(Written by Chris Parette)
For those who haven’t been watching closely, there are a lot of new faces to the 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets. Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston, and Jason Maxiell (potentially). That is two starters (Stephenson and Williams) and up to four bench players. Adding that to the rest of the already playoff experienced roster, the Hornets added some serious depth this offseason. Position by position, here are the grades for each group on the bench:
Point Guards: Brian Roberts, Jannero Pargo
Many Hornets preseason viewers proceeded to freak out after Pargo outplayed Roberts in the first few preseason games. As the great Aaron Rodgers said ¨Everyone needs to R-E-L-A-X¨. Roberts is a better player. He is younger and has a lot of room to grow. He also has less than a month in Coach Clifford’s system and needs to get used to playing with all of his new teammates and getting them the ball in the right spots. Pargo is still solid, but he is 34 and is really only there for locker room leadership. Charlotte could’ve easily pursued another younger backup point guard with more potential, but they wanted a veteran who is a locker room leader for the younger guys. These two guys are good, but not great.
Shooting Guards: Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, PJ Hairston
This group has the potential to tear other second units apart. Now there are only so many minutes to go around, but with the lack of depth at small forward, there should be minutes for all of them to play. Many people think it would be smart to shop Henderson on the trading block, and I don’t disagree. If there is a potential to get some young talent or another true small forward, I think it is something that GM Rich Cho would have to consider. Being 26 years old and entering his 6th year in the NBA, we pretty much know what type of player Henderson is at this point. Neal has arguably been the most impressive Hornet of the preseason. Coach Clifford constantly talks about how important his shooting and offensive ability is to the team. The jump in the Hornets offensive efficiency after his acquisition last season back it up. Hairston has been getting a lot of preseason run as well, and he is another weapon from behind the arc. I don’t think he will get a ton of minutes at the beginning of the season, mostly because of his underwhelming defense. Anybody who knows Coach Clifford knows if you don’t play defense, you don’t play at all.
Small Forwards: ????
With Jeff Taylor’s domestic violence issue looming and his current ban from the team, there is no true backup small forward on the roster. Fortunately there are the wing players previously discussed, and there are many different players Coach Clifford can use to fill this hole. Lance Stephenson, Henderson, Hairston can all move to small forward, depending on the situation. You can move Lance to small forward and Neal to shooting guard if you need a scoring lineup and keep Lance and MKG if you need a stop on defense. There is also potential for Marvin Williams to play small forward if Coach Clifford wants to use a bigger lineup.
Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh
There is a lot of potential talent here. Zeller has a poor start to his rookie year but was a very good bench player by the end of the year. Before the All-Star break, he shot 38 percent from the field. After the break, Zeller improved to 50.7 percent. If his post All-Star break play can carry over to this season, he can be a real solid player coming off the bench as long as he can keep his fouling to a minimum. Vonleh also has a fouling issue like Zeller, and Coach Clifford said earlier this week that Vonleh won’t be in the rotation ¨anytime soon¨.
Centers: Bismack Biyombo, Jason Maxiell
If Al Jefferson was to go down for even a few weeks during the season, this backup rotation is a BIG problem. Biyombo has hardly developed at all. He isn’t a factor offensively, and all he can really provide is shot blocking and rebounding. He can be good in situational play, but if he is required to play heavy minutes during the season, look out. Maxiell is a veteran who is also a good defender, but he really was only brought in as another big body for practice. He will probably make the team, but if he is relied upon for heavy minutes, that won’t be good either. Coach Clifford has made it clear that Zeller will probably see minutes this year at backup center and can be a good change of pace guy for Jefferson. He probably isn’t quite strong enough to bang with your Dwight Howard’s and Demarcus Cousins’ of the NBA, but he is a little bit quicker and has the height to play the five.
At the beginning of the year, I believe that Clifford will set a nine man rotation that he uses in most situations. After watching preseason games, I think it will be Kemba, Lance, MKG, Williams, Al, Henderson, Neal, Roberts, and Zeller. This is obviously barring injuries, which have been plenty this preseason. I think it will take a while for Hairston and Vonleh to really see some major minutes, and it will take some trust for Clifford in order to do so. This nine man rotation is very deep, and each player brings a different set of skills to the table. If healthy, I see this bench taking advantage of many other teams’ second units.
Overall Bench Grade: B
You can follow Chris Parette on Twitter @ExtraChrisP_
Roberts/Pargo: ELIOT KAMENITZ
Hairston/MKG: AP Chuch Burton
Biyombo: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports