Four Keys to Hornets Playoff Success

With the 2016 NBA Playoffs fast approaching, and the Hornets getting closer and closer to clinching a playoff spot (likely 3-6 seed), it is time that we dig a little deeper into the four keys to the Hornets being successful in the playoffs.

The Crunch Time Lineup

A crunch time lineup that Coach Clifford has run with last few games is very interesting. This lineup consists of Kemba, Lin, Batum, Marvin, and Al. Now this lineup isn’t a juggernaut defensively, but when it comes to scoring, ball movement, and creating shots, this lineup takes the cake for the Hornets. It fits Clifford’s “One in four out” philosophy (4 perimeter guys who can shoot, surrounding one big man down low). This lineup can also be interchanged for key defensive possessions, with Lee replacing Lin and Cody replacing Al.

Kemba, Lin, and Batum can handle the ball, score, and set up teammates. The three of them along with Marvin all shoot well from 3 (Kemba 38%, Lin 33%, Batum 35%, Mavin 40%), and Big Al can still do Big Al things in the post. I will be very interested to see how much Coach Clifford uses this lineup going forward, especially at the end of games, because I think it has the potential to score a lot of points.

The Bench

Lin, Lamb, Kaminsky, and Al have been a very up and down bench as of late. Some games they can either take the lead against weaker benches, but some games they give away a lead and don’t perform at their max potential. The inconsistency has been alarming however, and the individuals in the unit don’t always seem to perform well at the same time. Lin went through a rough patch before going on a recent hot streak. Lamb got benched for Troy Daniels because of his mistakes on both sides of the ball. Frank still has the rookie ups and downs. Al still seems to be getting his legs underneath him after missing a big chunk in the middle of the season. Luckily for the Hornets, the bench goes deeper besides these four. Spencer Hawes is finally healthy, and he can contribute if someone is hurt or not playing well. Also Troy Daniels always seems to play well when called upon and can light it up from downtown any game when inserted.

Clifford has tinkered with the fifth man in the rotation trying out Kemba, Batum, and Marvin, and getting mixed results game to game. The bench is going to be very key come playoff time, and if they aren’t playing at their peak, it seriously diminishes the Hornets chances of advancing in the playoffs.

Cody Zeller’s Confidence

Every fan who watches Hornets games consistently knows that Cody can be great or he can be shaky. When he is confident and is playing with confidence, he finishes strong at the rim, sprints from end to end like Usain Bolt, is a strong rebounder, and is a good rim defender (which is vital to the Hornets who lack one). When Cody is lacking confidence, he is picking up cheap fouls defensively, and he seems to get bodied offensively. A key for Cody is to get a bucket early in the game, which is something Clifford likes to do.

Cody is a huge beneficiary of Nic Batum coming to Charlotte. Many of his easy points come off great Batum passes, often off the pick and roll. Getting easy dunks, offensive rebounds, and putbacks are huge for Cody. The Hornets will need to make sure he is confident come playoff time, with likely first-round matchups of Sullinger/Olynyk, Stoudemire/Whiteside, or Horford.

Kemba and Batum

The biggest key to this team come playoff time is simple. Having the two best players on the team play like the two best players on the team. Scoring 20+ points, making plays for others, being efficient. If even one of these two has a bad couple games or a bad series, it could single-handedly sink the teams chances in the playoffs. When Kemba and Nic are firing on all cylinders, it makes life easier for the players around them to get easier shots and perform better as well.

If Charlotte can get these four things rolling come playoff time, there is no reason that the Hornets can’t advance to the second round, or even surprise some people and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Slowing down the Warriors Small Ball Lineup

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Look, there is no way of stopping the Warriors Small Ball lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Igoudala, and Draymond Green. All you can hope to do is slow it down. As of Saturday, they had an offensive efficiency rating of 154.7 and defensive efficiency rating of 84.8, for a total rating of 69.9 points per 100 possessions. They also shoot 64% from the field. No other five man lineup even comes close. Fortunately, they can’t play it all the time. In fact, they’ve only used it roughly 5 min per game and only in 14 games (when you blow out other teams, you don’t have too).  But when the Warriors break that lineup out, you know it’s crunch time.

There are many different reasons why this lineup is so lethal. Everybody on the floor can shoot. Everybody on the floor can defend and switch on pick and rolls. Draymond is an excellent rebounder and defender against bigger power forwards and centers. Iggy, Klay, and Barnes are all elite perimeter defenders. Oh, and that guy Stephen Curry, the MVP? He can shoot from anywhere within 28 feet and embarrass you. No team in the NBA has a small lineup that can beat them, your best bet is to not let them kill you.

So what if it is a tight game and the Hornets need to counter, what lineup should go with?

Point Guard: Kemba Walker

This one is easy, he is quick, he is an improved defender, and clearly he can score.

Shooting Guard: PJ Hairston

This one may be a bit of a head scratcher, but with PJ’s improved defense he is able to stay out on the floor and hang with this lineup. I considered going with Jeremy Lin here, but with the size difference between Lin (6’3) and Thompson (6’7), I think Lin would have a lot of trouble defending Thompson.

Small Forward: Jeremy Lamb

Lamb has the size to stay with Harrison defensively, and he has the playmaking and scoring to help put the ball in the basket on the offensive end.

Power Forward: Nic Batum

He doesn’t play a lot of 4, but he would be the ideal matchup for Iggy. Both good defenders, and Nic can score and make plays for his teammates.

Center: Marvin Williams

He is the same size as Draymond, and is a good rebounder for his size which is required when playing against Draymond. He can defend on the perimeter as well, and offers spacing to the offense with his shooting and passing.

I could also see Coach Clifford putting Marvin at the 4 and Cody Zeller at the 5 with Walker, Lamb, and Batum. Marvin is a good enough defender to stay with Igoudala and Cody is a very good athlete for his size. I think there is a good chance Clifford goes with this lineup because he feels more comfortable with players at their natural positions.

 

The biggest thing about the small ball lineup isn’t stopping it, it’s just not getting burned by it. Not only do they score, they swarm defensively, so even with a healthy Big Al, entering the ball into the post for him is nearly impossible. As Hornets fans, we need to hope we see the Warriors small ball lineup, because that likely means it’s crunch time and the game is close.

 

2015-16 Charlotte Hornets: Reasons for Hope, Reasons for Concern

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Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, there are a lot of fans in Charlotte who are buying into the hype of a 7-1 preseason and a team that looks like it will be fun to watch this year. However, looking at the improvements that a lot of other teams in the Eastern Conference have made over the offseason, I for one am very skeptical of how this season will turn out and have a hard time seeing this collection of players sneaking into the playoffs.

My first concern, which should be obvious to most fans, is the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the year. In an offseason that saw MKG sign a 4-year $52 Million extension, there was a ton of excitement about keeping a 21 year old elite defender on the team to build around going forward. That is why it was such a bummer to see him tear his labrum in the first preseason game of the year. Not only is he an elite defender on the perimeter, he is one of the most efficient rebounders at his position.  He is also a very good athlete who can get to the rim on the offensive end. In 2014-15, Hornets fans were stoked to see his jump shot improving. Outside of 10 feet, his first two years he shot 28% and 27%, but last season that number jumped up to 40%. Now he still has a way to go, but seeing such a big jump is a positive sign going forward. He also led the team in fast break points per game and ranked among the best in the league at cuts to the rim that generated points. The most staggering stat is that the Hornets were 27-28 with MKG in the lineup, and 6-21 without him last season. All that being said, the loss of MKG is massive and will really hurt the team on both ends of the floor.

Some will point to the addition of Nic Batum during the offseason as a reason to not be too skeptical about the loss of MKG.  I do believe the addition of the former Trail Blazer will be a positive one and will make the most impact of any acquisition the Hornets made during the summer. He had a down year last season, only shooting 40% from the field and 32% from 3 (career averages of 46% and 36%), but he was banged up last season.  In a contract year, I expect him to get back to his normal form. I also expect him to be more aggressive than in years past in Portland, where he was the 4th option behind Aldridge, Lillard, and Matthews. In Charlotte he will be a much bigger focal point offensively, and he will still bring it as an elite defender on the perimeter.

JOHANNESBURG, SA - AUGUST 1: Nicolas Batum #5 of Team Africa dribbles the ball during the NBA Africa Game 2015 as part of Basketball Without Borders on August 1, 2015 at the Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg, South Africa. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)Getty Images

Coming into the season, Steve Clifford had hoped to play MKG and Batum together at shooting guard and small forward, but with no MKG, who does that vault into the starting lineup?

PJ Hairston. This is a GIANT red flag for me. PJ was very shaky as a rookie, both on offense and defense. When I say the name PJ Hairston, what basketball skill comes to mind? Three point shooting correct? Well PJ only shot 30% from and 32% from the field. When your one quantifiable skill that got you into the NBA is shooting, and you can’t shoot, that is what I call a problem. Watching the summer league games, he didn’t perform well either. If you are an NBA starter, and you can’t even perform at a mediocre level in the summer league, that isn’t ideal. PJ is also a below average defender, which isn’t good when you are also below average on offense. Now I was never the biggest Gerald Henderson fan, but one thing he did was bring it every night on both sides of the ball. That is something I have yet to see from PJ, but I would love to see him take a step forward this season now that he is in a bigger role.

My next concern would be the wings on the bench. Jeremy Lamb and Troy Daniels have proven basically nothing in their NBA careers to this point. Jeremy Lamb is in the same boat as PJ. Known as a shooter, but doesn’t shoot at a high percentage at only 34% from 3 for his career. Troy Daniels has been a very good shooter for the small amount of meaningful playing time he has had in his career (39% from 3), but he is only 6’4 so he is a small shooting guard and even smaller small forward. Jeremy Lamb is also only 6’5, so I am unsure who is going to be the backup small forward when Batum is off the floor. Coach Clifford seems to be of the opinion that Marvin Williams is a power forward and not a small forward, which eliminates him from backup small forward. I do believe that there will be stretches each game where Kemba and Jeremy Lin are on the floor at the same time at both guard spots, but I need to see Lamb and Daniels prove it before I actually think they will be positive bench contributors.

The bench big men are also quite confusing since they don’t seem to have a lot of variety. Assuming Cody Zeller starts at power forward, you will be looking at Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, and Spencer Hawes as your backup big men. All of them are below average defenders, none of whom can protect the rim. Sure they can shoot a little (which is nice since the 2014-15 Hornets were dead last from 3), but their skills overlap, and that will be a layup line for other teams. This is why losing Bismack Biyombo was a bigger deal to this Hornets team than it would be for most teams. For all of his offensive liabilities, he was a great rim defender; and when he was on the court, opposing teams knew it. Cody Zeller is now the best rim defender on the team, and even he is maybe only average at best. With no MKG stopping people on the perimeter when other teams get into the paint, it will be an issue. Now a lighter and more nimble Al Jefferson should help the interior defense, but he still is a liability on the defensive end.

I believe a valuable edition to the team is Jeremy Lin. Watching Jeremy in Los Angeles he was used incorrectly. Jeremy’s biggest skill is as a pick and roll ball handler. Steve Clifford loves some pick and roll, and I’m sure when Lin is on the floor there will be a heavy dosage. Pick and Roll with Al and Cody, and pick and pop with Kaminsky, Hawes, and Williams should be a very effective offense when the team needs a bucket. Plus, with the addition of Batum and Lamb on the wings (in theory), there should be more spacing for the pick and rolls to operate.

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I hope this season Coach Clifford does a better job offensively and closing games than he did last season. In his first year as coach of the Bobcats, Steve Clifford did a great job of taking a talent challenged team to the playoffs. However, last year he didn’t do as well. I do think a lot of this has to do with talent on the floor (looking at you Rich Cho), but this 2015-16 roster has a lot of money invested into it. I think if this team gets off to a slow start, he could be on the hot seat. He is a very good defensive coach, but this season he needs to be better offensively with more offensive minded players on the roster.

I also would expect Al Jefferson to get back near his 2013-14 All-NBA form after a step back last season. He lost roughly 20 pounds in the offseason by cutting out fried chicken, and I think this will help his career trajectory now that he is into his 30’s. He should stay healthier this season, which is a positive because this team takes a massive step back on the offensive end with him off the court. I hope the weight loss also helps him move better on the defensive end because he is a below average defender who often gets targeted by other teams. He is also in a contract year, and at 30 years old he will want to play well to earn one last big deal.

Overall, I feel that the biggest thing that will hold back this team is not having MKG. He is an invaluable asset that, on this team, cannot be replaced. With MKG, I think this team could have competed for the 7th or 8th seed in the East; but without him, I think this team is somewhere between 28-34 wins, and back in the lottery again. In a division with Atlanta, a healthy Miami, Washington, and up and coming Orlando team, I have a hard time seeing this team really put everything together to sneak into the playoffs (I hope they prove me wrong).

Follow Chris on Twitter @ExtraChrisP_

Is Cam really worth $100 Million?

imageBy Chris Parette


“I don’t think nobody has ever been who I’m trying to be. Nobody has the size, nobody has the speed, nobody has the arm strength, nobody had the intangibles that I’ve had. I’m not saying that to say I’m a one-on-one type of person that this league will never see another. No, I’m not saying that. Hear me out. I’m just saying that so much of my talents have not been seen in one person.”

When Cam Newton casually dropped this nugget last week, it sure did ruffle some feathers of quite a few people. But here is the thing:

He is right.

There is no quarterback in the league that brings to the table what Cam Newton does physically. 6′ 6”. 260 pounds. 4.59 40-yard dash as a rookie. One of the strongest arms in the league. There is no Quarterback that on paper that has what Cam Newton has.

So when Cam was signed to a 5-year $103.8 million contract on Tuesday, with $60 million in guaranteed money, you can see the reasoning behind it. Contrary to what a lot of critics say, Cam is a franchise QB. He has the tools to take a team to the Super Bowl and make the Pro Bowl season after season.

But nobody is claiming that he is perfect. For all the skills Newton has, he hasn’t exactly parlayed them and turned them into massive amounts of success on the field. He is still not a 60% passer in his career. He is one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in the league, often overthrowing receivers by multiple feet. He still isn’t the greatest decision maker, and it seems when he starts going downhill, it doesn’t stop. I think a good comparison to 2015 Cam Newton is early career Donovan McNabb. At the beginning of his career, McNabb was a very good athlete with serious accuracy problems. Any Eagles fan can recall pulling their hair out watching McNabb bounce passes into open receivers. As he got older and more experienced in the league, he became more of a natural pocket passer, and used his athleticism as a last resort. Over his four years in the league, Cam has drastically improved on this. As a rookie, when Cam’s first read wasn’t open, he was running. Now, he progresses through his reads and resorts to running when he has no other choice. That running is also something that opposing coaches have to plan for when playing the Panthers Cam has yet to have a year where he has less than 500 yards rushing, which is something that is often looked over when looking at his career stats.

Thankfully, Dave Gettleman realizes Cam’s biggest weakness, his accuracy, and addressed it by adding mammoth sized receivers. Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, and 2015 2nd round pick Devin Funchess are all 6′ 5″. When Cam typically is wild with his throws, he is wild high. Having guys that big lowers the chance of overthrows.

To all of the people who say Cam is getting way too much money for his career 30-31-1 record, go ask the Jets, Browns, and Bills if they would pay that money for Cam. In a heartbeat they would. When you have a franchise quarterback who still hasn’t reached his full potential like Cam, you pay him whatever it takes to keep him in Black and Blue. You CANNOT let Cam walk out the door, because it can take years and years to find another quarterback of the future. You can be like the Browns picking in the top 10 year after year hoping to find that quarterback, or you can lock Cam up and be set for the future.

It is 2015, and quarterbacks that are even borderline franchise cornerstones get paid. Last week, Ryan Tannehill finalized a 6-year, $97 million extension with the Dolphins. Cam has shown way more potential and improvement in his last few seasons than Tannehill has. (Don’t comment and tell me about Tannehill’s stats last year. They were good, but he was running Bill Lazor’s hurry-up and short pass offense, which inflated Tannehill’s stats.) I would venture to say that most of the leagues GM’s would sign Cam for his contract before they would sign Tannehill for his.

Yes the contract is massive. Yes Cam hasn’t exactly become elite on the field yet. Yes Cam in not a complete quarterback at this stage in his career. All that being said, you pay the man whatever it takes to keep him at Bank of America Stadium because he has the potential to win you a Super Bowl.

The 4 BIGGEST reasons why the Hornets missed the Playoffs

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The Four Biggest Reasons the Hornets Missed the Playoffs by Chris Parette

Are you disappointed? Are you confused? Have you drank yourself into a spiral of depression? Are you wondering what went wrong with this roller coaster of a Hornets season? Me too. We all are. Here is what went wrong:

Lance Stephenson’s Disappointment

When the Hornets signed Lance Stephenson to a 3-year $27 million contract on July 18, 2014, many people looked at the deal as a steal for the Hornets. Sure Lance had some attitude issues, but the talent was clearly there. It was worth taking a risk to sign a player with the talent Lance showed in his time in Indiana. Funny how things change in less than a year. That deal is now looked at as a horrible overpay for a guy who was disappointing in his first year in Charlotte, to put it nicely. From Indiana to Charlotte, his field goal percentage dropped by 12%, 3-point percentage by 18%, and free throw percentage by 9%. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like he just needed to get acclimated to his new Hornets teammates; but as the season wore on, it became obvious he just didn’t fit in. Coach Clifford made it clear during Stephenson’s DNP’s towards the end of the year that he just couldn’t find lineups that played well with Lance on the floor. That literally might be the worst thing that could be said about you when it comes to basketball.

I certainly hope that this isn’t a case where a player finally gets a nice paycheck and no longer puts the time in to improve as a player. I certainly understand a player who doesn’t fit into a certain system or on a certain team, but the fact that you shoot 17% from 3 (very often unguarded) after shooting a league average 35% the year before, is a VERY alarming stat. According to Basketball Reference, Lance’s 17.1% from 3 is the worst in NBA history with at least 100 attempts. There have been some arguments that it is the players on the court that surround Lance. To compare apples to apples, the lineup of Kemba, MKG, Marvin, Al and Gerald scored 12 points more and allowed 16 points less per 100 possessions than the same lineup without Gerald and with Lance. That is downright awful. Not only was he a liability offensively, but to many peoples surprise, he was equally as bad on defense.

I would expect the Hornets to try to move Lance this summer but be unable to do so since his stock is so low. Luckily, the team has a team option after next season and may be able to move him as a more valuable expiring contract.

Injuries

Look, I understand that every team in the league has to deal with injuries, and I hate to use this as an excuse, but the Hornets were particularly stricken by the injury bug. Here are the number of games missed by player due to injury:

Kemba Walker: 21

Al Jefferson: 17

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: 27

Cody Zeller: 20

Bismack Biyombo: 14

These are five of the nine players with the most minutes on the team, despite the number of games missed. Injuries to players that play as often as these guys do really mess up rotations and chemistry, especially when four of these five are the teams usual starters. With no Kemba or Al you really take a hit offensively. With no MKG or Biz, you take a big hit defensively.

Lack of Talent/Bad Decision Making

Would you like to hear an interesting stat? The Hornets are paying Tyrus Thomas $9 million this season!

I know many Hornets fans are quick to blame Coach Clifford for this teams lack of success this year. While I would agree that he hasn’t been great this season, I don’t really think he is to blame. This team flat out doesn’t have the talent to be a legitimate playoff threat. The Hornets are the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA this season. Also, they had the second worst overall shooting percentage in the league. This team plays basketball like it is 1970 and there is no three-point line. Pick and rolls. Low post feeds. Mid-range jumpers (I’m looking at you Gerald Henderson). The offense is so vanilla and basic that the Hornets had the least amount of turnovers in the league this season.

Depending on who you ask, Kemba Walker is somewhere between the 10th and 15th best point guards in the NBA, but he is arguably the best player on this team (I disagree, but even Clifford has said this). He can score but he is often inefficient and takes shots that he shouldn’t. Coach Clifford said in his exit press conference on Thursday that on an ideal team, Kemba would be your 3rd or 4th best scoring potion.

This teams best offensive weapon is a declining low post center who is an absolute liability on defense. Even though he had a hard time staying on the court this season, he still however was one of the most efficient low post scorers in the NBA according to Synergy Sports:

Synergy

So as you can see, he still is quite efficient, but he is having a hard problem staying healthy. He mentioned in his exit press conference on Thursday that he will most likely opt in to the final year of his contract, and would like to try to lose 25 pounds, because his weight is beginning to catch up with him as he gets more miles on his legs.

MKG still isn’t ready to be a serious offensive weapon despite his defensive excellence; and Cody Zeller is inconsistent game to game scoring and still commits frustrating fouls. Believe it or not, Gerald may be the most consistent player on the team, and that is a problem. He is a competent NBA scorer and defender, but that is about it. If you are relying on him to make a lot of plays, it probably won’t go well for your team offensively.

Coming off the bench, I think the addition of Mo Williams was a good one. He can often be a shoot first point guard, but on a team that struggles to score that isn’t the worst thing in the world. The offseason addition of Marvin Williams was decent. He shot 35% from 3 this year, which is alright for a “stretch 4”, but personally I would rather have the $7 million he is making per year back and give Noah Vonleh more minutes. Lance is what Lance is (no bueno). Biz can protect the rim but has a hard time catching a ball or doing anything on offensive for that matter.

I hear a lot of Hornets fans screaming at the top of their lungs for PJ Hairston to play more, but he isn’t ready for real NBA minutes. Yes, he is a three-point specialist. Problem is he shot 30% from 3 this year, and 60% of his shots while on the floor came from downtown. If he isn’t hitting his shots, he literally does nothing else on offense and often looks lost on defense.

I attribute a lot of these problems to bad drafting. in the last five seasons. For example, here is a list of notable players drafted after Biz at number seven in the 2011 draft: Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler, Chandler Parsons. I do understand you won’t hit a homerun every draft, but there are a countless number of players that the Hornets missed out on in the last half decade. Rich Cho & Co. need to do a better job this year with their projected 9th overall pick.

Lastly, the thing that everybody seems to forget about is the loss of Josh McRoberts. He made plays for everyone last season. A lot of the offense ran through him, and he made great passes to set up other players. He brought much more playmaking to the table than Cody/Marvin have, and he is a big reason for the offensive drop off this year.

Late Game Failures

Here is where you can start to blame Coach Clifford. There were far too many blown leads in the fourth quarter this year that a better coached team wouldn’t allow to happen. I specifically remember a game earlier in the season against Orlando where the Hornets blew a 20 point fourth quarter lead to lose. This was one of the few games where I remember where I was when I found out the lead was blown. I was leaving work and I looked at the score of the game. In the third quarter Charlotte was up by 23. I thought to myself “This one is over”. Well, it wasn’t. I pulled into the driveway, looked at my ESPN ScoreCenter App and gave out a “WHAT THE HELL”. We lost….but how?

For as good as a defensive coach that Steve Clifford is, he isn’t the greatest offensively. This team becomes extremely difficult. So often, the play is Pick and Roll with Kemba and Al. This may sound like a decent idea to run with your two best offensive players; but when you have MKG, Cody, and Gerald/Lance, you have no floor spacing and it becomes easier to stop. A Kyrie Irving/Timofey Mozgov P&R works better when you have Kevin Love, JR Smith and Lebron on the floor. This is where the awful three-point shooting comes back into play.

The other common late game play that gets drawn up is the Big Al on the left block. When you know an Al Jefferson post up is coming, it also becomes easy to stop. You can double team him and be less concerned about him hitting someone for an open three when you don’t have weapons to do so.

All of this basically means that the Hornets become too easy to stop. When you can’t consistently score, good luck holding late game leads.

So there it is. It sure is going to be an interesting offseason for the Hornets. Big Al has a $13.5 million player option. They also likely have a top 10 pick, Mo Williams will be a free agent, and we will see if the front office decides to give Biz a qualifying offer. Hopefully Rich Cho makes some good decisions this offseason because if he doesn’t, it may be his last offseason in Charlotte.

HORNETS HARDBALL: Mo Williams, Less Problems (feat. The Notorious C.H.O)

Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets - Game Five

(Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo! Sports was the first to report on Charlotte’s trade sending Gary Neal and a second round pick, for  guards Mo Williams and Troy Daniels. Now on the surface it seems like a trade that doesn’t move the needle much, but in fact it could be very important.

Any Hornets fan who has consistently watched games this season couldn’t help but to be frustrated by Gary Neal. He is a shooter who was struggling to shoot. Neal shot over 40% last year from three, and was shooting an underwhelming 28% this season. Gary has always been a guy that Coach Steve Clifford has been high on. He always talked about how the then Bobcats offense improved from near the bottom of the league up to about league average when Neal was acquired from Milwaukee last season. After the trade Tuesday, Clifford had these comments about Neal:

“He to me is a terrific offensive substitute. He can come in just like he did in San Antonio where his numbers were very efficient and he scored close to ten a night. What happened to him here as much as anything is, if you watch the film closely, he was treated as a primary scorer here once he got going early on in the year. He got more attention many nights than anybody else did except for Al and Kemba. So when teams commit to taking a guy like him out of the game, he just doesn’t have the room to play.”

The Hornets are a very limited team offensively, that is no shock to anybody. It is like watching a team from the 70’s. There is very little floor spacing in the starting lineup, and the bench isn’t much better. A bench unit that features Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson, Gary Neal, Marvin Williams and Biz/Maxiell doesn’t have a ton of offensive talent and shot creating ability. Teams notice that Gary is the best of that group at creating his own shot, and they aimed to shut that down. Gary also was a defensive liability on a nightly basis and often gave up more points than he was creating. If he finds the right team where he isn’t a number one option on the floor, he can be a real asset.

What Charlotte acquired however, should be an upgrade. They are getting a veteran point guard in Mo Williams who can shoot and run an offense effectively. Williams is a career 38% three-point shooter who should slide nicely in the second unit. Williams is obviously insurance for injured Kemba Walker who underwent knee surgery on January 28th. Mo is known as a scorer, which is something the Hornets desperately need. Williams went off for 52 points earlier this year against the Pacers, and is a player with valuable playoff experience that he can bring to the team. Now I find it interesting to see how he and Lance Stephenson fit together. Mo, like Kemba, is a ball dominant point guard, and Lance is also a guy who needs the ball to create offense. It will be interesting how Coach Clifford uses them together. I personally think that you can give them both possessions handing the ball, and Mo would be a great off ball catch and shoot type of guy. It will be interesting to see how well Mo plays, and if he plays well enough, I think he will surpass Roberts as the backup point guard when Kemba comes back.

Charlotte also acquired Troy Daniels, who was undrafted in 2013 and actually on the Bobcats 2013 Summer League team. He is a 6’4 shooting guard who really can shoot. He only shot 32% from three in Minnesota, but he only averaged eight minutes per game. However, during last years playoffs with the Houston Rockets, Daniels came off the bench and really contributed, averaging 7.8 points in 17 minutes while shooting 53% percent from three. In the D-League for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he was an All-Star who shot 40% from three and averaged 21.5 points per game. He  actually broke the NBA D-League record for 3-pointers made in a single season with 153 and also tied the NBA D-League record for 3-point field goals made in a game with 10. He isn’t however more than a shooter. Daniels isn’t a great ball handler or defender, but he does have one valuable skill, the ability to shoot. Now I don’t think he will crack the rotation with shooting guards including Henderson, Stephenson, and Hairston, but he can be decent cheap injury insurance and could come in a game and hit a couple threes.

All in all, I think this trade is a win for the Hornets. They trade an expiring contract in Neal for an expiring contract upgrade at a needed position in Mo Williams. They also trade a second round pick they acquired in the 2014 draft trade of PJ Hairston for Shabazz Napier, for a guy in Daniels who is young and has some potential. Mainly, the Hornets have another point guard to use with Kemba’s injury which takes Lance Stephenson off the point. The main thing that Steve Clifford stressed in a couple post trade interviews was having the ability to put players back at their natural position, and not have non-point guards like Stephenson and Neal having to run an offense. This should improve the Hornets chances of sneaking into the playoffs and it doesn’t hurt the team long term, which is something GM Rich Cho wanted to avoid.

Hornets Hardball: Grading The Hornets Bench By Position

(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

BrianRobertsPargo

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.

Grade: B-

Shooting Guards: Gerald Henderson, Gary Neal, PJ Hairston

 garyNeal

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.

Grade: A-

Small Forwards: ????

 PJ Hairston

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.

Grade: Incomplete

Power Forwards: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh

cody

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¨.

Grade: B

Centers: Bismack Biyombo, Jason Maxiell

 biz

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.

Grade: D

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_

 

Photo Credits

Roberts/Pargo: ELIOT KAMENITZ

Hairston/MKG: AP Chuch Burton

Biyombo: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports