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The Charlotte Hornets: Perpetually Stung by the Draft

Putting together a championship team takes one of two things – development or money. The Spurs are the model franchise – in more than one way – when it comes to developing a championship team. LeBron’s Heat teams, and to a lesser degree, this year’s Cavs are an example of players wanting to join the best player on the planet.

As owners decide which path to take they must consider several options. How much money are we willing to go over the cap? Does anyone want to spend the better part of their year here? How much do we trust our draft process? It’s been documented that locations such as Los Angeles, New York and Chicago are rather attractive markets. Minnesota, Detroit and Charlotte don’t have free agents stuck in traffic at the airport.

How do these teams go from the lottery to the playoffs and higher? The draft is where most teams find themselves starting. The draft takes a certain percentage of scouting, development and luck. The NBA plays more on luck than any other sport with regard to not only if a player has the pedigree to succeed, but also what position they find themselves on draft night.

Charlotte has been stung by the draft process for years; yes, even when they were the Bobcats. It always seems Charlotte is one pick behind a transcendent talent. It also cannot be overlooked that sometimes they make some head-scratching picks with their high selections. As a result, the team meddles in the land of late lottery or a first-round exit, which is NBA purgatory.

The Picks

2011

Often, the Hornets have downright missed their picks. Beginning in 2011, the Bobcats-Hornets took Kemba Walker with the ninth pick. Not a bad pick, though he was picked over Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Nikola Vucevic, but hindsight is always 20/20. Outside of a blatant miss in a draft pick, it’s always tough to judge a franchise by who they didn’t take, especially in light of the hype around Walker after his amazing tournament run. Walker is their franchise point guard, for better and for worse.

The issue in this draft is that they also had the 19th overall selection and took Tobias Harris (HOORAY!) but promptly traded him away for Bismack Biyombo, who may be out of Charlotte this offseason. As a franchise that’s not going to attract a big-time free agent, these picks are crucial.

2012

This is where bad luck and David Stern bit the Hornets. The Bobcats-Hornets had the highest percentage to win the first overall pick and the draft rights to All-World player Anthony Davis. Instead, Davis went to the recently sold New Orleans Hornets-Pelicans. At No. 2, Charlotte took Davis’s Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Kidd-Gilchrist is a ferocious defender with a re-made jumper, but he’s not Anthony Davis. Kidd-Gilchrist will get covered more later on.

2013

As his credibility as an owner was under the most scrutiny, Michael Jordan and the Bobcats-Hornets passed on rim protector Nerlens Noel and took Cody Zeller. However, Zeller actually may not have been as bad a pick as many like to point out. Again, we’ll examine his numbers briefly.

2014

The Hornets had the No. 9 pick thanks to the Ben Gordon trade, and they took yet another Indiana big man in Noah Vonleh. Vonleh didn’t see the court very often in his rookie season.

The Hornets lost a first-round pick to the Bulls thanks to the Tyrus Thomas heist. Still, the Hornets also ended up with former UNC turned D-Leaguer turned first-round pick (yes, in that order) P.J. Hairston at No. 26. Not an awful pick, but not a good one yet either.

This year, the Hornets have the ninth overall pick and desperately need to hit on it. The Hornets expected to make the playoffs and subsequently get bounced by the Hawks or Cavs in the first round, but instead find themselves in the lottery.

The Team

The 2015-16 Charlotte Hornets are going to look a lot like the 2014-15 squad. Their roster is pretty much intact for at least one more year.

Guaranteed Contracts for Next Season

Kemba Walker

Marvin Williams

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Cody Zeller

Noah Vonleh

Lance Stephenson

Troy Daniels

P.J. Hairston

Brian Roberts

Among these returners who are going to play meaningful minutes for the Hornets in 2016 are: Walker, Williams, MKG, Zeller and Stephenson (unfortunately). The thought is that both Vonleh and Hairston will see an increased role as they look to develop into NBA rotation players. Daniels and Roberts are back-end bench players.

The big offseason question for the Hornets is Al Jefferson. Critics sneered at both Jefferson and the Hornets when he signed there as a free agent. However, the match has been a good one for both sides as Jefferson has given the young team good minutes and veteran leadership.

Jefferson can opt in for $13.5 million next season. Given his injuries and him turning the wrong side of 30, it’s unlikely any team is going to reach or surpass that salary. Logically, Hornets fans can probably expect at least one more year of Big Al. In fact, one report has Jefferson already committed to opt into the final year. Biyombo is set to be a restricted free agent, and it’ll be interesting to see if they plan on matching an offer sheet.

There’s a decent chance Mo Williams and Gerald Henderson leave town, although Henderson can opt in for $6 million. As Kevin Pelton noted in his Roster Reload at ESPN, the team may look to move Stephenson and Marvin Williams.

As the Hornets brace for the future, let’s look at who they’ll have not only next year, but in the coming years as potential building blocks.

The Youngsters

Walker

Like it or not, Charlotte, Walker is here for the long haul. His extension kicks in next season and he’ll earn $12 million each year through the 2018-19 season.

Walker had an interesting shot chart on the year. He didn’t finish around the rim at a league average level, making just 46.3 percent of his shots around the bucket. The only spots on the court he excelled in were mid-range jumpers, which are quickly going by the wayside in today’s NBA, although there’s still value to be had there:

Shotchart_1433449978608

Walker averaged just over five assists on the year, which is about what you would expect from a ball-dominant point guard.

The concern for Walker, and the entire Hornets team as a whole, is three-point shooting. Walker shot just 30.4 percent from downtown last season, and the entire team shot just 31.8 percent, which is something figured to be addressed this offseason.

Walker’s /off court splits are also a bit alarming. Per NBA.com, the Hornets were roughly the same offensively with Walker on the court vs. Walker on the bench. But the team was worse defensively with Walker on the court, as the team defensive rating with Walker on the court was 102.2, compared to 99.6 with him on the bench. It should be noted that the bench unit replacing Walker and the rest of the starters included Biyombo, a defensive menace.

Kidd-Gilchrist

After being taken with the second pick in the 2013 draft, MKG is up for a contract extension. His career arc thus far is nothing short of interesting. Everyone knew he couldn’t shoot when he left Kentucky, as his slashing ability and defensive prowess is what made him the No. 2 pick.

MKG was said to have improved his jumper coming into last year, but the 2014-15 season saw him take a grand total of zero three-point attempts. Translation, he’s not stretching the floor. This isn’t awful news for the Hornets, because he knows his strengths and isn’t chucking bad shots like Dion Waiters:

Shotchart_1433451211596

MKG’S shot chart screams mediocrity, though. He was league average all over the court from inside the arc, save for the long twos. He got to the rim for the majority of his shots, but he wasn’t all that proficient at finishing. At least he knows his strengths considering over 61 percent of his shots came from around the basket.

Rebounding is also a strength for MKG as he added 7.6 rebounds per game to go along with his 10.9 points per game.

Opposite of Walker is MKG’s on/off court splits. The Hornets had an offensive rating of 99.4 with him on the court vs. 96.5 with him on the pine. Defensively the Hornets were a completely different team with Kidd-Gilchrist on the bench. On the court he and the Hornets boasted a defensive rating of 96.3. With him on the bench the Hornets turned into an absolute disaster with a defensive rating of 104.1. MKG is a great fit for Steve Clifford’s defensive system.

Here’s MKG on Melo:

Zeller

After garnering several double-takes when they drafted him, Zeller is trying to live up to the lofty expectations. Zeller averaged 24 minutes last season and posted modest numbers, averaging 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 46.1 percent from the field.

The interesting, even confusing, part of Zeller’s season were his on/off splits. On the court the Hornets had a an offensive rating of 100.2 and a defensive rating of 98.8. While Zeller watched from the sidelines the Hornets had an offensive rating of 96.1 and a defensive rating of 102.3. If these numbers are representative of his true impact moving forward, expect Clifford to find more time for him.

Vonleh

Vonleh was raw coming out of college and didn’t have the strength to battle in the post with some of the monsters of the NBA. An early injury didn’t help his cause either. Ergo, his playing time was limited to 10.3 minutes per game. Vonleh doesn’t project as a back-to-the-basket power forward, as most power forwards in the league don’t fit that bill. If he develops as hoped, Vonleh will be a stretch 4 who opens the lane for the likes of Walker and MKG.  

Biyombo

Biyombo was drafted to protect the paint for the Hornets for a long time. Unfortunately, his offense hasn’t quite caught up to his defense. Biyombo shot 54.3 percent from the field last season, but all but 10 of his shots came in the paint. He doesn’t stretch the floor at all, which is problematic when the team as a whole cannot shoot the basketball. Defenders load the paint and stop the cutters from getting to the hoop:

Shotchart_1433550631227

Defensively, Biyombo blocked 1.5 shots per game and allowed opponents to shoot 49.1 percent at the rim, per SportVU. The team was better defensively with him on the court, as the Hornets allowed 98.7 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo, the second-best defensive rating on the team.

Charlotte certainly has an interesting choice to make regarding Biyombo this offseason.

The Draft

The Hornets hold the No. 9 pick in the draft this year. In his latest mock, ESPN’s Chad Ford has the Hornets taking sharpshooter Devin Booker from Kentucky. Booker was one of the less-heralded players on the stacked Kentucky team, but he could be a nice fit in Charlotte.

Booker offers something the Hornets desperately need, which is shooting. Charlotte ranked last in the league in three-point percentage this season, and they’re desperately in need of a floor spacer.

Per usual, the people at DraftExpress do a fantastic job of breaking down incoming rookies and have tons of material on Booker, who’s shooting up draft boards with every workout.

It may even behoove Jordan and Co. to entertain trade offers for the pick as they search for someone who can immediately jump into the rotation and help.

One thing is certain, the Hornets need to find themselves out of both the lottery and NBA purgatory. Eventually, the Hornets must strive for a sustained playoff run.

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