's main facilitator and with more responsibility as a ball-handler, Batum has enjoyed a career-best year averaging 14.9 points, 5.8 assists, and 6.1 rebounds per game.
By his own admission, the Frenchman didn't have the best of campaigns with the Blazers last season in what turned out to be his final year and that's worked in the favour of Michael Jordan's franchise as he's been a great fit with the organisation. So what does he put this change in fortunes down to?
"The coach and my teammates," said Batum. "In this situation I was a new guy and I didn’t have a great season last year so the guys on the team like Kemba Walker could’ve said this is my team so just play defence and we’ll be alright, but no, they give me the ball and they trust me and that’s maybe why I’ve had a good season."
The presence of Batum has certainly helped Kemba Walker elevate his game by playing more off the ball and allowing another player to create for him instead of resulting to isolation basketball frequently. As a result, Walker is the team's leading scorer, averaging 21.1 points which is also a career-best for him.
The postseason hasn't proven to be the nicest place for Charlotte over the last fifteen years and they were swept on their last two occasions, in 2010 at the hands of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic and in 2014 against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
This Hornets team should fair much better with more experienced players on the roster that have played at that level and Batum is aware of the team's recent past and is determined to put it right.
"We want to go out there and show we’re a good team and not just make up the numbers. Now I know the Hornets didn’t win a game and got swept the last two times in the playoffs, so we don’t want that this year for this franchise."
The North Carolina-based outfit have one more game left to close out the campaign as they host the Orlando Magic. After beating the Boston Celtics on the road on Monday night, Charlotte can still secure the fifth spot in the east but regardless of who they face when the playoffs kick off this weekend, they will be a tough proposition.