How the Charlotte Hornets find themselves top of the Eastern Conference

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Seven games into the new NBA season and we are starting to see patterns unfolding. In the west, the L.A. Clippers are looking very, very strong, the Golden State Warriors are showing the signs of being the 'super team' we all expect them to be and the New Orleans Pelicans are bad - very bad.

In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be the team to beat, the Atlanta Hawks are their usual model of consistency and the Philadelphia 76ers look set for another lottery pick in the 2017 draft. But one anomaly sticks out when you look at the early standings; the Charlotte Hornets sit atop of the conference with a 6-1 record.

Yes, that's the same Hornets who lost Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin in the summer and were tipped to be around the 39 wins mark come the end of the season.

So how have the Hornets managed to lead the eastern conference in the early weeks? Well, much of it is down to their opponents. Their one loss came to the Boston Celtics, who have themselves been one of the most underwhelming teams in the opening exchanges, but their victories have come against a number of the league's strugglers.

Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Indiana and Utah have amassed a collective record of 18-27, but the Hornets can only beat what is in front of them and have certainly raised the level expectation.

Their upcoming run of fixtures; visits to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks sandwiched between home encounters with the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks will really test their ability to compete with the stronger teams in the NBA.

But, given their start with a supposedly weaker roster, it's only fair to see how it has been done. Losing Jefferson, who put up 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, and Lin - 11.7 points a night off the bench - has been a blow, but a few members of their roster have stepped up to the plate.

Kemba Walker, at 23.9 points, is averaging three more per game than last season and has taken on a more prominent role in the offence with his usage rating rising by 3.8% to 30.5%. There have also been valuable scoring contributions from a number of role players.

Nicolas Batum's outlay has fallen slightly - from 14.9 to 12.7 - but Cody Zeller is dropping almost three more points a night, Frank Kaminsky is up from 7.5 to 11.4 and Spencer Hawes has jumped from 6 to 9.3. So, in truth, it's pretty simple; a combination of an easy start and improved scoring from a number of players has snuck the Hornets into early conference supremacy.

Their prolonged success rests on the shoulders of Walker, but shooting a career-high field goal percentage and dishing out over five assists per game, he seems ready to take on the responsibility. 

Charlotte Hornets
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Kemba Walker
Nicolas Batum

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