The starting lineup for the Charlotte Hornets is all but decided with the exception of the power-forward position. It was assumed that Cody Zeller had earned the starting power-forward spot, but head coach Steve Clifford disabused fans and media members of this notion when he made this statement at Hornets Media Day:
— Charlotte Hornets PR (@HornetsPR) September 25, 2015
This presents an interesting competition for the spot, with the contenders being Zeller, Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky. If we’re being realists, it’s unlikely that Kaminsky will be a starter from the jump. Despite his Summer League performance, he’s still a rookie and it’s unclear if he’s better than the veterans already on the roster. There’s a chance he might earn heavy minutes eventually, but the real battle lies between Williams and Zeller.
Both players bring different things to the table, but struggle in other areas. If this decision is based solely on production, Zeller has the advantage. He’s the only big man on the roster who’s actually a good defender, finishing 22nd among all NBA players and fifth among power forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus at 3.23. He still struggles against true low-post bruisers, but he can at least bother their shots with this length.
In terms of offense, Zeller has proven himself an effective roll man in the pick-and-roll as well as a solid weapon in transition. Last season, he scored .95 points per possession (PPP) as the roll man and 1.10 PPP as a transition scorer, per Synergy. Zeller can be an explosive finisher and, on occasion, flashed the ability to get to the rim off the dribble against opposing big men:
The Hornets have even performed better with Zeller on the floor than with Williams. The team was 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor compared to when he was on the bench, as opposed to them being 1.1 points per 100 possessions worse when Williams was on the floor compared to on the bench, per Basketball-Reference.com. Williams posted similar numbers as a roll man and transition scorer, but he has one clear advantage that’ll probably sway the training camp battle in his favor: three-point shooting.
Coach Clifford has already indicated that he wants to play a “one-in, four-out” style; a style that requires four three-point shooters. Zeller predominantly operates near the rim and in the mid-range, while Williams has turned himself into a catch-and-shoot three-point specialist. Williams shot 36 percent from three-point range overall, but hit an impressive 47 percent of his corner three-pointers last year:
Willams supplies spacing, which the Hornets desperately need. Last season, the team finished dead last in three-point shooting at 31.8 percent, a consequence of having Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the starting lineup. Williams will help Charlotte’s congested offense, and while he won’t do much for the defense, they’ve already proven they can have an exceptional defense with questionable interior defenders.
The odds are seriously in Williams’s favor. Coach Clifford has publicly commented on new acquisition Nicolas Batum’s similarities to Hedo Turkoglu, and said he wants to run an offense comparable to the one the Orlando Magic ran when he was their assistant coach under Stan Van Gundy. During his time with Orlando, their starting power forwards were Rashard Lewis and then Ryan Anderson, both of whom are proficient three-point shooters.
Nothing is set in stone though; Kaminsky may surprise everyone and prove himself a viable candidate, or Zeller’s overall play may change Coach Clifford’s mind. But based on the evidence, Marvin Williams seems to be the safe bet to snag the starting power-forward position.