Quick Bounce: Miles Plumlee Contract

Standard

This Summer, the Hornets GM Rich Cho is up against the wall. He’s had control over the rebuilding effort since the end of the Bobcats days, and he’s put in a ton of work to get the club’s operations up to par with the rest of the league. Nevertheless, the team looks trapped in 8–10 seed purgatory for the foreseeable future.

It’s been noted that the salary cap is going to prohibit the Hornets from adding much talent through free agency. Although they were unlikely to recruit any of the few top-tier players on the market, their current collection of contracts limits there spending considerably. One of the biggest burdens is also one of Cho’s biggest mistakes – the contract that guarantees Miles Plumlee an unwarranted $12,400,000 annual salary (plus benefits).

Take a closer look: http://hoopshype.com/player/miles-plumlee/salary/

So for 45 games played scoring an average of 2.5 points per game, Plumlee earned $109,734 per point last season. For a backup center, his $130,526 per rebound is quite the take for the year, too.

In the year 2021, the Hornets will finally conclude their contractual responsibilities with Plumlee. Did Rich Cho see some sort of diamond-in-the-rough promise in Miles Plumlee when he dealt Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert? Is it possible to get any production or value from the big man next season?

 

Man on Wire | Charlotte Hornets 2016 Offseason Review

cho-illustration-01
Standard

Hornets general manager Rich Cho entered into the most precarious free agency period of his career last week. Five of the Playoff squad’s top rotation players were unrestricted free agents. Each could leave Charlotte cleanly with no strings attached and the Hornets had no recourse to match any offer they received.

The franchise clearly wants to continue to build upon last season’s 48 win team and with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist entering their primes on longterm value contracts, tanking made little sense. The team had to stay good.

Cho’s situation would have been challenging in any NBA offseason but this July in particular was a floss-thin tightrope walk thanks to a meager free agent class combined with an unprecedented $24 million spike in the league’s salary cap.

By some estimates, the total amount of cap space available amongst the NBA’s thirty teams was as high as $1 billion. Charlotte’s high character, well-coached free agents were in demand. Rival fanbases were rabid with anticipation over picking the Hornets’ Playoff carcass clean.

Somehow a small market franchise with little history and zero superstars had to lure back or replace their starting shooting guard, small forward, power forward, backup center and backup point guard in one calendar week with only a modest amount of cap space to work with.

Key Free Agents Return: Batum and Williams

Normally when a small market NBA franchise is faced with this sort of dilemma, their only recourse is to either massively downgrade for cheaper players or vastly overpay in order to retain quality talent or lure similar ones.

Rich Cho and his staff did neither. Two starters, Nic Batum (5yrs, $120m) and Marvin Williams (4yrs, $54m), signed long term extensions BELOW market value. Easily the team’s most important and most coveted free agents, both players reportedly had more lucrative offers to go elsewhere but elected to stay with the no superstar, small market team instead.

This is extremely impressive and speaks to the culture, both in the front office and on the coaching staff that Charlotte has been able to build after the burnout Larry Brown/Rod Higgins era just a half decade ago.

The Hornets traded away a Top 10 Lottery pick (Noah Vonleh) last summer for the right to recruit Nic in house for a year. The gamble paid off. Nic could’ve asked for another $30m* (his full max) on top of the 5 year deal Charlotte offered him. Another team could’ve offered him (and likely did) nearly the same amount on a 4 year max offer. Batum resisted either temptation.

(*Keep this tidbit in mind two and three years from now when Charlotte hits the free agent market in 2018 and 2019. That extra $30m could be the difference between signing an All-Star or an average starter.)

Speaking of savings, let me be the first Hornet fan to offically say thank you to Marvin for taking the Early Bird contract. Yes, I know it’s a crazy world when $54m is considered a “discount” – when most of us would be happy with a tiny fraction of that amount in our pockets but relatively speaking, Marvin could’ve easily spurned the Hornets for a shorter contract at nearly the same amount.

By accepting the Early Bird offer, the Hornets were able to lock in Marvin’s cap hold at just north of $9m (~$3.5m less than his actual salary). There were rumors that Williams was being offered $16m as a starting salary and if he forced Charlotte’s hand in matching it, the Hornets would’ve had to go into cap space to bring him back – rendering it impossible to add eventual depth at PG and C.

So if Ramon Sessions or Roy Hibbert swing a close game Charlotte’s way next season, you know who to thank.

GRADE: A+

Replacement Shooting Guard: Lee to Belinelli

Courtney Lee, who arrived in a mid-season trade as a fill-in replacement for an injured MKG, was a coveted “3&D” wing who was looking at a minimum eight figure deal in the current market.

Knowing this, the Hornets made a proactive trade before the Draft, sending out their 22nd overall pick for Lee’s replacement, Marco Belinelli. At a little over $6 million per over the next two seasons, Belinelli will count half as much against the cap as Courtney Lee’s $12 million per season deal with the Knicks.

Marco is a defensive downgrade for certain, but with MKG returning to the lineup, Belinelli won’t be asked to play the same role. MKG and Batum will handle difficult wings, allowing Marco to do the things Lee couldn’t – facilitate, create offense and shots off the dribble – primarily with the second unit.

Ultimately, given the quality of this year’s Draft class, sacrificing a late round pick in order to save $35m in future cap flexibility (Marco is guaranteed a total of $12.9m, Lee $48m) is hardly an unforgivable sin. The aesthetics of this trade will look much better a year from now.

GRADE: B

Replacement Backup Point Guard: Lin to Sessions

First the good news. Jeremy Lin’s ability to get hot and take over the occasional game can be replicated somewhat by Belinelli. If either Frank Kaminsky (likely) or Jeremy Lamb (less likely) take a step forward, Lin’s departure will allow them even more opportunities to become shot creators and makers with the reserve unit.

Now the bad news. As much as I like Ramon Sessions as a gritty, pick and roll point guard who can get to the rim, he is unquestionably a downgrade as an all around fill-in starter.

Lockout season aside, Kemba Walker has managed 80+ games played only twice in his career and just had another meniscus surgery following the season. Given his size and playing style, the chances of Kemba missing fifteen or twenty games are high enough to make you worry and Sessions as a starter is CLEARLY a downgrade from Lin.

But given the market conditions – this was a painfully thin PG class – and the Hornets other free agent priorities, downgrading from Lin was an inevitability. Jeremy was the best backup PG in the NBA last season and is good enough to start. Given the terms of his Brooklyn contract (3yrs, $36m), he obviously prioritized the starting role over potential cash.

Some fans have complained about the team choosing Sessions (2yrs, $12m – second year team option) over Brandon Jennings (1yr, $5m) but Jennings is a major injury risk in his own right and with Ramon having once a been a Bobcat, Cho and Steve Clifford ran with the devil they knew versus the devil they didn’t.

GRADE: C+ (highest possible given circumstances)

Replacement Backup Center: Big Al to Hibbert

The Hornets somehow managed a Top 10 NBA defense during Al Jefferson’s first year in Charlotte. Part of the smoke and mirrors D was slowing the team’s pace down to a crawl and feeding a prime Big Al entry passes. This worked great for a season and then Jefferson started getting hurt and putting on weight (or maybe it was in reverse order?).

At some point two years ago Clifford started watching Warriors games and realized that puttying together a inside-out offense and a paint-paranoid defense was only going to get a team so far. He set out to create the four out, one in system that propelled Charlotte to a Top 10 offense AND defense last season.

Gone was the steady diet of old man “1 in, 4 watch” post feeds (and 4 guard, 1 watches paint defense). Instead we had Cody pushing the limits of SportsVU tracking, setting what seemed like five screens on every possession while his floor stretching teammates moved the ball around to find an open shooter.

Although it seemed unimaginable to think back in Big Al’s dominant 2013 All-NBA season, just two summers later the team (and maybe the entire league) had passed him by.

You could pretty much cut and paste the above paragraph into Roy Hibbert’s recent bio and it would be accurate. At the end of the 2013 season, Hibbert was widely viewed as major NBA asset and a borderline star.

At 7’2”, 270+ pounds, Roy is a giant and one of the few seven foot plus players to have never battled foot injuries. He was the game’s best rim protector just a few short seasons ago and is still only 29 years old.

The Hornets are clearly buying low. Hibbert signed a one year deal at half the price that Jefferson will be paid next season from Roy’s first team ($10m per from the Pacers). It’s a smart move by both sides.

Roy is banking on big man guru (and fellow Georgetown icon) Patrick Ewing doing for him what the staff has done with Jefferson and Dwight Howard over the years: Have a renaissance campaign and cash in next summer for one last pay day.

Hibbert will play serious minutes for Charlotte next season; anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t watched Clifford coach. Cliff loves veterans and he loves size and he loves rim protection. Unless Roy utterly poops the bed with his effort, conditioning or effectiveness, expect him to average 16-20 minutes a night, depending on the matchup.

With Cody entrenched as the team’s starter, Frank bulking up for more minutes at the five and Spencer Hawes still on the books, the Hornets suddenly have a ton of depth at center – but only one of those guys can protect the paint. Given that Roy’s previous team just guaranteed a gimpy Timofey Mozgov $64 million over four years, a one year flyer on Hibbert at $5 million is a terrific gamble.

GRADE: A+

Going Forward

FiveThirtyEight’s Carmelo Projections are mostly favorable for Charlotte’s longterm contracts and upcoming restricted free agent candidates (Zeller and Kaminsky).

Given Marvin’s age and career numbers last season, you’d expect his projections to suffer the most and they do – dropping off to just 1.7 Wins Above Replacement in his player option fourth year. Kemba and Nic Batum are projected to play at an All-Star or near All-Star level for at least the next three seasons. MKG, Cody and Frank will enter the season at age 23 or younger.

From a cap perspective, barring a major trade, the Hornets are essentially punting on 2017 Free Agency. The Steph Come Home hopefuls (myself included) likely had our dreams dashed the moment Kevin Durant made his Super Team decision. Realistically, Curry was the only superstar who was ever going to sign with Charlotte as an unrestricted free agent in his prime. With that possibility removed, locking up the roster’s core for the next few seasons was the next logical plan.

Assuming that Cody Zeller signs a reasonable extension in the next 12 months (4yrs, $48m sounds right given 2017’s more robust FA class and smaller cap spike), the Hornets will be capped out next summer but could have as much as $20m in cap space in 2018 to go after an All-Star quality talent. See the attached a projected salary chart below for more details.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 5.53.52 PM

Extend Cho (#ExtendCho)

I’ve been on the Rich Cho bandwagon since he joined the Bobcats in 2011. The one quality decision that Rod Higgins made during his entire stint with the franchise was recommending Cho to ownership. His reputation as a terrible drafter is somewhat unearned – we still have no idea who makes the Draft day calls – but his asset management, trade and free agent work has been exemplary since day one.

If you stop and think about the hand Cho and his team were dealt heading into the offseason**, it’s borderline amazing what they were able to pull off. The quality of the Hornets roster is either on par with last season’s; arguably stronger and certainly deeper.

Here’s hoping the next extension made by the team is for Cho himself.

(**and if you really want to be impressed go back and check out the Bobcats cap sheet, roster and draft pick situation prior to Cho’s hire in 2011)

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz

Marco YOLO | Explaining Hornets Draft Day 2016

Belinelli Trade Salaries Hypothetical
Standard

It’s that time of year again. Time for my annual post aimed to cool reactionary fans angered by Rich Cho’s refusal to do exactly what they want him to do. As in years past, Draft Day 2016 can only be understood if we place the move in context within the roster building to follow. Let’s break it down thus far…

The Mystery Trade

The only details about the trade that we know for certain is that Marco Belinelli will be a Hornet and Charlotte’s 22nd overall pick (Malachi Richardson) will be moving on to Sacramento. The trade hasn’t been officially announced and won’t be until after the free agency moratorium ends on July 7th. Other players and picks could be included on either side but for now, let’s assume it’s the vanilla version and call it Version 1A.

TRADE VERSION 1A: Breakdown

Let’s start with the obvious. On the court, Belinelli makes a ton of sense for Charlotte. He can play on ball and off, can stroke the three, create off the dribble and has proven to be a capable system defender when the system is good. Think of him as a defensively inferior, offensively superior Courtney Lee. Done.

Off the court, things get a little trickier. As a cap enthusiast, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why and how this is supposed to work:

If the deal is strictly Marco for the 22nd pick, you’re looking at $6.3m coming in and around $1.2m going out. Charlotte doesn’t have any trade exceptions of that size to absorb the extra money, so if it’s strictly one to one, they’d have to move Marco into cap space.

This is a problem because the Hornets won’t have any cap space until they renounce some of their unrestricted free agents after the moratorium – which would have to be done immediately before the trade is made official.

According to my numbers, the Hornets are sitting currently at around $112m – factoring in all of their cap holds – which is roughly $17m over next year’s projected $94m cap.

To absorb Marco’s extra $5.1m, Charlotte would have to renounce around $22m worth of salaries. Renouncing Al Jefferson, Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez, Jeremy Lin and Tyler Hansbrough seems like the obvious way to get there.

One downside: You’d lose potential sign & trade scenarios with Big Al (using his Bird’s rights) but it’s doubtful many of those scenarios exist on the market anyways.

Renouncing Lin (more on Jeremy later) and Daniels seems alarming at first but given that both players are non-Bird’s rights free agents, the team will have to go into their cap room (or the MLE in Daniels’ case) to bring them back anyway.

So how do we grade Version 1A of the trade? The Hornets, in a maelstrom of unrestricted free agency decisions, figure out a way to replace Courtney Lee with a similarly-aged, cost-controlled, two year rental. In return, they give up whatever potential a cheap-salaried, late round pick could give them.

A Small Sacrifice

In an alternate reality, Charlotte could’ve kept the pick, taken a project wing and then used their Bird Rights to overpay Lee to make sure he stays (think between $10-14m per year). Instead, they get a similar player who’s the same age at around half the price who’ll most likely be on a shorter deal.

Factor in the salary for the 22nd pick and you’re looking at an immediate savings of around $7-$8m in cap space depending on what Lee ultimately gets on the market. This added flexibility could be just enough for Charlotte to retain Lin via cap room (see salary chart below) while paying him market value.

So, even in Version 1A of the trade, the Hornets could (and likely will) end up ostensibly getting two ready-to-play rotation players for the relatively small price of a late round pick in a weak Draft (and let’s face it, Clifford wouldn’t play that late round pick for two years anyway).

Belinelli Trade Salaries Hypothetical

GRADE: TBD in July

TRADE VERSION 1B: Breakdown

Version 1B of this trade is based on some chatter that the Hornets were able to attach one of Jeremy Lamb or Spencer Hawes to the pick in a salary dump.

I was a lot more excited to write about this version of the deal until I actually got around to thinking about it. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much if either of those players is involved in the trade because:

  1. Neither players’ contract is an albatross
  2. One of the Hornets’ strengths last season was their depth and both players have proven themselves rotation capable during the regular season
  3. With so much cap room available and so few quality free agents, it won’t be hard for the Hornets to find a taker for either player later in free agency

With either Version of the trade, Draft Day 2016 can’t be properly evaluated until we see what Cho & Co are able to do in July.

Get ready Hornets fans because, to quote the esteemed Jim Ross, “Business is about to pick up.

-ASChin
@baselinebuzz

The Swarm Awakens

kemba-2015_web
Standard

The 2014-2015 Charlotte Hornets were the most disappointing reboot since The Phantom Menace. What was supposed to be a nostalgia-fueled romp to the Playoffs turned out to be an injury riddled, failed chemistry experiment that left casual fans and league observers shaking their heads, parroting old standbys like “same old Bobcats” or “same old MJ”.

What the skeptics missed in all of last season’s turmoil was that the Hornets organization had been trying like mad to be good. They went the extra mile to ditch the old brand and bring back the buzz. They hired competent basketball minds in Rich Cho and Steve Clifford over the years and phased out old cronies. They brought in real basketball talent instead of could be’s and could’ve beens.

Things simply broke bad. Lance Stephenson was a worthwhile gamble that went bust. Every starter either missed major time due to injury or went through a horrible slump. The glue that held the team together the previous season took his talents to South Beach. Stuff happened. Instead of scrapping the whole experiment, the franchise looked at what worked in ’13-’14 (passing + shooting + good vibes) and doubled down on it this summer.

Unlike George Lucas and his failed prequels, Michael Jordan isn’t forcing himself into the director’s chair and he isn’t selling the franchise in order to skip town. Jordan has given a primary directive (“be competitive, make the Playoffs”) and will occasionally make his opinions known in the Draft room when he feels it’s appropriate. To continue the analogy, MJ is now more Spielberg than Lucas – a collaborator working with a highly competent team. And last season, the shark didn’t work.

This season, the front office and coaching staff finally seem to be on the same page. Previously, Cho was attempting to hedge the “be competitive now” directive with one foot firmly in the future. For example: Sign Al Jefferson in his prime and then draft a 19 year old unpasteurized rookie to play next to him. In theory, that’s a neat idea but the league is much too competitive for that sort of hard-hedging to work. So Cho sent that rookie (Noah Vonleh) to Portland for 26 year old triple double threat Nic Batum. Both feet are firmly in the now (and near future).

The naysayers look at that trade and the Hornets selection of 22 year old senior Frank Kaminsky in June’s Draft as key evidence in the case for MJ as the Biggest Dummy in the league. The Hornets need to be collecting assets! They are striving for mediocrity! They need more Draft picks! They need to get better at Drafting! Jordan will never figure this out! He should sell the team!

It’s incredibly easy in life to point out what’s wrong. Twitter, YouTube and Xbox Live offer a cheap barrage of criticism daily. The Hornets struggles last season (and their macro-struggles as a franchise) require much more nuance and understanding. Since the time Cho was hired four years ago, the Hornets have made up a ton of ground from their past mistakes and taken several solid steps forward. Sure, they whiffed on Bismack Biyombo but scored on Kemba, MKG, Big Al and a slew of trades. They came within a few ping-pong balls of landing once in a generation talent Anthony Davis, barely missed and moved on to Plan B – build a winning culture. If you think this is naive, check out what perpetual tanking is doing to the Sixers organization.

For the first time in forever, the Hornets have a dozen competent professional basketball players and a well respected head coach. More than half of the roster can become free agents next season. Clifford’s on the last year of his deal. Motivation meet Incentive. They’ll bust their tails to go above .500 and make the Playoffs, come hell or high water. If a trade must be made, it will be made.

Charlotte will go 44-38 this season and make the Playoffs. The Force is Strong in this team. The Swarm will Awaken. Hugo, we’re home.

Charlotte Hornets ’15-’16 Bold Predictions:

1. MKG will return for a postseason run.

Defense, game planning and matchups reign in the Playoffs. MKG will be back and adhesively applying himself to John Wall, Jimmy Butler or DeMar DeRozan.

2. Frank Kaminsky will eventually start.

By mid-season if not before, Frank will be in the starting five. Offensively he makes so much more sense than Cody as a ball mover and floor spacer. Kaminsky shouldn’t play more than half the game as a rook but every one of those minutes need to either be next to Al or as a small ball five.

3. Nic Batum will not average 18 points a game.

That’s simply not his game. Expect a 14ppg/6rpg/5apg line from the French Army Knife. He’s not a perfect player by any means but Batum has the ability to fill in the gaps of an incomplete roster. Nic, Frank, Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes will do what Josh McRoberts did two seasons ago and much, much more.

4. Jeremy Lin gets Sixth Man of the Year consideration.

I initially thought he was going to start next to Kemba once MKG went down but J-Lin’s ability to run the second unit and finish games is much more valuable. His shot mechanics have improved and while he won’t shoot 50%+ from the 3PT arc as he did in the preseason, his ability to run the pick and roll, penetrate, distribute and draw fouls are absolutely sustainable. Expect Lin to average 28-30 minutes a night.

5. Steve Clifford gets Coach of the Year consideration.

If Clifford gets the defense in the top third of the league minus MKG (they’ve finished in the Top 10 during each of his first two seasons with CHA), he’ll not only get COTY consideration but likely a fat new contract from MJ as well. Let’s hope so. The idea of a Charlotte NBA coach lasting more than three seasons would’ve seemed mythical just a few years ago.

6. Kemba shoots over 40%.

He’s only done it once (his sophomore campaign) but Walker is due for a league average field goal season. With Batum and the other connectors moving the ball, Kemba will have to force less shot-clock bailouts and take less bad shots overall. Smart offense is contagious and my bet is that Kemba catches the bug.

7. The Wing is going to be a Problem.

Outside of Batum, the Hornets have serious depth issues at the SG/SF positions. Jeremy Lamb looks completely lost defensively and PJ Hairston is about as consistent as AT&T coverage. If Cho does pull the trigger on a trade, expect it to be for wing help.

8. If any Hornets are traded it will be Cody Zeller and/or Brian Roberts.

Roberts has shot lights out (44% overall, 45% from 3PT) in the preseason and has run the offense like a pro. He’s too good to be a third PG who sits behind Kemba and Lin. Some team with lead guard issues (maybe his old team in New Orleans) will come calling.

Cody is an extremely intriguing athlete who could blossom on a fast paced squad with scorers. He’s also the Hornets only big who’s a legit plus defender. If the right deal comes along (and only if), I could see Charlotte taking it.

9. The Eastern Conference Standings in April:

  1. Chicago
  2. Cleveland
  3. Atlanta
  4. Toronto
  5. Washington
  6. Charlotte
  7. Milwaukee
  8. Miami

Detroit finishes 9th. Boston and Orlando tie for 10th.

10. Final Prediction: This Hornets season will be much more fun than last.

Bank on it.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Hornets Summer Shuffle : June Edition

Standard

hornets-summer-2015

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

Loading ... Loading ...

Hornets 2015 Offseason Preview | Part One

kemba-sketch-01
Standard

Open browser > Navigate to DraftExpress > Talk myself into prospects. Oh my. Oh dear. How did this happen again? Is it real? How did the Hornets rebrand season – once so full of promise – nosedive into a Bobcats-worthy dumpster of lethargy and chaos?

So many things had to go wrong for Charlotte to miss the 2015 Playoffs. Injuries were a legitimate problem but the roster construction did plenty of damage before the neo-Hornets ever stepped onto their honeycombed court. Seriously, has a prized free agent ever tanked as mightily as Lance Stephenson? It happens in the NFL all the time (Sean Gilbert, Albert Haynesworth) but in the NBA, a dramatic fall like “Born Ready’s” is nearly unheard of. And how could a seemingly minor roster move like replacing Josh McRoberts with Marvin Williams prove so tone deaf in retrospect? How did a coaching staff once so promising completely lose the players’ focus when it mattered most?

If we learned anything this season, it’s that successful NBA franchises function as unified organisms. They embody singular visions of HOW WE ARE GOING TO WIN which is ultimately manifested on the court. The coach, the GM, the scouts, ownership and the roster are all on the same page; all focused on the same goal. The Spurs are the obvious example of this kind of vertically integrated masterplan – but so are the Hawks (Spurs wannabes), the Grizzlies (finally rid of the curmudgeon Lionel Hollins), the Warriors (perfect front office/coach/roster combination), the Rockets (superstars, superstars, superstars) and the Clippers (GM/Coach = same dude). The Bucks are on their own unified, distinct path and could very well rule the East over the next half decade.

When I look at the Hornets I see a fractured blueprint from roster to ownership; a team that hasn’t committed to one direction. A team that’s trying to be good now while also trying to develop (very) raw talent. An ownership group that staffs up one of the league’s largest analytics teams and then proceeds to place a few of the chairman’s relatives into key positions. A front office that (rightly) attempts to mine the draft for superstars in the rough and then signs Win-Now veteran free agents to hog all of their precious developmental minutes. A coach who preaches players’ untapped potential and versatility and then stifles any display of it with an ultra-conservative offense from decades past.

To be clear, I still believe that Michael Jordan, Rich Cho and Steve Clifford have the potential to build a perennial winner in Charlotte. These are high-level, smart and experienced people. MJ wants to win and has spent the cash to make it happen. Cho skates to where the puck’s going. Clifford is respected by his players and his peers. And in order to succeed, they’ll need to get on the same page and answer some very tough questions about the franchise’s future.

PART I: THE KEMBA CONUNDRUM

Starting in July, Kemba Walker goes from being a nice young player on a rookie deal to a guy in his mid-twenties making $12m per season. And yes, I know the cap is rising and that $12m won’t be AS painful two seasons from now. Still, the fact that we’re even talking about it potentially being a problem is a problem.
If you were the most casual of casual Hornets fans you would be forgiven in believing that Kemba is the team’s best player. Google “Hornets highlights” and one of his step-back, crunch-time jumpers will inevitably flash before your eyes. By virtue of UConn’s storied 2011 Final Four run, Walker is perhaps the most recognizable name on the roster outside of Lance and his size and character are ready-made fan favorite qualities. Indeed, there are games when Kemba is the Hornets best player – he’ll single-handily swing games by hitting tough shot after tough shot while his teammates cheer even louder than the fans.
And then there are the other games. The ones the casual fans either don’t see or don’t want to admit to seeing.

Antithetical Prototypes

The QC’s own Steph Curry just won the MVP of the league. He did this by distilling his game into the perfect modern, post-D’Antoni Point Guard. A lead ball handler who can devastate defenses off the pick, Steph dares you to go over OR under. On the ball or off, Curry panics defenses at every turn. He’s an exquisite shooter with fantastic court vision and surprisingly good handles. Like Steve Nash before him, Steph forces you to pick your poison – and they’re all deadly.

Let’s contrast this with Walker. If you’re an opposing defense, does Kemba terrify you at the point of attack? Hardly.
Walker is statistically a very below average shooter (he’s at 39% from the field for his career, 31% from three) and lacks above-average rim-finishing skills or court vision (his per 36 and per 100 possession assists dipped even further last year) to make up for it. Most alarming: despite his shooting limitations Walker is often stricken by what hoops optometrists refer to as “tunnel vision”. Squint and you’ll almost see Allen Iverson out there running a one man show. Squint a little more and you’ll realize that it’s the Detroit version of AI.
And even if Kemba was the second coming of peak-Iverson, would you want that sort of player leading a team in 2015? The modern NBA is all about ball movement and disruption. Never allow a defense to get comfortable; attack them anywhere and everywhere. Give Doc Rivers credit, he’s let Chris Paul and Blake Griffin improvise for much of the Playoffs and it’s worked wonders keeping elite defenses on their heels.
With Kemba, an opponent requires only one strategy: let him shoot it. So what if he gets hot? At sub-40% shooting you’ll live with that choice – and, better yet, a suddenly hot, myopic Walker negates any need to waste intellect or energy defending much easier buckets from open teammates. Yes, Kemba is fast and can penetrate with the best of them. Again, so what? If he’s unable to hit guys with easy looks underneath or finish at a higher than average rate, let him have it. A seven game series is a law of averages and eventually Kemba’s averages will win (or lose) out.

Repair or Replace?

Previous issues aside, if the Hornets are intent on moving forward with Kemba as their starting point guard, there is a way to make it work.
During the season that earned Kemba his $48 million extension (the Bobcats finale) Walker thrived due to the simple fact that he didn’t really have to play point. The team had Josh McRoberts to handle the rock in the half court, to stretch the defense, to shift opponents with crafty dribble post-ups across the paint, to notch hockey assists. Cho attempted to find a younger, similar player to team with Kemba longterm but the Jazz matched the Hornets’ max-contract offer to Gordon Hayward. McRoberts subsequently took his talents to South Beach* after the team de-prioritized him and the Hornets’ offense fell apart. (*credit Pat Riley for completely disrupting an up and coming division rival for the low cost of the mid-level exception. Riles proves once again that he is as ruthless and brilliant as his old pal Gordon Gecko.)

Here’s the issue going forward: Outside of McRoberts, Hayward, Boris Diaw, James Harden and a few others, there simply aren’t many other non-point guards who can run a team. Cody Zeller may eventually develop into a lite-version of that player in time with any luck but the Hornets need more than hope and they need it soon. Finding the perfect roster mate who can compensate for Kemba’s weaknesses will be difficult AND – here’s the big AND – even if Charlotte does find that guy, they have to make certain that peak-Kemba is worth constructing your entire roster around. If the answer to that mega-question is “no” then the team will need to explore other options:

Option 1: Crawford, Jamal Crawford.

When the cap rises to $80 million plus, Kemba’s $12m per deal could be palatable for a sixth man. The team could then limit Walker to a single developmental objective going forward: take better shots and make them, forgoing all other point guard related tasks. Sixth Man Kemba does one thing and one thing only, put the ball in the basket when the rest of the team can’t. The entire second unit is his to dominate (Hey, it’ll be like old times in 2011!) and Walker finishes games next to a bigger point guard in crunch time (#Pray4Mudiay or #Don’tHustle4Russell).

Option 2: Trader Cho.

The team packages Kemba with an asset in order to both A.) clear $48m from the payroll and B.) upgrade the position. Ty Lawson is the obvious candidate du jour. Given Cho’s modus operandi when it comes to asset management, I’d put the chances of this sort of deal at less than 25%. That said, the team should at least consider it because a point guard who can’t get other guys involved risks DEVALUING all of your assets. Bismack Biyombo may be the next Tyson Chandler for all we know. Noah Vonleh could be Kawhi meets Bosh. Doesn’t matter if Starbury 2.0 is playing solo in the halfcourt.

Up Next
Of course, the Kemba Conundrum isn’t the only major issue facing the Hornets this offseason. There’s the matter of Big Al’s waistline, Hendo’s player option, Biyombo’s restricted free agency and Lance – Lance is always a major issue. Those issues and more coming up in Part II.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

What To Do With Hendo, The Stats Edition

Gerald Henderson Illustration by Mike S
Standard

 

Earlier this week ASChin did an excellent job of explaining how Gerald Henderson will likely be the odd man out in the rotation and could be on the move in a trade sooner rather than later, even offering up some potential trade destinations (Find that here). I had no idea he was working on that post and, independently, had been thinking about Henderson and if/how he fits on the team this coming season. I wanted to take a statistical approach to determining his value either on the team or as a trade target.

The case for keeping Henderson relies on the hope that he’ll recover after a down year while handling a reduced role after having been a team captain and one of the franchise cornerstones during a painful rebuild, ceding a starting position and minutes to the newly arrived Lance Stephenson. That’s a reasonable expectation, right? Let’s pretend it is. And let’s pretend last year was more adjustment period than future projection. Given those extremely reasonable parameters it would be hard to let him go right now when Charlotte couldn’t even get a late 1st from a contending team for him, after which said contender (Clippers) drafted essentially the same player in CJ Wilcox that they did last year with Reggie Bullock.

2012-13 Gerald Henderson was a solid role player. He posted the 10th best PER among shooting guards at 16.48. That’s better than Monta Ellis (16.3), Kevin Martin (16.09), Eric Gordon (15.43 and a max freaking contract), JJ Redick (14.74), Ray Allen (14.72)… Hendo can be an extremely frustrating player to watch, but don’t let all those mid-range jumpers fool you. He was extremely productive in 2012-13. He wasn’t particularly great at anything, but he was good at enough things.

So what would bench mob Henderson look like? Since I don’t have my own database set up to do a sufficiently deep search (I’m working on it), I had to use the tools at stats.nba.com. Searching for players that played more than 25 minutes with an offensive rating between 98 and 102 and a true shooting % between 47% and 53%1 and perusing several years’ worth of results, 2 names stood out as being similar while also having transition from a starting role to a bench role at some point. Evan Turner hasn’t spent enough time coming off the bench as a veteran, so he was out, so I settled on Rodney Stuckey, which, after thinking about it, made a lot of sense. They have similar size, similarly limited range, and average play-making abilities. Stuckey is the better passer while Henderson is a better defensive player and rebounder. You can see how similar they are in the following chart, created using career data from basketball-reference.com.

Henderson vs Stuckey

Stuckey was a (mostly) full-time starter in 2011-12, when he started 54 games and came off the bench in 16. Over the next 2 seasons, he came off the bench in 120 out of 149 games played. As if the career numbers weren’t enough, the career arcs are eerily similar. Both players steadily improved each year before having career peaks in their 4th year, followed by a regression year, then a demotion to the bench as their respective teams went in different directions. This makes Stuckey a decent place to turn to when trying to gauge the effect of a bench move. It should be understood that this isn’t necessarily what can be expected from Henderson, it’s just an example of a similar player making a similar move at a similar point in his career. Let’s go straight to the numbers for this.

Stuckey Career

Stuckey peaked as a starter in 2010-11, showing real progress and the potential to be a solid long-term contributor for the Pistons both as a scorer (but not necessarily a shooter) and a play-maker. The following season, again mostly as a starter, saw him regress some. In 2012-13, Stuckey spent most of his time coming off the bench and his game suffered. Every shooting metric, drawing fouls, assists, as well as the overall offensive rating and PER metrics all dropped significantly. The team around him changed very little. Lawrence Frank was coach through both seasons. Ben Gordon was traded for Corey Maggette (in Cho we trust) while Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler were brought in. Given that level of continuity, it appears something else was going on. Given the decrease in usage rate coupled with a significant decrease in earned free-throws, I’m going to roll with Occam’s razor and suggest Stuckey struggled adjusting to a role off the bench. Anyone who has played pick-up basketball knows what it’s like to play a game where you only take 1 or 2 shots, sit out a couple games because the court is way too crowded, then come in and try to get back in the flow of the game. Some players seem to be born for it. Most struggle to find a rhythm playing so inconsistently. Another factor that causes me to think he struggled with his new role is his improved play the following season under similar circumstances. While he didn’t recover to the success he saw as a starter, he did see his usage rate and shooting numbers improve. This suggests to me that, as he grew more comfortable coming off the bench, his efficiency improved.

I expect Henderson to experience a similar dip if/when he starts coming off the bench. My biggest concern for him as an effective bench player is his how he scores, as seen in the chart below.
Hendo Shot Distribution

With 54% of his shots coming from the mid-range, my concern is that his efficiency too dependent on rhythm. This concept is rooted in more than just conjecture and personal experience. As his opportunities increased each season, seeing bumps in both shots per 36 minutes and usage rate in every successive season, his shooting numbers improved. When Charlotte added Al Jefferson, a high usage player and the new focal point on offense, Henderson’s field goal attempts per 36 minutes dropped by almost 1 attempt while his overall usage slipped from 23.5% to 22.1%. Being the pessimistic person I am, I expect Henderson to struggle much like Stuckey. He doesn’t have the type of game that would benefit from playing against 2nd units, as he doesn’t attack the rim or post-up. He limits himself to scoring off cuts and pull-up mid-range shots, the types of things he already gets at will (mostly because the defense wants him taking those shots). I do think he can be an effective bench player in time, and that his numbers will improve as he adjusts, much like Stuckey’s did, but I’m skeptical he’ll ever match his production from the 2012-13 season.

The best path to improvement for Henderson is developing a 3-point shot. Shooting is something that can be, and often is, improved over time. I would be more optimistic about that type of improvement if Henderson had more confidence. LeBron is an obvious example of a player going from a below average 3-point shooter to a very effective shooter from deep. I’m relatively cool on Henderson experiencing that type of improvement. The difference between the 2 players when it comes to improving shooting is confidence. Nobody has identified a metric using SportVU data that measures confidence, but I think that lack of confidence bears itself out in quantifiable performance. Even when he was shooting under 35%, LeBron was still jacking up between 3.5 and 4.7 3’s per 36 minutes. Henderson has never attempted even 2 per 36. Ignoring mechanical issues in his shot (which there are plenty), his unwillingness to even attempt available shots isn’t going to help him become a better game shooter. Watching video2, he doesn’t come off cuts or screens ready to shoot, often choosing to take one dribble in and pull up. I think it’s more likely that a move to the bench hurts any progress he has or might make more than it helps.

With multiple options waiting in the wings (pun intended) in Gary Neal, Jeff Taylor, and PJ Hairston, coupled with a likely dip in production from Henderson, I have to agree with our fearless leader that Henderson has to go. His stock isn’t going to improve playing less minutes with decreasing levels of production. It would have been best to move him following the 2012-13 season. Plenty of reports have suggested Cho has been gauging the league’s interest the last couple years and nothing has materialized. I expect the market will be fairly dry. I’m not much for guessing at trade options, but I think it’s worth assessing his value as a trade target.

I believe I’ve sufficiently covered Henderson’s offensive value. Anyone looking to add him will do so in hopes of improving their wing defense. The problem is that Henderson’s defense appears to be much like Jeff Taylor’s shooting, little more than reputation. With the caveat that defense is much harder to quantify for an individual than offense, there is little evidence that Henderson is a plus on that end of the floor. Over his entire career, Charlotte has been 1.4 points per 100 possessions worse on defense with Henderson on the floor, per basketball-referene.com. Turning to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, he posted a -.95 defensive RPM, 41st among shooting guards3. His block and steal counts are perfectly average for a shooting guard.

If Cho is looking to move Henderson, and I think he should, I don’t think he should expect much in return. Finding an interested team will have less to do with his value in a vacuum and more to do with his value to said team. You can probably cross off rebuilding teams. Henderson appears to be what he is at this point. That leaves contenders looking to shore up their wing defense (Henderson is probably a better defender than the numbers show). Given those parameters, I would be looking to pick up some potential asset in return. A late-round pick, an underused young player, the rights to a euro-stash… I like Charlotte’s roster as constituted right now. There is a solid PG rotation, depth and versatility on the wings with guys that can play multiple positions, and enough bigs to do the job. There really aren’t any immediate needs that I see. I like ASChin’s proposal with Cleveland in principle. While I don’t like helping out a team in the east, they have a clear need for a defense oriented wing. I would look to involve a 3rd team before trading Biz for Varejao just because of durability concerns while picking up an asset.

Henderson has been a solid Bobcat during his career. He’s bridged the gap between 2 different eras of Charlotte basketball and deserves credit for sticking it out. But it’s time for the franchise and player to move on from one another. A trade at this point would be mutually beneficial and the sooner, the better, so as to avoid any potential conflicts over roles and/or playing time. As I see it, trading Henderson is an opportunity to continue to build for the future without sacrificing anything this coming season.

-Bradford Coombs
@bradford_NBA

1. I chose effective FG% because it takes into account added value from 3 point shots, and NBA.com only lets you add 5 custom filters, so it represented a reasonable composite number to use. Limited filters was the motivation for using offensive rating as well, also a nice composite type of number to use.
2. Per multiple requests, I tried to embed gifs or create videos as examples. For a software developer, it’s pretty sad how incompetent I am when it comes to anything other than programming and system maintenance. Tutorials are welcome.
3. Wesley Matthews was 44th with a -1.08. There’s still a lot to learn about RPM.