Sources: Cody Zeller is destined to be a Spur, and also, How We Got Mozgoved

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It’s been a while since my last post.  Please allow me to explain.

Being a Hornets fan is really hard.

I spent the latter weeks of the regular season clinging onto the slim hope that the Hornets could get the 8-seed in the East.  And then on March 8th, they lost to the vastly inferior Brooklyn Nets by 14, and a few days later, they lost to the Knicks by 23.  Neither game was as close as the score indicates.  That is when I threw a white flag up on 2018.

If you read any of my earlier posts, you know that I held two things to be true: 1) Steve Clifford’s time as an effective coach was over (though I knew he would be hired by the Magic, check that Twitter feed to the left!), and 2) Dwight Howard was a black hole on offense.

Both of these situations have now been remedied.  By all accounts, an effective replacement for Clifford has been hired in James Borrego.  And today’s trade (that will become official after July 6th) of Dwight Howard for Timofey Mozgov, two second round draft picks and cash concerns is a classic case of addition by subtraction.

The Dwight Howard move was terrible.  It was never going to work out.  Every team he has ever played for claims that he is a cancer in the locker room.  He is a notorious goofball.  He is a child abuser, which was never going to fly longterm in Charlotte (this is the city that chased the original Hornets franchise out of town because the owner–George Shinn–had an affair with a cheerleader).  He is a center in a league where the center position–as Dwight Howard plays it–is no longer important.  Atlanta took on the terrible Plumlee contract just to get rid of him.  I could go on and on.

Timofey Mozgov may never play meaningful minutes for the Hornets.  He may not even be on the roster by Friday.  But if this trade results in Kemba Walker staying and/or the shooters on the team getting actual opportunities to shoot and develop a rhythm, this will go down as one of the most important trades in franchise history.

***

In other news: Cody Zeller is destined to be a San Antonio Spur.

Have you ever seen the sweet third passes that the CZA makes on the regular?  Those passes have ‘Popovich’ written all over them.  Sources say that Cody Zeller is the next Boris Diaw.

Kawhi wants out of San Antonio.  The Hornets are in a good spot to make a trade or be a third team facilitator for a draft day trade.  My gut says these sources are correct.

***

As for me, I’m in that pre-draft sweet spot as a fan.  Anything is possible.  Optimism reigns supreme.  The Dwight trade has me jazzed.  If the Hornets have to go down, I’d rather see them go down missing open threes and running an actual offense than see Kemba pass the ball in to Dwight and then stand around and watch until Dwight shoots just before the shot clock expires.  But the Hornets don’t have to go down.  The 8-seed is in sight.  The time is now.

(Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Rookie Mistake

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Greetings, and welcome to my first post for Baseline Buzz!

First, a brief history: I have been a Charlotte Basketball fan since 1988. My family owned season tickets during the franchise’s golden age (top row section 238, seats 1 and 2). I was at the playoff game when Zo hit the shot to beat the Celtics, and I was at every home playoff game in 2001 when the Bugs swept the Heat (and would have beaten the Bucks if Sam Cassell would have kept his glad-hands off the refs’ backsides). During the decade I lived in San Francisco, I bought NBA League Pass every year specifically for the purpose of watching every Bobcats game, and I was surely the only person to ever purchase a ticket to a game in Oracle Arena to cheer on Gerald Wallace. And no disrespect to Muggsy, Kendall, Johnny Newman, LJ and Zo, but I believe the greatest Hornets lineup of all-time was Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn, PJ Brown and Elden Campbell (and the best bench player on that team was Eddie Robinson, for what it’s worth).

With Adam’s departure from Baseline Buzz, I am stepping in midseason and attempting to fill some gigantic shoes. It is no simple task, to say the least. Rather than pick one thing to hone in on, I am going to about two bad things, two unknown quantities, and two good things. Without further ado.

NEGATIVES

—Steve Clifford’s Refusal to Give Rookies Meaningful Minutes

Look, I get it. Steve Clifford is an old-school coach, and making rookies earn their place in the Association is an old-school move. The problem is that the Hornets are not old-school good.

I like Steve Clifford, and he is a much better coach than his predecessor. He seems like he would be a fun guy to have a beer with. But his propensity for driving rookies into the ground before they get their feet wet is one of his least endearing qualities. Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon are both solid picks with gigantic potential upsides, but they need to play in order to develop into anything more than second or third-tier role players. Bacon is a solid second-rounder—if he develops into a solid NBA player, that is all gravy. But Monk needs to be in games early and often. He is a rhythm shooter, and you can’t develop rhythm on the bench. Give him meaningful minutes now, and he could be a star. Bench him so he can “learn the game” and he could be…. reverse-MKG?

—The Dwight Howard Experiment

Speaking of old-school basketball.

Unlike Adam, I hated the Dwight Howard trade from the beginning. The shedding of Plumlee’s contract was huge, and Howard’s star power is undeniable, but Dwight has a reputation of being a cancer in the locker room, and he is an admitted child-abuser.

That being said, he is putting up All-Star numbers on the basketball court, he obviously cares about the team’s performance, and I get the sense that he is trying very hard to push his teammates into the playoffs.

The problem is that he is a black hole on offense. A large portion of the Hornets’ plays so far this season consist of Kemba (or MCW) bringing the ball up court, passing it to Dwight, and then dropping back and watching Dwight either shoot or pump fake until he gets fouled.

In the past, the Hornets offense has worked with Cody Zeller at center because the CZA knows how to make the second, third and fourth pass to a cutting teammate or a shooter out on the perimeter. Of course Cody has been injured for a season and a half, so he hasn’t been an option of late.

Look, Dwight Howard is very good at basketball. There is a solution out there, I am just not sure if that solution is to teach Dwight how to pass to his teammates or look to trade him to a contender who needs a center that doesn’t know how to pass to his teammates. Either way, he has been a disruption to offenses on both sides of the floor.

 
UNKNOWNS

—The Coaching Situation

Coach Clifford took a hiatus from the team for undisclosed health-related issues, and though Stephen Silas has a strong tie to Charlotte Basketball’s past (his father is former Hornets coach and current season ticket holder Paul “Huggy Bear” Silas), he doesn’t appear to be the answer should Clifford’s health or job performance become a longer term issue.

Jason Kidd just became available.  Just throwing that out there.

—The Kemba Walker Fiasco

Floating Kemba Walker’s name in trade conversations was a mistake.  Woj knows all and Woj tells all. The only scenarios that make sense regarding this mistake:

1) Motivation

Kemba has been a little stagnant of late. Maybe a trade rumor is the fire he needed to get going.

2) A Godfather Offer

An offer along the lines of Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love and the Brooklyn pick or a package including Andrew Wiggins makes sense for both sides (Minnesota has always been high on Batum).

3) The Steph Factor

There is a Berenstainian possibility that a trade of Kemba Walker could pull Steph Curry further towards the Hornets in the future.

Reasoning: If Kemba does not get traded, he is all but guaranteed to pass Dell Curry as the leading scorer in Charlotte Basketball history.  A trade to preserve Papa Curry’s legacy is sure to be looked upon favorably.

Now, the trade scenarios that do not make sense:

1) Cap Relief

I don’t believe the Hornets are willing to dismantle their franchise to save a few bucks so long as Jordan is at the helm. Jordan wants to win, even if he hasn’t figured out how to do so as an owner.

2) Anything Involving Draft Picks

The Hornets are terrible at drafting and even worse at developing rookies. Trading an All-Star caliber player for draft picks does not make sense for this franchise.

Onto:

 
POSITIVES

—The Remaining Schedule

Over the first half of the season, the Hornets had one of the toughest schedules in the league (anywhere from the toughest to the fifth toughest, depending on metrics used). For the remainder of the season, they have the easiest schedule in the league. Barring further injury or a dumb trade, the playoffs are still in reach (as of this writing, the Hornets stand four games back of the 76ers for the eighth seed).

—Chemistry

The advantage of developing an organization where you draft and retain players is that the players have the opportunity to learn together and grow together as professionals. Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon have all spent the entirety of their careers as products of the same developmental system. They don’t know anything different than Charlotte Basketball. Injuries to MKG and Zeller have derailed several potentially prime years, but they still know how to contribute if they are able, and everyone mentioned above is still very young.

And speaking of oft-injured players, Nic Batum isn’t a native Hornet, but he has recently built a house in Charlotte, so one can imagine that he has bought into the organization as much as he possibly can. If Dwight Howard and Michael Carter-Williams are able to become more comfortable with their teammates, good basketball could be over the horizon.


 

Hornets Offseason Predictions 2016

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Rich Cho’s Season Has Only Begun

Nearly seven months ago I predicted the Hornets would win 44 games and finish sixth in the East. Most called this prediction overly optimistic and a few called it naive. In the end, Charlotte surprised us all by totaling 48 victories, finishing just a game out of the third seed despite a myriad of injuries to key players and a drastic change in their style of play. It was without question the most successful post-relocation season in Charlotte NBA history. Now it’s up to Rich Cho and the team’s front office to continue this success and propel the team to the next level.

Batum is Everything

When Charlotte traded for Nic last summer, there was no question about the player’s talent or fit; it was Batum’s impending unrestricted free agency status that loomed over the entire season. Credit the Hornets for making his return feel more inevitable than it should and Nic’s postgame remarks after Game 7 sounded like a guy who plans on being back. The hope is that both sides have something on the table the minute free agency kicks off in July. They’ll need to make it quick. Why?

The Hornets have to structure their offseason plans around Batum for two reasons:

  1. He’s one of the team’s top three players along with MKG and Kemba Walker and his abilities as a point forward are a perfect fit alongside them.
  2. His near $20 million cap hold needs to be addressed before the team explores alternative options.

For those unfamiliar with cap holds, unrestricted free agents count against a team’s cap sheet until they either sign with another team or are renounced by their current one.

Batum will turn 28 next December and is in the beginning of his prime. Inking a deal that pays him near max money into his early 30s does make sense from the player’s perspective, especially a wing. Alternatively, Nic could gamble on himself with a short term deal or a player option after two seasons but as we saw last offseason, even with new CBA cash around the corner, players are much more likely to take the safe money – especially if it’s in the vicinity of $20m per.

Ultimately, Nic seems happy in Charlotte and comfortable with the coaching staff, front office and ownership. Expect His Airness to pony up with the largest contract ever signed on his watch as an owner: 5 years, $100 million with a player option in the 5th year. Little Ayden Richard Batum will be living that bon vivant 4LIFE.

PREDICTION: Batum Returns on a near max contract

Bon Voyage, Big Al

Jefferson finished the season in a quintessential Big Al sorta way. He shot 50% against Miami and manufactured offense when the Hornets couldn’t buy a bucket. But he was also in less than great shape and contributed to Charlotte’s atrocious postseason paint defense.

Coach Clifford received a blessing in disguise when Jefferson went down with an injury slash suspension midseason, discovering that a Cody Zeller/Marvin Williams frontcourt (especially when combined with MKG at the three) was much more effective at both ends of the floor.

Big Al turns 32 next January and his inability to get into or stay in shape does not bode well for his future play. Renouncing his rights frees up a valuable $20 million in cap space for Charlotte to use on Jeremy Lin (player option) or Courtney Lee (updated, see below) both of whom will need to be re-signed via cap space (no Bird Rights). The Hornets could also use the $20 million in conjunction with another move (salary dumping Spencer Hawes and/or Jeremy Lamb) to bring in Dwight Howard.

Either way, I fully expect Jefferson to be playing elsewhere next season. Thanks for the memories Big Al. We’ll always have the 2013-2014 Bobcats season.

PREDICTION: Jefferson is renounced, signs elsewhere

Key Secondary Guys

Of the three key secondary free agents (Williams, Lee, Lin), only Marvin ($9.1m cap hold) can be re-signed over the cap.

[UPDATED: The Hornets have Full Bird Rights for Lee, Early Bird Rights for Marvin and non-Bird Rights for Lin. So the team can go over the cap to sign Lee but given situation outlined below, I still believe he’s the least likely to return.]

Technically Lin isn’t a free agent yet but he’ll surely opt out of his $2.2 million player option in July; even so Jeremy’s cap hold will be less than $3 million so the Hornets will have some wiggle room to wait (if) they re-sign him.

Lee’s cap hold ($10.8m) complicates things for his return and with MKG healthy and Jeremy Lamb being groomed for a larger role, he’s my bet for least likely to return of the three.

Marvin will turn 30 in June and has logged a decent amount of miles. The elbow injury prior to the Miami series explains his disappearance on the offensive end. He was a key cog all season for Charlotte and a fantastic fit when Clifford goes small at the five with either Zeller or Kaminsky. I could see the Hornets offering a one-year $12 million deal and Marv taking it. Why that much and why one year? More on this later.

Lin is the most interesting of the three in many ways. He’s clearly found a home with Clifford as a third guard. MJ loves him and Lin’s off the court ability to attract East Asian/Asian-American interest in the team can’t be denied.

Given his consistent struggles with turnovers and his jumper (one of which did improve this season) I would be surprised if another team were to offer him their starting gig. Something in the neighborhood of 3 years, $21 million seems about right for J-Lin. He’ll get consistent minutes and a positive environment to showcase his talents. Consider him Kirk Hinrich in teal (or a more likable Ramon Sessions).

PREDICTION: Marvin and Lin return, Lee walks

A Big Handsome Payday

Cody enters the final year of his rookie deal next season that will pay him a little north of $5 million. The following season he’s scheduled to count over $13m via cap hold. Cho won’t let it come to that. Charlotte has extended their Lottery picks in back to back seasons (Kemba, MKG) and I fully expect them to do the same with Zeller this summer.

Fortunately Cody is still under the radar enough that Cho can likely get a deal done, even in the current cap environment, for something less than his on-coming cap hold. Again, just like Marvin, this is important and I’ll cover it more below. Something like 4 years, $40 million makes sense for a skilled, mobile seven footer like Zeller.

PREDICTION: Cody signs a four year extension lower than his 2017-2018 cap hold

Rounding Out the Roster

Troy Daniels, Tyler Hansbrough, Jorge Gutierrez are unrestricted free agents. Daniels is the most valuable and is likely to be retained if the numbers are right but don’t expect Charlotte to break the bank if another team shocks him with real money.

Aaron Harrison has a league minimum non-guaranteed option that could be picked up if the Hornets like his progress. Exhaustion plagued Kemba in the Playoffs; if Harrison isn’t ready to play, expect the Hornets to pursue a veteran 3rd PG later in free agency.

Charlotte owns the 22nd pick in the Draft and could find a developmental big man or rotation player late.

The Hornets traded their 2nd Round pick to Oklahoma City as part of the Jeremy Lamb deal.

PREDICTION: Charlotte supplements their core with a third PG and backup Center.

Focus on 2017-2018

Make no mistake, the Hornets will compete in 2016-2017. With a (fingers crossed) healthy MKG, Kemba and Batum and one of the league’s best coaches and GMs – Charlotte has assembled a solid foundation on which to build. Next season should be about building on the previous one, trying to earn homecourt and win a round in the Playoffs; then pushing the momentum forward towards the summer of 2017. Why?

Because (if you buy my predictions above) the Hornets will have all of their key guys under contract that summer with an additional $26 million in free cap space. If they can prove to a key All-Star free agent that they’re only one player away after next season, they have a shot of luring a top tier guy to the Queen City. Then the fun really starts.

Until then, enjoy the offseason Hornets fans…

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Projecting the Hornets Starters and Rotation

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Right around the time of the Jeremy Lin signing, Steve Clifford told local reporters that he’d feature a strict nine man rotation during the season. In Clifford’s eyes, an NBA player needs at least twenty minutes a night in order to get into any kind of rhythm.

This will be a challenge. Unlike so many Bobcat teams of years past, this seasons’ Hornets roster is stacked with talent and a few high quality players will find themselves hoarding DNP-CDs. Injuries, matchups and merit will likely keep the cast in flux but I fully expect Clifford to stick to his word and get nine guys real minutes each game.

WHO ARE THE STARTING FIVE?

Absent serious injury or any more #TraderCho activity, look for Charlotte to open the season with following starters:

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Nic Batum
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford’s mantra of starting games with an emphasis on defense while ending them with an emphasis on offense gives Cody the easy edge over rook Frank Kaminsky. Even if Frank gets up to speed with pro defense during camp, Cody’s abilities as a mobile defender next to Al makes him a better fit to start.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Aside from the usual Kemba step-backs and Big Al post-ups, expect a steady diet of pick & pops with Batum and the two bigs. Nic ran a ton of them with LaMarcus Aldridge back in Portland and Big Al & Cody have dependable range out to around eighteen feet. Zeller and MKG will anchor the defense and look to exploit any extra attention given to Jefferson and Walker.

First Substitution: Mid 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • PF: Frank Kaminsky
  • C: Al Jefferson

Clifford traditionally rests two of his starters halfway through the 1st in order to bring them back at the begining of the 2nd to play with the reserves. In years past Josh McRoberts and Gerald Henderson would sit for guys like Cody and Gary Neal. This year we’ll likely see Zeller and Batum get a rest with Lin and Frank making early appearances.

LINEUP STRATEGY: J-Lin replaces Batum and makes certain the playmaking onus is never on Kemba entirely. Expect to see a steady dose of Big Al posts ups and a pick & roll/pick & pop bonanza with Lin and Kemba exploiting open lanes for drives.

Second Substitution: Late 1st Quarter

  • PG: Kemba Walker
  • SG: Jeremy Lin
  • SF: Jeremy Lamb
  • PF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • C: Frank Kaminsky

Clifford’s goal of playing Jefferson around 30-32 minutes per game should come to fruition this year and sliding MKG over to the four for a brief stretch is a nice enticement.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Depending on how Kidd-Gilchrist’s 3PT shot has developed, this lineup will either be a 4 out or a 5 out – a deep shooting rarity given the Queen City’s recent past. Expect this unit to play at a much faster pace with Frank spotting up for trailing threes at the top of the arc.

Third Substitution: Beginning of the 2nd Quarter

  • PG: Jeremy Lin
  • SG: Jeremy Lamb
  • SF: Nic Batum
  • PF: Cody Zeller
  • C: Spencer Hawes

Batum and Zeller check back in early and play most of, if not all of, the 2nd quarter. We get our first look at Hawes as yet another floor stretching big who can make plays.

LINEUP STRATEGY: Expect every possession to run through Batum, Lin or Hawes. Lamb thrived in OKC as a spot up release guy who didn’t have to rely on his handle. Cody should see plenty of rim-diving opportunities off Batum and Lin PnR’s.

Fourth Substitution: Mid-Late 2nd Quarter

PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nic Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Frank Kaminsky
C: Al Jefferson

Clifford will slowly trickle back in the other starters towards the end of the quarter. Cody gets a rest swapping out for a floor spacing Frank.

LINEUP STRATEGY: A version of the starting five skewed for offense and floor spacing.

In this scenario, the Second Half substitutions play out in roughly the same sequence with Clifford riding hot hands deep into the 4th quarter.

240 Minutes of Action

There are 5 positions on the floor that need to be filled over 48 minutes for a total of 240 minutes per regulation game. If Clifford opts for a strategy similar to the above, we’re looking at an approximate minutes breakdown of:

  • Kemba: 34mpg
  • Batum: 34mpg
  • MKG: 30mpg
  • Cody: 28mpg
  • Big Al: 30mpg
  • J-Lin: 28mpg
  • Frank: 20mpg
  • Lamb: 18mpg
  • Hawes: 18mpg

Hawes and Lamb fall just a bit short of the 20 minute mark but of course that could change depending upon the matchup or individual performance.

The Expendables

The Hornets currently feature sixteen players on the roster. Two of the those players (Aaron Harrison and Elliot Williams) are signed to non-guaranteed deals and can be released at any time. A strict nine man rotation means that six or seven guys either sit or are inactive every night.

Brian Roberts

At risk of losing his roster spot to Aaron Harrison as the team’s third PG. Don’t be surprised if his expiring contract is traded to a team in need of PG depth before the start of the season.

Marvin Williams

Expect Marvin to be used in small ball matchups against bullying wings (Paul Pierce, Jabari Parker, Jared Dudley) as an alternative to Hawes.

Tyler Hansbrough

This year’s Jeff Adrien/Jason Maxiell. Psycho T (yes, I know he hates that name) will steal minutes from any big Clifford thinks isn’t being physical enough (you hear that, Frank and Cody?).

P.J. Hairston

Coming off a very disappointing rookie season and Summer League. P.J. was billed as a shooter but can’t seem to shoot. He’s another off-the-court incident away from joining Sean May and Jeff McInnis under the Tobacco Road overpass.

Troy Daniels

A nice Summer League surprise, Troy may get some burn as a bench scorer if Lamb and Hairston struggle with their shots.

Aaron Harrison

We should know by the end of camp just how serious a prospect Harrison really is. If he can build on his excellent Summer League, Brian Roberts may be out of a job. That said, Harrison won’t see court time unless one of Kemba/J-Lin goes down.

Elliot Williams

Not guaranteed to make the team.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Hornets Summer Shuffle : June Edition

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Just two weeks removed from the closing game of the 2015 NBA Finals, and significant moves have quickly been made all around the league. Sparing little time, the Hornets kicked off the Summer as one of the most active clubs reworking their roster. At this point, GM Rich Cho appears to be ambitiously taking on major renovations, while hesitant to chisel at the foundation of last year’s disappointing squad.

Over the last decade, the Bobcats/Hornets haven’t hid their desperation to add legitimate talent. The results haven’t amazed, as they corralled rosters through free agency, drafts, or trades. The free agent market delivered a mixed bag of guys like Ramon Sessions, Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, Jason Maxiell, and Lance Stephenson. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s habitual weakness – the NBA Draft – hasn’t counterbalanced their lack of free agent appeal (or cash). Their scouting and drafting practices have resulted in a young group of prospects that are living in the shadow of their own “potential” – Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Jeffery Taylor, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, and the newest Hornet Frank Kaminsky. It’s a good bet that none of these guys will be wearing an All-Star uniform next February, but it’s possible that they can all contribute as pros somewhere in the Association.

If there’s one way to ease the anxiety or apathy of the fanbase, it’s a tool that Charlotte’s been leaning on for years – Trading. The Bobcats existed in a constant state of upheaval (internally and on the court). While the basketball product was underwhelming, they could always draw attention as we speculated on the next far-fetched (Allen Iverson) or bone-headed (Tyson Chandler) move they could make. Apparently, Michael Jordan decided to pivot from aimlessly swapping for dumb contracts and took an interest in shaping a balanced roster when he hired Rich Cho. Moving bad contracts and getting valuable, NBA-calibre talent through trades has proven to be Cho’s biggest strength as he’s rebuilt the club. Just a week ago, he surprised us by applying these skills to address his own mistake in signing Lance Stephenson last year.

After last season’s disappointing record, it should be no surprise that Charlotte is taking action to turn things around. Here’s a quick recap of what’s happened for the Hornets in June:

Moved Lance Stephenson (Guard)
Result: Saved us from watching him ruin every offensive possession while on the court.

Acquired Spencer Hawes (Center)
Result: Added a quality backup center with shooting range that opens up the floor, and gives Jefferson ten minutes of rest

Acquired Jeremy Lamb (Guard) for Luke Ridnour for Matt Barnes
Result: Now have a taller reserve guard with reliable shooting, and experience in a successful NBA offense. Rich Cho showed a little of his savviness to add talent in exchange for nothing.

Moved Gerald Henderson (Guard)
Result: Lost a captain and loyal teammate, but finally let Henderson see how things work outside of the ever-rebuilding Charlotte club.

Moved Noah Vonleh (Forward/Center)
Result: Gave away a promising young big man. Yet, allows us to watch him develop from afar without the risk of being let down by another failed developmental talent project.

Acquired: Nicolas Batum
Result: Kemba and Al will have room to work. Batum is enough of an offensive threat to spread defenses, allowing Charlotte to run a pro-style offense this season. As a bonus, MKG will have a handful more opportunities to slash to the paint with Batum drawing attention.

Drafted: Frank Kaminsky (Center)
Result: GM Rich Cho is going to have to defend this pick for a while. Charlotte just traded for Spencer Hawes, and Kaminsky will likely bring the same set of skills to the court. Who knew that Hawes was the prototype for the next generation of big man in the league?

Released: Bismack Biyombo
Result: The Hornets gave up on a project that wasn’t showing much return on their investment. This leaves the team without a real rim protector, and allows Biyombo to find a better fit elsewhere in the league. Rich Cho somehow gets a pass on this despite the obvious gamble.

Released: Jefferey Taylor
Result: More minutes are available for a wing behind MKG and Batum. Who will step up?

As a whole, these moves signal a concerted effort to address the team’s painfully unwatchable offense. This could be the wave that elevates the Hornets to the Playoffs, as they’ve already claimed the reputation as a top defense under Steve Clifford. The organization has yet to establish a “system” like some of the league’s most respected clubs, but this off-season has shown that they’ve transitioned away from simply clearing the books and acquiring young (cheap) prospects. This Summer, the Hornets look like they’re actually building toward winning.

– Mike


POLL : Best Move This Summer?

  • Trading Lance Stephenson (30%, 56 Votes)
  • Drafting Frank Kaminsky (5%, 10 Votes)
  • Getting Nic Batum (60%, 113 Votes)
  • Trading Gerald Henderson (3%, 6 Votes)
  • Releasing Biyombo (2%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 188

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Baseline Buzz Hornets Season Preview 2014-2015

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FIFTEEN FOR FIFTEEN! Baseliner’s Dr. E, Bradford Coombs and A.S. Chin answer fifteen burning questions as we head into the neo-Hornets era:

1. The season is just hours away. We’ve been through the Draft hype, the Free Agency hype and now the Preseason hype. What are you most excited to see from these neo-Hornets?

Bradford: Without question it’s MKG for me. I expect incremental improvement from his jump shot and think it’s still a couple years away from being a reliable weapon. But anyone who has seen the preseason has noticed the aggressiveness that has come with his newfound confidence on offense. I think the improvement everyone expected from year 1 to year 2 is going to manifest itself in year 3. I’m probably too old to be buying jerseys, but I might need an MKG jersey.

Dr.E: Two things: A) MKG taking a step forward to become a more confident offensive player and B) How Lance Stephenson fits in. From a strictly basketball point, some of Hendo’s minutes going to Lance should be a good thing — all those fadeaway long twos Hendo had to take at the end of the shot clock when the first option on offense had been stifled? Many of those are going to be Lance drives to the basket now. But the chemistry thing is what I’m more interested to see — I still worry that Lance was a big part of the Pacers undoing last year.

ASChin: The Cho Show. It was the least hyped event of the Hornets offseason yet MJ’s decision to dump Rod Higgins in order to let Rich Cho run the basketball side solo could turn out to be the organization’s best move. Higgins track record was horrendous and while Cho hasn’t been perfect (drafting Biz over Klay/Kawhi/Faried/Vucevic), he’s been way more successful and consistent in his transactions than Cory’s father ever was. Hornets fans haven’t had a legit GM running the show since Bob Bass skipped town over a decade ago. This could be the start of something good.

2. The Hornets starting PF at the end of the year is…?

Bradford: Marvin Williams will start, but Cody Zeller will be a better player and have the better year. Vonleh will barely see the court. I love Cody’s playmaking in the preseason. He’s driving and kicking to the plethora of shooters in the second unit. Williams has the better shooting range, which the starters desperately need.

Dr.E: I’ll go chalk here and say Marvin Williams. I know he’s had a quiet preseason, but he’s a reliable vet who’s learning a new system — he’ll be fine.

ASChin: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Charlotte is the only team in the league that has a ‘Cody’ backing up a ‘Marvin’. Also, I’m gonna go out on a longer limb and say that Cody is the starter by Playoff time. The mid-range release has looked faster during the preseason and he looks more confident shooting it. Zeller’s playmaking isn’t as flashy as McRoberts’ but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as effective. Cody makes smart basketball plays and goes hard for contested boards. He looks stronger too. A little bit more consistency and he might be too good to keep on the pine.

3. True or False: Rich Cho purposefully timed Lance’s final year (team option) with Gordon Hayward’s player option.

Bradford: True. But mostly for fun. Utah’s cap sheet is going to get interesting quickly having made so many draft picks so quickly. And if you’ve been watching Hayward whipping cross-court passes out of the pick-and-roll you can see what Cho liked. It’s pretty interesting that he was able to get such a team friendly deal with Stephenson. I can’t be the only one who thought, “They meant player option, right?” when I saw the headline.

Dr.E: I think it’s safe to say that both sides (Lance and the Hornets) wanted the contract to be on the short side. Lance knew he cost himself some money with his antics last season, and wanted to bet on himself with a shorter contract that expires when the salary cap will be significantly higher. The Hornets want future flexibility in general, as much for Steph Curry as Gordon Hayward probably.

ASChin: True. As the Baseline’s resident conspiracy theorist, I’m gonna say that Cho knew exactly what sort of deal Lance would agree to and poison-pilled Hayward’s contract in advance to give them another playmaking wing option should Stephenson bolt in a few seasons. The team made a HUGE impression on Gordon apparently – sending a crack team of investigators to uncover Hayward’s favorite refined sugar product and real-time strategy game. Don’t be shocked if Gordon’s wearing teal next to Steph Cur- *COUGH* Kemba Walker in a few years.

4. MKG will finish the regular season with the following stats:

Bradford: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block in 28 minutes per game. I think MKG plays closer to 30 minutes this year and all non-scoring stats increase proportionately. For scoring I used his pre-season usage rate and multiplied that by small increases in shooting and free-throw percentages. These numbers may seem modest considering my previously stated expectations, but the increased usage and efficiency are big deals in my mind despite the raw numbers not being overwhelming.

Dr.E: 11ppg, 7rpg, and a 15.0 PER in 27 minutes/game.

ASChin: Dr.E and I can’t compete with Bradford’s understanding of math. 12.5ppg, 7rpg, 1apg, 1.5spg, 1bpg AKA “The Young Gerald Wallace” line.

5. Most likely Hornet to be traded before the Deadline is…?

Bradford: Henderson is the easy answer. I’m going with Bismack Bye-ombo (see what I did there?). I’ve been really loyal to Biz, all the way up until the preseason where it’s just been the same old things. A good rim protector who struggles with defensive positioning beyond standing at the rim and waiting, with nothing to bring to the table offensively. You can’t even throw lobs or hit him as a roll-man let alone post him up. I could go out on a real limb and say PJ Hairston is going to come on strong and Biz will be packaged with Gary Neal at the deadline to fill out a contender’s roster, or Sacramento’s overly exuberant ownership.

Dr.E: It’s less likely now with Jeff Taylor no longer around, but I’ll still say Gerald Henderson. Dark horse would be Cody Zeller or Noah Vonleh if some big trade became available.

ASChin: Trader Cho has lots to work with heading into the Deadline. IF the team believes that both Cody and Vonleh are and always will be power forwards then one has to go, right? Before Taylor’s meltdown, I swore Hendo was the odd man out. Now the team desperately needs another athletic wing who can defend off the pine. Biz isn’t worth anything close to his upcoming qualifying offer or cap hold but he’s worth more to Charlotte now as a backup big than the 2nd Round pick he’d return. I’m going with Gary Neal.

6. Will Al Jefferson finally make the All-Star team?

Bradford: Sadly, no. I think you’ll see some combination of Bosh/Noah/Horford. If he does it will be due to Noah’s foot or Horford’s pectoral muscle.

Dr.E: As long as he doesn’t have a slow start, yes.

ASChin: If Charlotte is over .500 by the time the coaches vote, they’ll have to send a representative. YES.

7. The biggest dropoff from last season will be…?

Bradford: This one is pretty obvious when you think about it. It’s protecting the ball. Charlotte’s turnover ratio was tops in the league last season by a healthy margin. Lance Stephenson had a higher turnover ratio than anybody on the team last year.

Dr.E: I’m a little worried about regression for Big Al.

ASChin: Behind the back passes. Oh, how I grieve for you McBob…

8. The biggest improvement from last season will be…?

Bradford: Shooting, shooting, shooting. All credit to CDR and Anthony Tolliver for their efforts last year, but a full season of Gary Neal, Brian Roberts, PJ Hairston, Marvin Williams, Lance Stephenson… They shouldn’t be 23rd in 3 point percentage next year.

Dr.E: Hoping it’s MKG, but seeming more likely it’s Gary Neal, with the weight loss in the offseason and a full preseason in Clifford’s system.

ASChin: One more vote for shooting. The Bobcats were a very poor shooting team before the Break last season. Two of that team’s three point weapons, CDR (51) and McRoberts (105), DEMOLISHED their career highs in three pointers made – notching nearly two-thirds more makes than their cumulative previous career totals. Tolliver’s 105 makes will be missed but so many of his threes came in bunches early and he mostly sat once Douglas-Roberts proved a better defending option at SF. Marvin (84 threes in 66 games), Roberts (66), Lance (86), Neal and P.J. Hairston will more than make up for the departed. Each one of those guys has faster strokes and, outside of Lance, rarely hesitate to launch one. The big key to the Hornets becoming a very good shooting team is Kemba – he should get more spot up opportunities this year playing off of Lance.

9. Will Noah Vonleh log any meaningful minutes in his rookie season?

Bradford: Nope.

Dr.E: Clifford has already pretty much said no for the first half of the season, and if the Hornets are in the thick of the playoff race, might not be many minutes in the second half either.

ASChin: Not likely. I’ve been using Portland-era Jermaine O’Neal as a comp. He’ll sit as a youngster on a good team and learn valuable lessons behind vets who are trying to win now.

10. More likely to make an appearance at the TWC the season: Jeff Taylor or Rufus Lynx?

Bradford: My first inclination is to say Rufus. But if Taylor was going to get cut, why wait? He’s nothing more than insurance on the wing with no real future with the franchise (sorry JT fans). The team has to know more about the situation than has been publicly released. I don’t know if we’ll see him get minutes in an actual game, but I think you’ll be able to catch him chilling on the bench at some point.

Dr.E: Neither.

ASChin: Rufus and his friends Primoz Brezec and Melvin Ely will crash the Hornets opener wearing black B.W.O. t-shirts. OHMYGAWD IT’S A BOBCATS WORLD ORDER!!!

11.  Worst move of the offseason: Letting McRoberts walk for the mid-level OR Paying Marvin Williams $7 million per season?

Bradford: I’m going to say Marvin Williams at $7 million fully guaranteed. Some sort of team option or partial guarantee on year 2 would have made sense with such a high number. It’s not a crippling move, but it’s not very flexible either.
As for McRoberts, last year was a career year that I don’t think he’ll match again. It was a right place, right time kind of situation. The 3 point shooting probably won’t hold up. And even though he hit 3’s at a decent clip, teams still didn’t respect it according to SportsVU’s gravity measurements as discussed here  (Insider Only). The more interesting angle on McRoberts is which decision was worse, Cho not re-signing him or McRoberts choosing to leave?

Dr.E: Letting McRoberts walk for sure. If the Hornets don’t get off to a good start, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will be because McBob isn’t on the floor holding things together.

ASChin: McRoberts was set to become this generation’s Gminski, a bearded Dookie who played the game the only way a six-ten Jesus could: with style and grace; turning Lebron’s other cheek into his other elbow. Why Cho? WHY???!!!

12. The Hornets finish the season with a record of…?

Bradford: I’m sticking with my non-stats based 45-37 prediction from the summer.

Dr.E: 47-35.

ASChin: 50-32. The first time a Charlotte NBA team has notched fifty since 1998.

13. True or False: The Hornets will win a Playoff game this season.

Bradford: True. Not only will they win a playoff game this season, they’ll win a playoff series.

Dr.E: True.

ASChin: They’ll get to the Mike Woodson Invitational AKA The Second Round.

14. What does Kemba’s contract extension look like?

Bradford: 4 years, $50 million with a player option on the fourth year.

Dr.E: It’s really hard to say without knowing more details about how and how much the salary cap is going to go up over the next few years right?  I guess in the 10-11 million per range?

ASChin: Cap uncertainty is a major issue but Cho’s greatest strength has been contract negotiation. I’m gonna say it’s 4yrs, $48m with a team option after year three – timing it perfectly with a famous Charlottean’s free agency.

15. Unsung Hero: Which under the radar Hornet makes the biggest contribution this season?

Bradford: As a bit of a fanboy I want to say Brian Roberts, and I love his signing, but I’m going to go with Gerald Henderson. He’s the forgotten man and there are legitimate concerns about his fit with the team going forward. But I think he becomes an essential glue guy. He’s been overextended since he escaped the shackles of Larry Brown. He never should have been a first, second, or even third option on offense. He has an opportunity to redefine his career as a spot-up shooter and cutter who never handles the ball and puts most of his energy into defense. You know who else couldn’t shoot for the life of him until all he had to do was stand there, catch, and shoot? Thabo Sefalosha. Steve Clifford loves defensive versatility and Hendo is strong enough and athletic enough to defend multiple positions. An obvious trade target, and I’m not saying he won’t be, but Hendo is going to play a big role on this team. It’s all up to him to take on this new challenge and I think he’ll have a great year.

Dr.E: Gary Neal.

ASChin: Tyrus Thomas. MJ is gonna cringe every time he sends out a cut of the $9 million amnesty the team still owes T-Time. Every time Dougie McBuckets nails a three (Chicago acquired McDermott by packaging the Bobcats first rounder from the Thomas trade), MJ is going to curse the names of Larry Brown and Rod Higgins. The Tyrus and Tyson Chandler deals cemented Jordan’s status as a poor basketball mind five years ago. He’ll use these memories like he used getting cut from his high school basketball team. As the Waterboy would say, “Tacklin’ Fuel”. The Hornets will win a title in the next decade.

Bonus Predictions from Bradford:

  • Kemba shoots 45% from the field.
  • Cody Zeller averages 3+ assists per game.
  • PJ Hairston scores 30 in a game at some point.
  • Charlotte ranks in the top half of the league in attendance.
  • Lance Stephenson has less than 10 technical fouls all season.

Jump Shot Ratings

Standard

With the draft come and gone, summer league concluded, free agency past its height, and training camps a couple weeks away, we are officially in the worst part of the NBA calendar. Seriously, you can only read so many player profiles, preseason rankings, and projections before they all just start to say the same thing. Zach Lowe already has the eccentric NBA rankings market cornered, this year tackling court designs. Finding a topic worth covering without feeling redundant is a challenge in September. So, as your stereotypical short, un-athletic white guy I decided to tackle an important topic: ranking Charlotte Hornets jump shooters. This is a purely subjective, aesthetically based ranking. Results are irrelevant. Hornets fans need to know who has the Mona Lisa of jump shots, and whose jump shot belongs in the garbage (I hate to pile it on, but we all know where this end of the spectrum is headed).

Rankings take into account mechanical soundness and the “Eff You” factor. The “Eff You” factor is a matter of stylistic flair that demoralizes an opponent as soon as the shot goes up. The kings of the jump shot “eff you” are Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. To rate highly by this metric, consistent results are required, but being a consistently great shooter doesn’t necessarily grade out in style. So, without further ado, your 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets Jump Shot Rankings, in reverse order.

14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

This has been covered. Nobody knows what MKG’s shot is going to look like this upcoming year, but the photo evidence isn’t encouraging to me.

MKG reconstructed jump shot

MKG is my favorite Hornet. But someone might want to call a priest to exorcise the demon living in his right elbow.

13. Bismack Biyombo

I wanted to like Biz’s shot more than I do. I love the guy. Who doesn’t? He obviously finds so much joy in life that I can help but feel my spirits lifted. But the jumper just doesn’t have it. First of all, he suffers from gangly limb syndrome. His arms and legs are so long he can’t seem to figure out what to do with them. His feet are spread way too wide, feet all pigeon-toed, knees appearing to buckle. The ball comes from the left side of his body, shooting elbow flared out, off-hand way too involved… I will say this, he has a nice high release point that helps corral his arms a little bit, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

12. Gerald Henderson

This might be a personal preference thing and probably isn’t fair at all, but Hendo’s jumper is sneaky ugly for me. Let’s start with the feet. I hate the “one foot (way) forward approach.” A shooter’s strong-side foot should be a little forward, say 6 inches. But a full step? It completely throws off your alignment. You can see how it opens up everything else (hips, shoulders). The release is fine, but there’s a mechanical slowness to the entire shooting motion. He never looks comfortable shooting, and I’m never comfortable watching.
What bothers me most is that there’s no reason for any of these issues. Henderson doesn’t have abnormally long arms or large hands. He grew up in a basketball family. And if he had a reliable 3 point shot with a quick release, he would be a completely different player. Alas, it looks like he has one more year as a Hornet before he opts out and moves on to a new team.

11. Marvin Williams

I’m not actually sure how to refer to Marvin Williams. One name? Both names? Marvin seems too personal. Williams is too generic… I digress. He’s expected to be a stretch 4 for the Hornets. Hopefully it works out but when it comes to my personal rankings, Marv here commits a cardinal sin. The leg kick. I’ve spent the past 2 years trying to eliminate the leg kick from my son’s jump shot (he’s only 11, so it’s probably too soon). Other than that, everything looks good. Balanced, a nice quick release, good follow through. But those feet…

10. Al Jefferson
Should Al be higher than Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson and maybe even Biz? Nope. Why is he? Let’s check the tape.

9. Cody Zeller

Cody’s shot is exactly what you would expect out of an Indiana boy. Fundamentally and mechanically sound, balanced, elbow tight, full extension, follow-through… it’s also epically boring. I could fall asleep watching Cody Zeller jump shots. On a side note, Eric Gordon may have the most boringly effective jump shot in the league. Imagine that. Another Indiana guy.

8. Noah Vonleh

Vonleh is an interesting shooter. There’s not a lot of tape for his shooting, even if I had the patience to dig through college highlights. Another guy to play at Indiana, another mechanically sound shot. He beats out Cody with a little more “eff you” (love the extended follow-through) and his ability to maintain solid form despite having long arms that could get in the way and huge hands. The future is bright with this guy.

7. Jeff Taylor

I’ve covered Taylor’s shooting (here) extensively so I’ll keep it simple. Points for form and a little bit of style. Negative points for a snail-like release.

6. Kemba Walker

I like Kemba’s 3-point shot for the most part. He’s got solid balance, a nice compact release, good follow-through. I don’t love how he doesn’t fully extend his legs, but I love how quickly he gets his shot off. I think he’ll improve as a 3 point shooter over time. Things fall apart a little bit in the mid-range, something he loves a little too much. While he has an uncanny ability to find his balance using jump-stops, he doesn’t consistently follow through with his legs and arms once he gets inside the arc. As a fellow mid-range short-armer, it bothers me more than it probably should. Extra points for flair though. All of the flair. Putting Kemba above Jeff Taylor speaks to my soft spot for quick releases, high arc, and swaggy jumpers.

5. Lance Stephenson

Now we’re cooking. Quick release, no hesitation, consistent form, deep range with no effort… The results aren’t quite there, knocking him down a peg. But I see it getting better as his career progresses. I don’t need to say anything about the swag factor. Born Ready indeed.

4. Jannero Pargo

Pargo is the ultimate street ball gunner. When he gets the ball, shots are going up from anywhere and everywhere on the court. I love it. I have to dock him for doing it in garbage time. It’s one thing to drop 3’s against the Blazers when you’re already down 30 points (that game still hurts). It’s another to do it when it matters.

3. Brian Roberts

Roberts is a lot like Pargo, except he did it in games where it actually mattered. A quick trigger with an equally quick release and deep range. Charlotte has been lacking in overly aggressive shooters and Roberts is a member of the newest platoon of long range assassins, along with the next 2 guys. We need more pull-up 3’s in transition.

2. PJ Hairston

Not a lot of video here, so we’ll just roll with the NBA.com highlights (while giving my weak video editing skills a break). The D-League stuff isn’t high quality and I refuse to include anything in my posts involving that hideous shade of blue. The mechanics aren’t perfect, but this time I don’t care. It’s so fun to watch PJ jack shots up from all over the court. Quick and confident, unlimited range… Hopefully Coach Clifford can clean up the rough edges and turn him into a 3-and-D monster.

1. Gary Neal

Gary Neal was the inspiration for this list. I was recently watching clips for something else I was working on and I realized I had never recognized how great his shot looks. I’ll let the video do most of the talking. Just look forward to the constant movement, flying around screens and along the baseline, popping out for gorgeous 3’s. The form isn’t necessarily perfect. But it’s quick, it’s balanced, it’s consistent, and it has a flair about it that lets the defense know they’re in trouble. Lance, Brian Roberts (he needs a nickname that’s NOT B-Rob. Let’s be better guys), PJ Be Shooting, and Gary Neal are going to bring something this team desperately needed.

-Bradford Coombs
@bradford_NBA