The Charlotte Hornets need shooters in the worst way. This much is obvious. Per Basketball-Reference, the Hornets finished 30th in three-point percentage, 30th in effective field goal percentage and 24th in three-point rate. Even after acquiring Spencer Hawes in the Lance Stephenson trade, the Hornets lack enough players capable of providing the spacing necessary to succeed in today’s NBA.
For further proof that the Hornets lack shooting to keep pace with the NBA’s best, below is the 2014-2015 shot chart for the Hornets’ starting perimeter players. It’s not pretty. And for a totally unfair because look at all that red!!! comparison, a shot chart for the NBA champion Warriors’ starters is shown next to it.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, the paths to filling this talent shortage are limited. With Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson picking up their player options, the Hornets have very little flexibility to improve via free agency and will have to rely on contributions from their draft choice(s) and development from players already on the roster.
Source: Basketball Insiders
Two players already on the roster the Hornets have to make decisions on are Jeffery Taylor and Bismack Biyombo. After a solid 2012 rookie campaign in which he started 29 games, Taylor looked like a promising rotation piece moving forward. In the two subsequent seasons, however, Taylor has had difficulty cracking the lineup (not to mention the domestic violence incident that cost him the first 24 games of this past season). As he hits restricted free agency with a qualifying offer of just over $1 million, the Hornets may look to re-sign him for continuity’s sake, though his skill set may be easily replaced through the draft or with another veteran on a minimum contract.
Biyombo, with a qualifying offer of over $4 million, is a trickier dilemma. An athletic big man with the length to protect the rim at a high level and the foot speed to switch onto smaller players in the pick-and-roll is an incredibly valuable commodity around the league. Biyombo, however, is still a liability on offense, where he cannot extend his game beyond the area right in front of the rim. With Hawes in place as the backup center, it appears that the Biyombo experiment in Charlotte is now over, especially if some other team makes a somewhat lucrative offer in restricted free agency.
Getting rid of Stephenson and his historically bad outside shooting should help the Hornets’ shooting, but none of the remaining players have any track record of shooting success. Kemba Walker has a robust career 39.5 percent mark from the field, including 31.8 percent from deep on over four attempts per game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, one of the top wing defenders in the league and, along with Walker, one of the few core pieces for Charlotte moving forward, didn’t attempt a three-pointer this past season.
Yes, you read that correctly. In 2015, a team’s starting small forward, playing 30 minutes per night, didn’t attempt a single three-point shot. Gerald Henderson is a great athlete and good perimeter defender, but hasn’t developed a consistent outside shot and further inhibits the Hornets’ floor spacing. On the last year of his contract, he’ll likely be on the trading block this coming season, as he doesn’t appear to be in the Hornets’ long-term plans.
P.J. Hairston figures to be in those long-term plans, but last year’s 26th overall pick will need to improve upon an underwhelming rookie season. Coming into the season billed as an NBA-ready offensive product, Hairston struggled to find a place in Steve Clifford’s rotation and didn’t capitalize on the opportunities when he did get on the floor. With Stephenson gone, Hairston is line for an increased role, and his outside shooting, assuming it returns to its pre-NBA levels, will be a welcome addition to the Hornets’ offense.
It’s also assumed that the Hornets will not keep Matt Barnes. Barnes is a known commodity as a 3-and-D wing. At age 35 he doesn’t figure to improve on what he’s been, and for a young team hoping to develop talent on the wing he may not be an ideal fit. But on a one-year contract at only $3.5 million, I don’t get why it’s such a foregone conclusion that the Hornets would be better off paying Barnes $1 million to not play for them rather than the full value of his contract to play as a rotation player off the bench.
With Kemba and MKG and their limited perimeter games as two of the franchise building blocks, Hawes’s acquisition makes sense for the Hornets as they look to their frontcourt players to provide offensive spacing. Cody Zeller also made strides in this area last season, showing an improved mid-range game with hopes of stretching his shot beyond the three-point arc in the years to come.
Noah Vonleh, Charlotte’s second power forward selected in the lottery in as many years, was billed as a big man capable of spreading the floor in the pick-and-pop game coming out of Indiana. A shoulder injury sidelined Vonleh for the start of the year and he failed to see meaningful playing time, playing only 259 minutes in what was primarily garbage time or at the end of the season when the Hornets were already out of the playoffs. Vonleh, at 6’10 and 240 pounds with a 7’4 wingspan, could conceivably play alongside Zeller, which would open things up on offense and allow the Hornets to get out in transition more than they have with Jefferson manning the paint the past several seasons. He, like Hairston, will be expected to earn regular rotation minutes this upcoming season.
Given their lack of depth on the wing and the draft capital recently spent on the frontcourt, it should be no surprise that Devin Booker and Stanley Johnson are the Hornets’ most popular mock draft selections. Another intriguing option for the Hornets should be Kelly Oubre Jr., who has maybe the highest ceiling of all three players with his physical attributes, but who may be the riskiest pick based on his raw offensive game.
Booker worked primarily as a spot-up shooter at Kentucky, showcasing great touch from the outside while relying heavily on teammates to set him up for open shots. As the table below illustrates, almost half of Booker’s field goal attempts came from beyond the three-point line, and only one of his three-point makes was unassisted. Booker’s low number of attempts at the rim and low free throw rate are also evidence of his specialist role at Kentucky, and may be an indication of a thus-far undeveloped ability to create shots off the dribble for himself or his teammates. Expecting more than the ability to hit open catch-and-shoot jumpers out of Booker early in his career may be asking too much, though as the youngest player in the draft he certainly has room to improve in these other areas.
As with other Kentucky prospects, though, team context is important when looking at Booker’s college production. With the amount of talent Kentucky had on the interior, Booker’s role was that of a shooting specialist, not asked to do much more than set up outside the three-point arc and shoot open shots when the defense collapsed in the paint. This also may explain his low defensive rate statistics.
Like Ben McLemore and Andrew Wiggins before him, Oubre went to Kansas as a highly-touted recruit and left for the NBA after an underwhelming freshman season, where he struggled to get consistent minutes early on before finally earning a starting spot at the end of December. As highlighted by Arik Wonsover, Oubre excelled in transition with his ability to finish at the rim and spot up behind the three-point line. His physical attributes didn’t translate as well to the half court, where Oubre often worked as a secondary option behind Frank Mason, Perry Ellis and even Wayne Selden.
Like Booker, Oubre wasn’t much of a playmaker, instead relying heavily on the playmaking ability of his teammates to set him up for open shots, which he was able to hit at a fairly high percentage. He also got to the free throw line at a decent rate, suggesting he may have some untapped upside in the half court if he can fine-tune his ball handling ability, though you’d like to see him convert more than 71 percent of those attempts.
Johnson shot the ball better than many expected, shooting 37 percent from three-point range and 74 percent from the line. He did, however, struggle finishing at the rim, which is odd for a wing player of his stature. More than either Booker or Oubre, Johnson has a versatile offensive game that allows him to create plays for others and get to all areas of the floor, evidenced by his shooting efficiency in the mid-range. His primary “skill” on offense may be his size, where he’ll be able to be a bully opposing wings in the post. If he can continue shooting the way he did at Arizona and also improve his finishing at the rim, where he oddly struggled despite his physical advantage over many of his opponents, Johnson has the skills to be a passable secondary offensive option on the wing.
Johnson’s calling card in the NBA will likely be his defense where, at 6’6.5 and 242 pounds with almost a seven-foot wingspan, he has an NBA-ready body capable of defending three positions. At Arizona, Johnson demonstrated an ability to harass players on the ball and disrupt passing lanes off the ball, while also contributing on the defensive glass.
On defense, Booker has the size, length and foot speed to be an above-average perimeter defender in the NBA. Per DraftExpress, Booker has the third-fastest lane agility time of all participants tested at the NBA Draft Combine since 2009. His defensive production on the court at Kentucky, however, left much to be desired.
Oubre may have the highest defensive upside of all three wing prospects with his length and athleticism. He’ll have to add strength, as he can get pushed around with his long, lanky frame, but his high steal and block rates show a player capable of having a significant impact on the defensive end.
With the ninth pick in the draft, the Hornets should have their choice of players capable of filling roster holes. If they want a spot-up shooter in the backcourt, Booker could be their guy. If they want a 3-and-D perimeter player, Oubre has maybe as much upside as anyone in the draft. And if they want a more versatile player, Johnson could pair with MKG to form a physically imposing defensive duo on the wing. Contributions from any of these three, along with internal development from young players like Zeller, Hairston and Vonleh, could help push the Hornets back into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.