With Lance Stephenson gone and Spencer Hawes in the fold and Al Jefferson exercising his player option, the picture for the Hornets is beginning to take shape. The next major piece comes a week from Thursday at the NBA Draft. Sitting at the 9th pick, Charlotte is in an interesting position. Based on the majority of mock drafts and the information floating around, they seem to be on the outside looking in when considering the team’s needs. However, there are plenty of options available. Operating under the assumption that the top 8 go chalk (in some order: Towns, Okafor, Porzingis, Russell, Mudiay, Cauley-Stein, Winslow, Hezonja) and a trade up is unavailable, there are 2 ways to go in my mind.
1. Stay Put
Missing out on the top 8 hurts, but that doesn’t mean the Hornets can’t get a good player. There’s a glut in the front court, but if Cho genuinely believes someone like Myles Turner will be the best player in 5 years then he should do it. That being said, if you’re following the tier system and there’s a wing on the board in the same tier as a player like Turner, need comes into play. And Charlotte needs shooting. Desperately. Given that need, the field generally narrows to 3 players: Stanley Johnson, Devin Booker, and Kelly Oubre.
Booker is the chic pick at 9. It’s generally accepted to be a bit of a reach but not so much that it’s not worth considering. Johnson is a defensive wrecking ball who might be a decent shooter. The consensus on him seems to be that he has the highest floor of these 3 players, but the lowest ceiling. And then there’s Oubre.
Oubre has a bit of an unorthodox shot, turning his body to the side and letting his outside shoulder dip while taking a pretty significant jump forward. He hit 36% of his 3’s in college and shot a mediocre 72% from the free throw line. Shooting is considered one of his strengths but I’m not so sure. It’s far from a disaster, but he’s not elite. But he’s quick, he’s athletic, and he’s long. The draft history is full of guys whose resumes were long on physical attributes and short on actual skills. That being said, barring a major reach for a guy I’ll get to in a minute, I’d make Oubre the selection.
Oubre is my guy at 9 because of his potential and defensive versatility. Thibodeau style defense has run the league since the Celtics won the championship in 2009. Steve Clifford has turned Charlotte into an elite defensive team with limited pieces by abiding by those same principles. But the next evolution in NBA defense can be witnessed in Golden State and Milwaukee. Long, quick, interchangeable parts that can mix, match, switch, and chase all around the court. Oubre has the quicks and length that Johnson and Booker are missing. He’ll be able to stay in front of guys, force turnovers, and get the team out in transition. A team desperate for buckets could use some fast break points. He may become a solid outside shooter. He might just be the next Gerald Green. But if I’m stuck at 9, wishing Mario Hezonja had somehow fallen to me, I’m swinging for the fences. I’m not necessarily feeling good about it. It may be the move that ends my tenure as GM. But I’m going to try anyway.
2. Trade Back
I love trading back in this draft. I love the middle of the first round. Charlotte has a clear need with the poor shooting on the wings. They’re also nowhere near being “a piece away.” And when you’re in the position Charlotte is in, neither tanking nor being a championship contender, you concentrate on gathering assets one way or another. And if you can get the guy you like while picking up something else, you do it. And I love RJ Hunter. The first time I saw Hunter play reminded me of the first time I saw Gordon Hayward play in college. Not that they have the same game or anything, but both of them just had that “it” factor. I’m a stats guy. I don’t really get wrapped up in ethereal analysis that can’t be quantified. But the draft is a crapshoot in general. And I know Hunter is going to be an elite shooter. He’s got good length. He’s a solid playmaker out of the pick and roll. He’s not going to isolate and get a bucket but he can help make the offense hum.
I would honestly be tempted to go ahead and take Hunter at 9. But most would consider it a reach, so I’m looking to take advantage of that fact and try to get my guy along with something else. The easiest move is to send the 9th pick to Boston in exchange for 16 and 28. Adding 2 rookies is getting to the point of being too young when you’re trying to make the playoffs, so unless there’s an international player worth stashing Cho would probably look at packaging pick 28 with Barnes or Marvin Williams to get a bit piece or just clear some cap space and, more importantly, roster space to get more minutes for Vonleh. Sam Hinkie might pay $7 million to get a late first rounder. Throw in the 39th pick if need be.
Boston isn’t the only option. In particular, if Willey Cauley-Stein drops to 9, Indiana could be interested in moving up. Maybe OKC wants to make sure they get Cameron Payne. Being just outside a tier of talent is disappointing. Mario Hezonja would be perfect. But trading down while staying in your talent tier can maximize the value of that position. And it doesn’t have to be RJ Hunter. If he’s not your guy, Booker could easily still be there a little later. Or Oubre. Or Stanley Johnson.
A GM’s responsibility is to manage assets, whether that be players, cap space, or draft picks. My contention is that, barring a better player dropping, the most value to be gained from the pick is getting the talent you want plus something else by trading back. Perhaps it’s getting too cute. Often times the best thing to do if you like a player is to take that player. But I’ll take that gamble in this draft. And I’m grabbing RJ Hunter, who is destined to fail due to my borderline obsession with his game.
Within hours of posting my Draft preview yesterday, news broke that Lance Stephenson had been shipped to the Clippers for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. I really like the deal.
Lance had to go.
Stephenson is a ball dominant guard with a high turnover rate who can’t shoot. That’s basically every single Hornet pain-point bundled together into one human being. Clifford’s system is dependent upon minimizing giveaways and Charlotte has led the league in fewest turnovers committed for the past two seasons. The team already has a ball dominant lead guard (Kemba Walker) who has his own shooting issues. Benching Lance for another season both wastes a roster spot and creates a distraction. He had to go.
Waiving him was worse.
The team could’ve simply “Josh Smith’d” Lance and eaten the last year of his salary ($9m) for the season. But that’s one sixth of the team’s cap literally gone to waste. They also could’ve used the league’s Stretch Provision and paid out Stephenson’s salary over the next three seasons ($3m per) – which is a better option in some ways until you consider the next point.
The $3m Backup Center.
Spencer Hawes is owed approximately $5.8m per season over the next three. Once the team either unloads Matt Barnes’s contract or buys him out ($1m cap hit), Hawes’s salary is all Charlotte will be on the hook for. As Kevin Pelton noted in his excellent trade grade piece for ESPN Insider, once factoring in the stretch provision penalty – the Hornets are essentially getting a very good backup center for less than $3m per season. This is tremendous value.
Nearly twenty five years of hoops geekdom has taught me a valuable lesson: Fit is just as important as talent. Every once in a while a Duncan or MJ or Lebron comes along who would dominate on any team in any era. That’s rare. How a franchise develops and uses the player is extraordinarily important for everyone else. Josh McRoberts was headed out of the league before Steve Clifford helped resurrect his career (and earn him another $25m). Is Draymond Green a max guy on the Timberwolves? Does Zach Randolph experience his wonderful second act if he doesn’t go to Memphis? The Hornets are desperate for three point shooting and playmaking. Hawes brings both. Seriously. Just watch some of these highlights:
A Defensive Sieve.
Steve Clifford built a Top 10 NBA Defense in back to back years with Al Jefferson at center. Think about that. The odds that this foundation will be destroyed with Hawes playing 16-18 minutes a night are quite low. The system remains the same: prevent penetration, get back on defense and commit as few turnovers as possible.
Bismack Biyombo: Superstar.
Everyone likes Biz. He works hard, is a super pleasant guy off the court and does a few very nice things on it. But some of the reactions after yesterday’s trade made it sound like we were talking about Bill Russell. Biyombo has become one of the top rim protector’s in the game. True. He also stinks at offense and his team struggles to score even when he’s on the bench. I’ve been saying for years that a good team can’t have both Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the same rotation. You have to pick one. And if this trade was made with the intention of letting Biz walk in free agency, then so be it. I want Biyombo to succeed first, succeed on the Hornets second. Put Biz in a situation like Dallas and he can start and never touch the ball outside of a dunk.
How the trade affects the Draft.
Hawes is essentially a veteran version of Myles Turner or Frank Kaminsky. Expect Charlotte to pass on each of them and focus on finding wings or trading the pick entirely. There’s been some noise about a trade back to nab RJ Hunter and another asset. The team could also package Marvin Williams ($7m expiring contract) with one of Noah Vonleh or Cody Zeller plus the nine pick to grab an All-Star type veteran wing. Cho has been big on collecting assets versus consolidating them so I’d put the chances of this sort of trade at around 25%.
They’re keeping Hawes.
From Rich Cho’s comments post-trade, it sounds like they’re thrilled to have him and getting Hawes was just as big a part of making this trade as was unloading Lance.
How the trade affects Free Agency.
All will be revealed between June 30th and early July. Will Biz be extended his meaty ($5.4m) qualifying offer as the team’s third center? Will Gerald Henderson exercise his player option? Will the team turn their back on Jeff Taylor or give him one more shot? Until then, we won’t know for certain how much cap space Charlotte will have to play with. It certainly won’t be enough for a max-type offer.
Hawes is going to help on the court and in the lockerroom. The Lance distraction is a thing of the past. The Draft is quickly approaching and the team’s young trio of Cody, Vonleh and MKG are getting better every year. The books are relatively clean and the team owns all of its first round picks going forward. All is good.