Forecasting The Hornets 2015 Offseason

NextOff
Standard

 

If all goes moderately well this season, the Charlotte Hornets will enter the summer of 2015 with Playoff momentum, a huge boost in fans (and associated revenue) and a decent amount of maneuverability to further improve the team towards contention.

CBA guru Larry Coon has predicted the league salary cap will rise from a little over $63m to $66.5m next July – a full $3m plus more than the current mark. If $66.5m is indeed the number, GM Rich Cho could have a some extra cash to play with should a few key scenarios play out:

Kemba Walker’s Free Agency

The Bobcats drafted two Lottery picks back in 2011 and four years later at least one is worth re-signing. Depending on Kemba’s development and performance this season, he could command a salary starting at Isaiah Thomas’ 4yr/$27m deal and go all the way up to Ty Lawson’s 4yr/$48m contract. Cho could also choose to sign & trade Kemba for another PG – Rajon Rondo for example. Either way, due to his Lottery pick status, Walker will count as an $8.1m cap hold until his situation is resolved.

Biz and JT’s Free Agency

The other Bobcats 2011 Lottery Pick, Bismack Biyombo, counts a whopping $9.6m towards the cap until he’s either re-signed or renounced thanks to his seventh overall selection status. As I’ve written at length before, this is just one of the reasons why Biz is likely gone sooner than later. Fellow restricted free agent and 2012 Second Round pick Jeff Taylor has a cap hold of around $1.2m, the same as his qualifying offer – given the small number and the team’s investment in JT, it’s likely they’d bring him back.

Gerald Henderson’s Future

Hendo has a player option next season at $6m. He’ll be 27 and will have played the first six years of his career in relative obscurity for mostly bad Bobcats teams. That’s a prime age for athletic two-way wings so I’d be willing to bet that he exercises the option in favor of a nice new longterm deal. And with P.J. Hairston, Taylor and Lance Stephenson already under contract, I’m sure the Hornets wouldn’t mind that decision at all.

The Big Al Situation

Jefferson also has a player option for next season at $13.5m and should he have anything close to the year he had in ’13-’14 (All-NBA Third Team), look for Big Al to exercise the option and get a nice raise. Jefferson loves Charlotte and they love him. He’ll be 30 at the time of signing, so I could see both sides settling on a 3yr,$45m “extension” after the opt-out.

Cody VS Vonleh

In the chance that Noah has stopped growing vertically, the Hornets will find themselves with some serious Lottery redundancy. Both Cody and Vonleh currently project as PFs and Charlotte may find that it’s sunk too many resources into one position. A big trade featuring one of the young big prospects could be on the horizon.

2015 Draft Picks

After years on the extremes (either no picks or multiple ones), the Hornets are finally first rounder neutral going forward. They are neither owed an extra first round pick nor are they owing. Look for the selection to fall in the late teens or early twenties depending on how just successful the season goes; generally a good place to pickup cheap rotation depth with upside.

Hitting the Market

If all of the above goes down (Kemba and Al sign reasonable extensions, Hendo opts out and Biz is renounced) Cho will have somewhere around $6m to spend under the cap on free agents and could clear up more room by sending back an enticing young player (Cody/Noah) via sign & trade. The recent regime has been crafty with their cap room; expect them to do something of note with it.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

The Hornet with the Highest Upside

Upside
Standard

 

Three offseasons ago, if you would have asked me to write a piece ranking the Charlotte Bobcats’ top under-25 prospects I would’ve immediately laughed at the notion and then retreated to the fetal position to sob once I gave the topic a few seconds of serious thought.

In their ten year existence, the Bobcats never really had any young players with star potential. Even the most optimistic of early Cats fans (this author included) had 2005 Rookie of the Year Emeka Okafor’s career topping out as a “solid” NBA center. Gerald Wallace was the closest thing to a breakout star the franchise ever produced but his ascendance was gradual, under-the-radar with a peak ever so brief.

Yet here we are today, just two months before the ’14-’15 NBA season begins and Charlotte’s NBA franchise – the same one that had drafted and developed talent so poorly for so long – has over half of its roster made up of 25 and under players; all of whom offer intriguing upsides to various degrees. Yes, it is indeed a NEW HORNETS WORLD ORDER.

Ranking the Hornets Top Prospects

8. Jeff Taylor. Age: 25 – Third Season.

THE GOOD: Taylor’s size and athleticism make him a prototypical defensive wing. His shooting form is sound and he isn’t afraid to launch it from deep; also a very sneaky baseline cutter who can get you easy baskets.
THE BAD: A Moneyball diplomat – both traditional and advanced stats hate him. Taylor is billed as a “shooter” but hasn’t shown anything approaching it over his brief career. He’s very old for a third year player at 25 and is coming off a ruptured Achilles – not great news for a wing who relies on tremendous athleticism.
THE UPSIDE: Solid Rotation Player. It seems inevitable that Taylor ends up on the Spurs someday – where he’ll blossom into a more athletic, dynamic Danny Green.

7. P.J. Hairston. Age: 21 – Rookie.

THE GOOD: Has the size, stroke and confidence to be a formidable bench weapon. Limitless range. Physical attributes suggest he could improve defensively.
THE BAD: Poor defensive habits and effort. Gets tunnel-vision on offense. BIG questions surrounding his commitment to fitness and his off the court decision-making.
THE UPSIDE: Sixth Man. There are very few shooter/scorers with P.J.’s size at the two guard. While you don’t want a gunner like Hairston near the starting lineup, for 18-20 minutes a night while your scorers are resting, P.J. could really help a team flourish.

6. Bismack Biyombo. Age: 22* – Fourth Season.

THE GOOD: Initially billed as a one-trick pony shot-swatter heading into the 2011 Draft, Biz has also developed into a quality rebounder and system defender. His shot blocking numbers have gone down but there are some metrics that rank Biz as an elite rim protector. Occasionally surprises with a 10-15 foot jumper. A better free throw shooter than you’d think. Superhuman 7’6″ wingspan; a physical specimen.
THE BAD: Zero hands; can’t catch a basketball cleanly and has an overall poor feel for the game on offense – which makes him a turnover machine. The Bobcats’ success last season had much to do with minimizing turnovers, thus Biyombo didn’t play much and touch/feel is very difficult to coach up. Also for a “defensive anchor”, Biz isn’t all that vocal on D. Considering his offensive limitations, you’d like for him to become more of a floor general at the other end.
THE UPSIDE: Potential Starter. On the right team/situation, Biyombo could be a Top 15 rebounder and Top 5 shot-blocker. He’s probably older than his listed age of 22 but I doubt it’s by that much. Even if he’s 25, Biz still has room to grow both in technique and knowledge of the game. His attitude and work ethic have never been in question. Those early comparisons to Ben Wallace seem attainable given the right circumstances.

5. Cody Zeller. Age: 21 – Second Season.

THE GOOD: Tremendous athleticism. High hoops IQ. Very skilled. Underrated chase-down shotblocker. Very good contested rebounder. Potentially excellent facilitator out of the post. Improved his perimeter shot after the All-Star break.
THE BAD: Has a tendency to “shrink” with the ball in the paint – combined with short arms, gets his shot blocked often. Can rush things; hasn’t caught up to NBA speed quite yet. Must add lower body strength; gets pushed around by full grown men. Needs to become a consistent perimeter threat.
THE UPSIDE: Starter. Cody not only had to transition to the NBA game last season, he had to do it while learning a new position. Cody played out of the post at center near exclusively for Indiana and rarely operated there as a Bobcat. Wingspan aside, he’s a legit seven footer who moves like a gazelle. He’s smart, skilled, works hard and has a great attitude. Could eventually become a better version of Josh McRoberts (high praise coming from a McBob-junkie).

4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Age: 20 – Third Season.

THE GOOD: Has the potential to become the league’s best perimeter defender. Blocks shots in half-court and transition. Long arms to pester ball-handlers. One of the best rebounding wings in the game already. Aggressive driver on offense.
THE BAD: Undergoing a full-on shot reconstruction; had the worst perimeter shot of any wing in the NBA last season and teams lay off him. Can throw down an occasional spectacular dunk but lacks an explosive first step. Hesitates in transition opportunities and doesn’t finish as well as you’d think. Gets in foul trouble often.
THE UPSIDE: ??? The narrative hasn’t changed. It all hinges on the jumpshot. If he can sort the perimeter game out, he could be Charlotte’s answer to Paul George and a potential All-Star. If not, he’s a specialist and role player.

3. Kemba Walker. Age: 24 – Fourth Season.

THE GOOD: Elite speed and quickness. Barely six feet tall but can get his shot off against anyone AND (most importantly for a small guard) can finish in the paint. Improved passer. A good defender for his size. Intangibles galore. Fantastic leader and clutch player.
THE BAD: Field goal percentage a major concern; needs to become a more efficient shooter from the perimeter. Now that he’s surrounded with offensive talent, will need to become more of a traditional PG and lower the turnover rate.
THE UPSIDE: All-Star. Given the crowd of fantastic PGs in today’s game, actually making an All-Star team will be a challenge but Kemba should at least be in the conversation. If Walker can transition his game away from Monta Ellis and more towards Tony Parker, he could become a multiple selection.

2. Lance Stephenson. Age: 23 – Fifth Season.

THE GOOD: Offensive versatility; can score in a variety of ways – off the dribble, spot-up, transition, etc. Recorded more triple doubles last season than the Bobcats had in their entire ten year history. Very good facilitator; especially for a SG. A bulldog on defense. Was the second best player on a 50+ win team last season and should have made All-Star at just 22 years of age. Confidence never a problem; loves the big games.
THE BAD: Big questions surrounding his personality. Outsized confidence blurs into arrogance at times. Has the reputation of being disruptive to both opponents and his own team. “Steals” rebounds on defense and can stop the ball on offense. Lacks explosiveness. A middling three point shooter. Can take bad shots. Not a universally great defender; Bradley Beal abused him at times during last year’s Conference Semis.
THE UPSIDE: All-Star. Lance’s trajectory has him in the league’s Top 3-4 SGs by this time next season. He’s controversial and by all accounts an eccentric but he’s a virtuoso on the court and, at just 23, has already played a major role in dozens of meaningful Playoff games. If all goes reasonably well, Lance and Big Al Jefferson will represent the Hornets in Stephenson’s home town Madison Square Garden come February.

1. Noah Vonleh. Age: 19 – Rookie.

THE GOOD: Solid jump shot out to the three point line. Surprising handle for a player his size. Was a fantastic rebounder in college due to some ridiculous attributes: a Biyombo-esque wingspan and Kawhi Leonard-sized hands. Very intriguing pick & pop/roll player due to mobility, size and skill level. Already very physically mature; a proto-beast.
THE BAD: A mechanical, grounded player. Post moves are raw. Spent much of his high school career at the wing; still learning the 4/5 spot. Vonleh turned 19 in August and while that’s a major plus for his upside, he’ll struggle learning the game in the meantime. In Summer League Noah was the king of hundred dollar moves with ten cent finishes – and that was going against sub-par competition. Set expectations accordingly for Vonleh this season and next.
THE UPSIDE: Perennial All-Star. Given all the intriguing talent on the Hornets roster and how good they should end up being this season, it’s somewhat ironic that the closest thing the franchise has to a superstar might not even make an impact this season.
Is Vonleh a center? A stretch power forward? He measured 6’9″ 247lbs at the Draft Combine (when he was still 18) and there’s a reasonable chance that he’s still growing. We know he’ll end up putting on more weight – all young players eventually go through a mansformation – but how tall will he end up being? 6’10″? 6’11″? 7ft? A six-eleven guy at 265-275 can play center in this league; especially one with that type of wingspan and posterior.

The big backside is key point, if Anthony Davis is the second coming of Kevin Garnett, Vonleh has the Kevin Love/Lamarcus Aldridge lower body leverage and strength that will allow him to create space on the block. Combine this physical advantage with Noah’s handle and shooting ability and we’re looking at a player who could be both genuinely disruptive on the perimeter AND in the paint. Opposing bigs will have to guard him all the way out to the three point line. Very few, if any NBA big men have that sort of potential.

Given the Bobcats’ decade long struggle developing young prospects, it’s a little strange to write the following statement: Vonleh was extremely fortunate to have been drafted by Charlotte. The team is already good and the fans are too focused on the addition of Stephenson and the rebrand to pay much attention to the uber-raw Lottery prospect taking mental notes at the end of the bench. Noah will apprentice under one of the league’s best post-scorers (Jefferson) and a coaching staff perfectly tailored to develop him. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when Steve Clifford and Patrick Ewing helped develop a raw Atlanta high schooler into a perennial All-NBA center.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Offseason Edition

Hornets-Offseason
Standard

1. Cleveland

Last Year: 33-49
Prediction: 54-28

I struggled hard with this one. On one hand, the Cavs just added the greatest player in the game at the peak of his prime AND a Top 10 player (Kevin Love) who fits perfectly opposite Lebron at the other forward spot. On the other hand, aside from King James, the Cavs don’t have a single player under thirty who has any Playoff experience. Also, they have an NBA newbie for a head coach and exactly two players who have positive reputations on defense – one of whom misses 30 games every season (Anderson Varejao).
But I’m gonna go with the Cavs as Beasts of the East mainly because:
A. Offense wins in the regular season – Cleveland will be an absolute FORCE at that end AND…
B. Lebron is the league’s best player and he never gets hurt. Unlike…

2. Chicago

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 53-29

The Bulls have the league’s best defensive coach and the best three-man big rotation in the league now with Pau Gasol joining Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. If 23-year old Nik Mirotic lives up to the euro-hype, you can make that the league’s best four man big rotation.
The questions start at the wings. Jimmy Butler has developed into Kawhi-East and should only get better – he’s still just 24 – but the Bulls are banking on unproven youngsters Tony Snell and Doug McDermott being ready to play meaningful minutes.
Then there’s the Derrick Rose question. Rose hasn’t played 80 games in a season since Obama’s first term. Amazingly, he’s still just 25 – but the last dynamic young guy to miss this much time was Brandon Roy. Hopefully, Rose can avoid that type of future and come back one hundred percent. If not, Bulls’ fans will be getting a steady diet of Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks.

3. Charlotte

Last Year: 43-39
Prediction: 47-35

This is where the East gets interesting. Washington, Brooklyn and Charlotte finished within a game of each other last season. Two of those teams improved during the offseason, while the Nets took a step back. I have Charlotte over Washington simply because:
A. The Hornets significantly upgraded their weakest position from last season (Shooting Guard). The Wiz’s biggest move was replacing contract-year Trevor Ariza with 36-year old Paul Pierce.
B. The Hornets have a significant amount of 23 and younger players (Cody Zeller, MKG, Lance, Kemba) who should improve to varying degrees. The Wiz duo of Wall and Beal will get better as well but the jury’s still WAY OUT on guys like Otto Porter and Glen Rice, Jr. who’ve never logged a meaningful minute of NBA action.
C. The Hornets have a significant coaching/GM advantage. Steve Clifford’s defensive system will only get more advanced and more precise. Rich Cho is crafty enough to pull off a midseason deal to improve the team for both the long and short term. Wiz fans are and should be afraid that both Randy Whittman and Ernie Grunfeld signed extensions in during the offseason.
D. The Hornets have the best player on either team. Big Al was All-NBA. John Wall is a fantastic young player but isn’t there yet.
E. The newly rebranded Hornets are going to have a tremendous homecourt advantage. Long time Charlotte NBA fans and old-school Hornets holdouts will be rocking the Hive for all 41 games.

4. Washington

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 45-37

The middle of the East is going to beat up on each other. Don’t expect nearly as many gimmes as there were last season. In fact, the entire SE Divison should be a bloodbath. The Hawks, Heat, Hornets and Wiz will all likely top .500. I like the Wizards chances as a Top 4 seed. They are built to win now and adding Paul Pierce was the right move for a franchise trying to build a winning culture. In fact, if it weren’t for the coaching imbalance and the relatively thin bench behind the starters, I’d have Washington closer to 50 wins in a tougher conference.

5. Miami

Last Year: 54-28
Prediction: 44-38

Yes they lost the best player in the game and are left with a ton of guys on the down swing of their careers. But they also still have Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng on the roster, a fantastic young coach and a ton of super-savvy veteran role players not to mention pride. This team is no lay down Sally. As long as Wade can stay upright, consider the Heat – at minimum – a middle of the pack Eastern Conference contender.

6. Toronto

Last Year: 48-34
Prediction: 43-39

The Raps did a great job of beating up on their weak home division (11-5) and the bottom feeders of the Conference (32-20 overall). They should be able to win their the Atlantic again this season with the Nets regressing, the Knicks standing pat and the Celtics and Sixers rebuilding. But Toronto is gambling that a combination of continuity and internal growth is enough to keep them in the East’s Top Four. With the middle of the Conference getting crowded, that bet may very well backfire.

7. Atlanta

Last Year: 38-44
Prediction: 43-39

The Hawks confuse me. In theory, a Horford/Millsap/Teague combo should be very good. And they have a tremendous amount of outside shooting and a very good coach and general manager. But Atlanta is also an under-the-radar “old” team. Aside from raw German phenom Dennis Schroeder and 23-year old rookie Adrien Payne, the Hawks don’t have much in terms of young guys who could break out. Also, you have to imagine the best coaches in the East like Clifford, Van Gundy, Spoelstra, etc – spent the offseason figuring out how to neutralize the Hawks gimmicky three point barrage. They’ll be good but don’t expect the Hawks to run away with the Conference even if they manage to stay healthy.

8. Brooklyn

Last Year: 44-38
Prediction: 40-42

Getting Lopez back will help as will upgrading from Jason Kidd to Lionel Hollins. But they lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston – who were both key starters on last year’s 44 win team. Hell, they might’ve been the Nets BEST starters for much of the season. Kevin Garnett is another year older and can only be counted on for spot minutes. Joe Johnson is a 33-year old wing. The team’s “leader” is Deron Williams and whenever you’re counting on D-Will to lead your team out of adversity, you’re in trouble. Also: 7ft+ guys with foot problems scare me. A lot.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:

Indiana. This team struggled to score with Lance Stephenson and Paul George on the floor. Now they’ll replace them with Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles. This is an ’96-’97 Spurs tank year for Indy – the roster is a Hibbert trade away from being garbage.

New York. They’ll threaten .500 but it’s fairly obvious that the Knicks are more concerned about the next season, not the coming one – once Amare’s contract comes off the books, and Fisher/P-Jax figure out what they’re trying to build, the Knicks will likely be back on the road to relevance.

Detroit. SVG was a great coaching hire. Great GM hire? We’ll have to see about that. Some odd personnel moves were made this summer and the Pistons still haven’t resolved either the Josh Smith or Greg Monroe situations.

NOT WORTH TALKING ABOUT (YET):
Boston, Milwaukee, Orlando, Philly.

-ASChin
@BaselineBuzz

Josh McRoberts vs Cody Zeller: An Exhaustive Study

Cody-Josh
Standard

 

Author’s Note: This is an important post for me. It’s the type of analysis I would like to bring on a regular basis, combining statistical information with game tape analysis. Any feedback would be appreciated as I try to find my voice in writing and improve with each post. You can send me comments and criticisms on twitter @bradford_NBA or through e-mail at bradfordcoombsNBA@gmail.com. No criticism is too harsh. Thanks for reading and please spread the word.

Fresh off a rare Playoff appearance and armed with cap space, picks and motivation to improve, Hornets GM Rich Cho started the offseason with an emphatic THUD as starting power forward Josh McRoberts took his unique talents to South Beach. The Heat offered Josh the full mid-level (4 years, $23m) and the Hornets chose not to match the offer.

This wasn’t a Lance Stephenson/Indiana situation. Charlotte had nearly $20m in cap space to play with and were nowhere near the tax line. Rich Cho’s hands weren’t tied. He simply decided that: A.) McRoberts wasn’t worth that much money for the Hornets mainly because B.) he believed Josh’s eventual replacement was already on the roster: Cody Zeller, the team’s lottery selection in the 2013 draft.

Cho, Coach Clifford, and owner Michael Jordan showered McRoberts with praise over his eighteen month stretch as a Bobcat – with good reason. Josh was a vital piece of Charlotte’s success last season and was often the glue that held an iffy offense together. Will Cho’s gamble pay off? Can Cody replace Josh’s contributions or will this seemingly minor exchange of role players backfire into chaos?

Dissecting Josh’s Game

It’s worth looking at exactly what McRoberts did to help the offense go and to see how Zeller’s skill-set fits into a similar role. When Zeller replaced McRoberts on the floor he played a similar, though reduced, role in the offense. Clifford had both McRoberts and Zeller play mostly from the outside, involving them in a series of pick-and-pops and dribble hand-offs to get the ball moving from side to side and into the hands of perimeter ball-handlers on the move.

McRoberts thrived as a secondary ball-handler on the perimeter. He often initiated the offense at the top of the key and looked to make plays from the outside. His surprising three point shooting was a major plus, both in the points added and space created, but it was his playmaking ability coupled with a low turnover rate1 that made him such an effective role player.

Looking beyond the numbers gives us a better understanding of how and why he was so valuable. I watched every2 assist and turnover McRoberts recorded last season. With assists, I tracked what type of action led to the assist and whether it resulted in a three pointer, a mid-range shot, or a lay-up/dunk.

The idea was to identify how McRoberts operated within the offense and what types of results his actions were producing beyond just a made shot. I broke the various actions up into dribble hand-offs (including give-and-go’s), drive and kicks, drive and dishes, hitting cuttersdirect passes (post entry, swing, stationary teammates), kick-outs from the post, dump-offs in the post, and fast break passes (outlet or on the break). In all, I charted 321 out of 348 assists, including the playoffs.

The first thing to look at is the offensive system and what type of actions led to McRoberts’s assists. Looking at this specific set of results strips out some of the stagnation of less involved plays like post-ups and isolations. Clifford’s system clearly called for plenty of ball and player movement with multiple series of actions taking place in a single possession.

There were very few plays that didn’t have some kind of dribble hand-off involving McRoberts and they accounted for 18% of his recorded assists. He hit cutters for 73 baskets or 22.7% of his assists. Gerald Henderson in particular stood out as a strong cutter and finisher, very aggressively attacking the rim off the catch, as did Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Assists on what I defined as direct passes added up to 27.4% of the total. This is an important part of the offense because the majority of these passes were into the post for Jefferson to quickly go to work.

McRoberts was a very good post entry passer, having a good feel for where to put the ball and where other defenders were on the court. He wasn’t asked to create out of straight post-ups much, registering only 26 assists on dumps and kick-outs, and those numbers might be a little generous based on my classifications.

Finally, Josh assisted on 62 baskets off drives, dumping the ball off 28 times and kicking it out 34 times. He almost always looked to pass on the drive and was a very patient ball handler, never overcommitting or getting out of control. At times his drives were so patient there was hardly a difference between a dribble drive and a post-up. He committed 7 offensive fouls all season and only committed one charge on a relatively questionable call by my eyes. This tendency bears itself out in his shot distribution chart where only 33% of his shots came around the rim. For better or for worse, Josh was always looking to get his teammates involved.

One thing that stood out was how simple a lot of these assists were. McRoberts certainly wasn’t short on flair at times, but his greatest attribute in my mind is his court vision and awareness. When paying attention it’s easy to see how active his eyes were when he had the ball, never zeroing in on an individual player, the basket, or the ball. He was much like a quarterback in that regard, going through progressions and reads and looking defenders off. Much like a good quarterback, McRoberts was also able to put the ball in a location that allowed the recipient to immediately make a play. I credited him with 41 turnovers in 82 games due to bad passes and the majority of those were off deflections or miscommunications on cuts. Very few were the result of a poorly placed pass. The key to McRoberts’s effectiveness as a facilitator was his efficiency. His ability to make the right pass to the right player in the right spot made life easier for everyone on the offensive end.

The Efficient Point Forward

As the game and the analysis of the game have evolved efficiency has become a defining attribute of successful basketball teams. People aren’t just interested in the number of points scored, but how those points were scored. Part of that evolution has been determining which types of scoring opportunities lead to a higher success rate.

The once bemoaned death of the mid-range game is now recognized as a natural progression towards more efficient basketball. Three-pointers, lay-ups, and free throws are the priority for offenses. The Bobcats weren’t a terribly efficient offensive team, ranking 24th in the league with an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 103.6 per basketball-reference.com. With McRoberts on the floor the team had an offensive rating of 106.2, which would have put them just below the league average of 106.7. When he was off the court, that number dropped to 101.1.

Only the 76ers and their abomination of a team had a worse offensive rating than the McRoberts-less Bobcats of last season. While those numbers are dramatic, they likely overstate his value. Turning to ESPN’s real plus-minus metric, which accounts for the value of the other players on the court, McRoberts added .03 points per 100 offensive possessions. For some added perspective, Paul Millsap posted a .04 ORPM (offensive real plus-minus) while David Lee had a -.12 ORPM. I think it’s fair to assume Josh’s true value was somewhere in the middle. He was an important cog in the offense, but not a foundational cornerstone like Al Jefferson (1.31 ORPM, 2nd among centers).

Having looked at how McRoberts helped generate points and understanding his overall impact on offensive efficiency, let’s take a look at the actual results:

McRoberts assists generated 148 layups, 108 mid-range shots, and 65 three pointers. I personally don’t frown on mid-range shots quite as much as some statistically inclined people, but even for me that’s not a great distribution. While the lay-ups are great, ideally some of those mid-range shots would move a couple steps towards or away from the basket. This is mostly a function of how the roster was constructed: Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, and Al Jefferson are all mid-range type players. Henderson in particular often takes a dribble in from the three point line when he could just let it fly from deep.

Thirty-five of McRoberts’s assists that lead to mid-range shots were of the direct variety. While some of those were post passes to Jefferson, others were the result of players setting up inside the arc. The team would benefit from players extending themselves out to the perimeter as it would improve spacing, something that was almost painful to watch on tape, and create more three point opportunities.

The action with the second highest number of mid-range results was dribble hand-offs. These came in the flow of the offense, usually at the elbows. Ball-handlers receiving the hand-off could certainly look to attack more often, rather than settling for so many jumpers. The team could also look to extend those plays out to the three point line, creating more space to drive or to pull up from deep, though it’s possible Steve Clifford wants that action taking place where it does.

There is one caveat to all this passing information. Only completed assists have been charted. Looking at SportVU data, teammates converted 54.4% of all assist opportunities generated by McRoberts. That’s actually slightly better than Chris Paul, whose team converted 54% of their opportunities. This provides some confirmation for what the tape showed, that not only did McRoberts find open men but he got them the ball where they had an opportunity to make a play. Additionally, SportVU reported .7 secondary (hockey) assists per game and .5 free-throw assists (passes that led to a shooting foul where the shot was missed and at least 1 free throw was made). These numbers are very similar to Joakim Noah’s, who played a very similar role as a facilitating big for the Bulls, though he did produce 1.7 more points per 48 minutes than McRoberts did.

Can Cody Keep Up?

Which brings us to the big question: What will things look like with Zeller manning Josh’s spot and what will he need to improve upon for the team to avoid a regression? 

First and foremost, Cody should not try to “be” McRoberts. He is a different player, despite having a similar pigmentation and hailing from the same home state. Having watched a lot of Cody Zeller tape, specifically how the offense was run when he replaced McRoberts on the court, it’s clear that Coach Clifford is going to put him in similar spots and expects him to make plays from those spots.

Starting with the raw statistics, Zeller averaged 13.7 assists and 13 turnovers per 100 possessions. As a reference point, McRoberts averaged 32.7 assists and 8.1 turnovers per 100 possessions. Both players’ numbers come via stats.nba.com. SportVU data credited Zeller with .1 free-throw assists per game, .3 secondary assists, 2.3 assist opportunities per game, and 7.1 points created by assist per 48 minutes. The disparity in numbers between these two power forwards makes sense when you watch the games: While Zeller played a similar role to McRoberts, receiving the ball in the high post with a charge to pass, attack, or set a screen as a part of a dribble hand-off, it was in a smaller role.

Something that stood out in the McRoberts tape was the confidence his teammates had in him. They saw him as a safety valve, looking for him frequently to keep things going. They clearly did not have the same confidence in Zeller, not looking for him as quickly. Zeller was also quicker to move the ball, spending less time surveying the defense to find open cutters. By letting McRoberts walk, the front office is putting their trust in Zeller to have the confidence to look to make plays and be more than just a ball mover on offense.

Looking at the same assist categories and distributions as I did with McRoberts reveals a very different type of player. Where 19.3% of McRoberts’s assists were the result of drives to the basket, drives made up 23.5% of Zeller’s assist. Zeller wasn’t nearly as adept at hitting cutters as McRoberts, registering only 7 assists off cuts out of 81 total, or 8.6% to McRoberts’s 22.7%. Part of this is a product of being quicker to move the ball as well as being more aggressive attacking the basket. Additionally, Zeller was more comfortable operating out of the post: 19.8% of his assists came out of the post while McRoberts created 8.1% of his assists out of the post.

Zeller’s kick-outs were a valuable way of generating three point attempts. McRoberts aversion to contact as a ball-handler made him steer clear of the post, resulting in only 11 kick-outs for threes overall. In far more limited minutes and opportunities, Cody kicked the ball out of the post for 7 threes. While that’s a tiny number for an entire season, as Zeller’s opportunities and minutes increase those types of plays can be a productive way of generating points. Overall, Zeller had a much healthier distribution of shots on which he assisted. Of 81 assists, 34 led to lay-ups, 28 led to mid-range shots, and 19 led to three point shots.

Cody Zeller: STRENGTHS

There was a lot to like in Zeller’s playmaking: He was both quicker and more aggressive off the bounce than McRoberts. He was able to get a shoulder past his man and draw help defenders, then find teammates at the basket or on the perimeter. He doesn’t have the flair that McRoberts does, but he often makes the simple, correct pass.

His passes also have a zip that McRoberts’s can’t match. In the March 3rd game against Miami, McRoberts threw a nifty cross-court pass along the baseline for a Luke Ridnour three. He used a lot of spin on the ball to get it around the defenders and to his man. In a similar play while facing the Warriors on February 4th, Zeller took a dribble along the baseline then fired a one handed pass over the top to the opposite corner for an Anthony Tolliver three that I had to rewind and watch several times. Thase two plays are a prime example of how McRoberts and Zeller differ in their passing styles.

Several times, Cody showed great patience while pivoting. There was no panic as he kept the ball out of reach of defenders and was able to find a teammate for a bucket. For all his turnovers, he was very strong with the ball, not allowing it to get knocked out of his hands by feisty defenders. He used his size to keep the ball out of reach while keeping his eyes up and surveying the floor.

Zeller also used his size to make direct passes over the top rather than some of the more crafty ways McRoberts used to get the ball to guys. Cody made good use of ball fakes when passing into the post, keeping both his defender and the post defender guessing. He was particularly effective in dribble hand-offs, using his back-side to create space and prevent his man from getting a hand in to muck up the hand-off. Overall, he set much better screens than McRoberts, who often didn’t make contact with the defender (he seriously hates contact). The foundational elements are there for Zeller to build on and, in time, he should become a solid passer and play-maker for the Hornets.

Cody Zeller: WEAKNESSES

If you’ve ever watched a Draft Express scouting video (you should; they’re superb) you know that feeling of getting really excited about a player while watching their strengths, only to be crushed with the sadness of their weaknesses. Zeller’s short but sweet tape of 81 assists was really encouraging. Immediately following that with 82 turnovers3 was a gut punch and was more in line with my memory of his rookie season. November and December were particularly brutal, as he tallied almost half of his season’s turnovers, 38 out of 82 to be exact. Over those two months, he had 19 bad passes4, 7 mishandles with the ball, 7 offensive fouls, and 5 travels. The deer in the headlights description was completely accurate. Overall, he got whistled for 16 offensive fouls, threw 36 bad passes, some of which were complete head scratchers, including one to a lady on the first row and another on an inbounds play after a made basket, traveled 11 times, mishandled the ball 17 times, and even got called for 3 seconds twice.

He was often indecisive and out of control, driving to the basket and jumping in the air with no plan to shoot or pass. There were times it was clear he didn’t know where his teammates were going to be. He lacked the necessary court awareness, failing to see secondary defenders or throwing the ball into crowds. On drives he had poor balance, getting his shoulders well ahead of his legs and trying to complete plays around defenders rather than going through them.

In Conclusion

While there are valid concerns about how the Hornets will fill the void left by McRoberts’s departure and in particular how Zeller fits that role, Cody has the pieces to do a lot of what McRoberts did so well while using his own unique skill-set. He will need to improve his upper-body and core strength, something he has talked about before.

A stronger core will help him maintain his balance and leverage his speed with the ball while better upper-body strength will enable him to go through defenders at the basket and finish for himself or find an open teammate. A stronger approach to attacking the basket will also result in more fouls drawn and less travels and desperate heaves. He could benefit from eliminating spin moves off the dribble from his repertoire altogether. His aggressiveness with the ball is a valuable trait, as he averaged 4.15 drives per 48 minutes while McRoberts averaged 3.16 drives per 48, as calculated using SportVU data. That aggressiveness also shows itself in Zeller’s higher usage rate of 18.2% as compared to 13.8%.

mcrobertsZeller

One thing Cody could learn from McRoberts is to have patience on his drives. If he learns to slow down at times, rather than barreling into the teeth of the defense, he will be able to create more opportunities for others as defenders collapse. His most important path to improvement is gaining experience. It took a while for the game to slow down for him, and when the playoffs came around it seemed to be back to square one. He will need to learn how to read defenses, account for the speed and length of NBA athletes, operate and know where other players are within the offense, and finish without getting blocked. That seems like a lot to improve but it should come with experience. Cody has a chance to be every bit as good an overall offensive player as McRoberts, and a better scorer and defender.

When McRoberts agreed to his deal with Miami, it was assumed Zeller would just take over his role, including the starting position and starter’s minutes. Not long into the official start of free agency, the Hornets went out and signed another power forward in Marvin Williams. He had similar shooting numbers to McRoberts, a low turnover rate, was a better rebounder, but isn’t nearly the passer McRoberts is (or Zeller for that matter). Expect Williams to be the starter and Zeller to play essentially the same role as last season, at least to start. While the idea of contending vs rebuilding/tanking is an oversimplification, it is true that Coach Clifford and the Hornets are looking to build on the success of last season. Guys like Zeller, Noah Vonleh, and PJ Hairston will have their opportunities. Clifford knows the importance of player development, but not at the cost of winning.

While everyone expects Zeller to be improved from his rookie season, he’s going to have to earn his opportunities and minutes. I predict he starts the season coming off the bench for around 20 minutes per game, just as he was at the end of last season. I would guess that the organization is hoping he will take over the starting spot by the All-Star break. While Vonleh is several years away from being ready to really contribute, the clock is ticking for Cody Zeller. If he doesn’t make strides, both as a shooter and a playmaker, the team may start looking at Vonleh sooner, rather than later.

-Bradford Coombs
@bradford_NBA

1. 8.1 turnovers per 100 possessions and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.01 that ranked 2nd in the league behind only Chris Paul.
2. Videos are available at nba.com/stats. Some of the videos don’t really match up to what they’re supposed to so really I watched a video that was supposed to be every assist. A couple games were marked wrong, but the vast majority were right over the season.
3. The real numbers are 94 assists to 89 turnovers including playoffs but footnote 2 still applies.
4. Playing with the bench unit for most of the season didn’t help. I counted 5 interior passes to Bismack Biyombo that should have led to dunks but resulted in turnovers.

VERY SPECIAL THANKS to Timmy Hoskins for “The Dude” artwork. It is FANtastic.

2014 Charlotte Hornets Free Agency Primer

Standard

Hornets-Offseason

A Playoff team on the rise, the new and improved Charlotte Hornets will enter this week’s Free Agent Frenzy with a few key positions to fill.

Starting Wing

Both of last year’s starting wings, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, are under contract and could return – but the lack of shooting and overall scoring from their positions severely limited Coach Clifford’s offense last season. The chances of Charlotte snagging a new starter in free agency are extremely high:

Luol Deng

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Clifford and Bulls head coach Tom Thibideau come from the same Van Gundy coaching tree. Thibs LOVED Deng and the Hornets will too. Deng gives Clifford incredible length, smarts and tenacity on defense and a multi-dimensional third scorer when opponents key on Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker at the other end. The Hornets could start Deng next to Henderson (if they keep him) or MKG and rotate Jeff Taylor, Gary Neal and P.J. Hairston off the bench. An MKG/Deng wing combo would give opposing offenses nightmares.

The common argument against Deng is that, despite the fact that he’s only 29, he’s played too many minutes over his career and is likely due for a breakdown. I’m not so sure that’s given. Let’s look at the combined minutes (regular and post-season) of a few All-Star wings (rounded, via BasketballReference.com)

  • Lebron James (29 years old) 33,000 minutes played
  • Luol Deng (29 years old) 26,000 minutes played
  • Kobe Bryant (35 years old) 54,000 minutes played
  • Kevin Durant (25 years old) 23,000 minutes played
  • Joe Johnson (33 years old) 38,000 minutes played

Deng has four years and twelve thousand less miles on his odometer than Joe Johnson, who (somewhat controversially), made the All-Star team last season. All these players have different styles and body types and its always a risk handing out big money to any player, regardless of circumstance. I just don’t think the narrative over Deng’s wear & tear matches the reality.

Contract: A two-year $24 million offer makes sense for both sides; big money up front for Luol and it times just right with MKG’s eventual extension.
Odds: VERY LIKELY

Lance Stephenson

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
I was convinced Lance would be the Hornets primary offseason target right up until the Draft. But once the team selected former Tar Heel P.J. Hairston, the odds of Charlotte introducing two shooting guards with character issues into their peaceful locker room dipped dramatically. Lance is 23, unrestricted, immensely talented and shows up in big games. He can create offense where there is none and rises up to any and all defensive challenges. But he’s going to cause headaches for any coach due to his quirky personality and tendancy to “wing-it” on the court. Steve Clifford already has his hands full trying to win games while developing very young players. And he doesn’t have any more hair to pull out.
Contract: Tyreke Evans got $44 million of 4 years. Lance is better than Tyreke Evans.
Odds: Likely.

Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward

Status: Restricted Free Agents
Parsons and Hayward are both big wings who can shoot and score in a variety of ways. Hayward has more upside as a defender and Parsons has more consistent range. If they were unrestricted free agents, Charlotte would be sending them teal colored dump trucks full of cash but their restricted status all but takes them off the table. Offer them fair money and their respective teams tie up your cap space for 72 hours as your backup targets get taken off the market one by one. Wildly overpay and you might be stuck in a Joe Johnson/Atlanta situation with no room to upgrade your team in the future. Sure, the Hornets could approach either Houston or Utah with a sign and trade offer, but would you really want to give away, say, Cody Zeller, MKG and a future pick for the right to overpay Chandler Parsons?
Contract: Both guys will receive $10-$12 million per season on four year contracts from their current teams.
Odds: Very Unlikely.

Backup Point Guard

In February, Charlotte downgraded from a solid, non-traditional backup PG who fans disliked (Ramon Sessions) to a poor, traditional backup PG who fans tried to fool themselves into liking (Luke Ridnour). Fortunately Ridnour was on the last year of an expiring contract and won’t be back. Charlotte will enter the offseason in search of a veteran backup for Kemba Walker.

Jameer Nelson

Status: Under Contract (Partially Guaranteed)
Clifford and associate head coach Patrick Ewing had him in Orlando for many years and there’s been no shortage of rumors linking Nelson to Charlotte if the Magic release him before July 12th. Jameer’s three point percentage hovered around 40% three seasons ago while playing with a dominant big man (Dwight Howard) and there’s a good chance he could reach those levels again playing off of Big Al.
Contract: Given Jameer’s ties with Charlotte’s coaching staff and city’s proximity to his family in Orlando, 2yrs, $10 million or 3yrs, $15 million could work.
Odds: Likely.

Mario Chalmers

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
He pooped the bed in this year’s Finals but rewind the tape a year prior and Chalmers was a big reason Miami won the title in 2013. He can hit spot up threes and, similar to his role in Miami, wouldn’t be asked to do much playmaking with Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng making cameos with the second unit. Also, as Lebron’s whipping boy, you’d think he’d love the opportunity to hit a few daggers against his old team and division rival.
Contract: Anything over $4-$5 million per year is an overpay.
Odds: Likely.

Ramon Sessions

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Speaking of whipping boys, I’ll never understand why Bobcats fans hated Sessions so much. “He’s selfish!” “He can’t shoot!” “He looks like a real asshole!” I’ll concede the shooting at least. As for the selfish claims, Ramon was often in charge of leading a second unit that consisted of McRoberts (pass first), Jeff Taylor (37% FG, 27% 3PT FG), Bismack Biyombo (no comment) and either Ben “The Humbler” Gordon or Anthony Tolliver. There’s only so many pick and pops you can run with AT until the opposing defense figures it out. Ramon’s job was to manufacture offense and that’s what he did. Sessions is one of the league’s best at getting to the line and its no surprise that Charlotte’s inability to do so in the postseason coincided with Ramon playing in Milwaukee.
Contract: Somewhere between $4 and $5 million sounds right.
Odds: Likely.

Kirk Hinrich

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Another Thibs guy, Hinrich gets hurt a lot and is not even close to the same player that he was during the Bulls’ mid-2000s mini-renaissance but as a smart, solid-shooting backup point who tries hard on defense, you could do much, much worse.
Contract: Again, the magic number for quality backup PGs is around $4-$5m per.
Odds: Somewhat likely.

Backup Center

It’s difficult to imagine a more polarizing Charlotte Draft pick than Bismack Biyombo. Twitter seems to be equally divided into “You’re an Idiot, He Sucks” and “No. You’re an Idiot, He Doesn’t Suck” camps*. The truth is that Biz has some solid value today and will likely become a decent big man in time but at the moment, he can really hurt a team that’s trying to win meaningful NBA games. Proponents can point to the semi-esoteric “rim-protection” metric and finagle an argument via quantum physics as to how Biz is a more imposing defender than Roy Hibbert. Critics counter with Biyombo’s inordinately high turnovers given his lack of touches and his overall lack of feel for the game. All I can say is that Clifford didn’t feel comfortable playing Biz for long stretches even though he desperately needed to get Big Al some rest. Expect a veteran backup to arrive this summer either in free agency or via trade.
*Then again, this could describe a large proportion of all arguments on the internet.

Channing Frye, Spencer Hawes

Status: Unrestricted Free Agents
Non-traditional centers who love to hover around the three point line. They’ll be pricey and in demand by teams that crave unorthodox bigs. Pairing Frye and McRoberts in the frontcourt could allow MKG and Kemba to do lots of damage driving inside.
Contract: Minimum $6 million per.
Odds: Somewhat Likely.

Emeka Okafor

Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Okafor in One-Four? The Bobcats first ever draft choice is coming off of a back injury but has a made a ton of cash (thanks to former Cats President Rod Higgins) and could be a nice backup and safety net should Big Al miss any time. He might not be ready for a reduced role quite yet though and there have been rumblings that the Heat will make a run.
Contract: Somewhere between $6-$7 million per depending on the team and years.
Odds: Unlikely.

Charlotte Hornets Roundtable | 2014 Pre-Draft Hype

Standard

Hornets-Offseason

Q: The last time a Charlotte NBA team finished over .500 and had a Lottery pick – the Hornets wound up with Baron Davis in the ’99 Draft. Will the suddenly relevant former-Bobcats find another future star in the 2014 Draft or will they play it safe and look for starters/role-players who can contribute immediately?

DrE: (@BaselineDrE) Trick question — these aren’t mutually exclusive. But I get the spirit of the question and I think the Hornets will lean towards players that can make significant contributions while on their rookie deals as opposed to projects.

Bradford: (@bradford_NBA) Picking 9th is a lot different from picking 3rd. I think Cho has shown he’s going to go with the guy he thinks will be the best player down the road regardless of current production. He’s not afraid of projects. That being the case, I think that rather than judging how he played the draft from a prospect perspective, I think it’s safer to assume that Cho thinks the guy he picked has the best long term potential. That’s not to say he has been or will be right, but MJ has enabled him to run it all and with his track record, you can bet he’s not just playing it safe in his mind.

ASChin: (@BaselineBuzz) I was absolutely thrilled to hear Cho’s comments about “not sacrificing the future for present gain”. The Draft is where you go to find stars, not to fill in roster gaps. Conveniently, Charlotte is searching for a dynamic wing this time around and recent Drafts have proven that you can find a star at that position after the ninth pick (Paul George, Kawhi Leonard). The Hornets may not pick this high again for a long while; gamble on a star, be patient and fill in the gaps via free agency and trades.

Q: Highest to Lowest Superstar Potential: Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott.

DrE: Frankly I don’t think any of these guys have “superstar” potential. But LaVine and McDermott have some star potential — LaVine more due to the high ceiling, McDermott due to the likelihood that he’ll be smart and consistent and a hard worker who carves out a long, competent career. I don’t think Stauskas or Harris have any real star potential. Of course, now that I put that on record, Gary Harris will proceed to become Russell Westbrook 2.0.

Bradford: I’ve said many times over that I think the star power of this draft is overrated. It’s strength is in the number of quality players with obvious skills that will translate. Stauskas and McDermott are elite shooters, Harris is an elite defender, and LaVine can jump really, really high. Each of these guys also have deficiences. Athleticism for Stauskus and McDermott, size for McDermott and Harris, playing basketball for LaVine. I’m going to blow my own mind and say McDermott, Harris, Stauskas, LaVine. McDermott’s ability to score effectively inside and out is Dirk-esque. He clearly doesn’t have Dirk’s size, but he does have the craftiness and array of effective shots. I don’t feel good about it, but his elite skill is super elite.

ASChin: LaVine, Stauskas, Harris, McDermott. Those who follow me on twitter know that I #Dream4LaVine. Sure, he could top out as Gerald Green or Jamaal Crawford or flame out of the league altogether in a few seasons. But he also has the confidence and athleticism to become something of a Kobe-lite. He shoots off the catch, pushes the ball in transition and can get into the lane. He turned 19 in March. Clifford could mold that kid into a fine player. Stauskas’ best case scenario is a poor-man’s Ginobli and that’s fine by me.

Q: Highest to Lowest Bust Potential: Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris, Zach LaVine, Doug McDermott.

DrE: Significant bust potential with all of these guys: in order I’ll go LaVine, Stauskas, McDermott, Harris.

Bradford: LaVine, Stauskus, McDermott, Harris. Gary Harris’s defense makes him a pretty sure thing to me. Nobody would be saying bust if MKG had been taken at 9 instead of 2. LaVine is a no-brainer leader on this list. He hasn’t shown much and comparisons to Westbrook are laughable. McDermott and Stauskus will both be able to shoot the ball. I think the versatile offense of McDermott has a better chance of translating than Stauskus’s. Basically I have more faith in his post game than in Stauskus’s ability to get into the paint off the dribble.

ASChin: LaVine, Stauskas, Harris, McDermott. Grantland’s Zach Lowe quoted a scout once saying something to the effect of, “in order to demonstrate your elite NBA skill, you must have enough other NBA skills to keep you on the floor.” That’s my issue with McDermott. He’s not going to be able to finish around the basket at the next level. He’s going to have a difficult time guarding anyone without a rim protector behind him. He’s already older than MKG/Biz/Cody. But the guy can flat out shoot and that makes him a low-risk prospect in a shooting-deficient league. Harris has the chops at both ends to play for a decade as a rotation guy. My high-upside guys LaVine and Stauskas could just as easily be out of the NBA in five years.

Q: There’s rumblings that either Kentucky’s Julius Randle or OSU’s Marcus Smart may drop to the Hornets at pick number nine. Do the Hornets immediately grab them there regardless of fit/need?

DrE: Yeah, they’d almost have to, but probably more to trade than keep. I doubt either one ends up slipping, but say for instance Randle does. If Orlando went PG with their earlier pick, wouldn’t they deal #12 + Afflalo for #9 (Randle) + Gerald Henderson? Wouldn’t that work for both sides? Hornets could probably still pick from Stauskas, Harris, Young, Warren, Lavine at #12 then. I like that fake trade a lot.

Bradford: No question. Talent over need. There’s an option to trade back, but I’ll take a potential all-star over 2 good role players. That’s basically what Golden State is trying to do to acquire Kevin Love. Turn 2 productive players into one elite player.

ASChin: This isn’t a Cody over Nerlens Noel situation. As much as I like LaVine, you take Smart/Randle over him without thinking about it. In fact, the Randle/Cody combo could be your future starting frontcourt for a decade. Smart/Kemba would be a fantastic guard combo ala Dragic/Bledsoe in Phoenix. That’s a dream scenario.

Q: The Hornets have worked out mostly wing prospects. Would it shock you if they went another direction and if so, who?

DrE: Yes, that would be a shock. Other than a wing, or Smart/Randle/Gordon falling, nothing else makes sense. I’m trying to think of the most mind-asploding pick for the Hornets to make at #9. It would have to be Dario Saric, because he seems to duplicate a lot of what Cody Zeller is, and it’s not even clear if he wants to come over to the NBA this season. Second most shocking pick would be Elfrid Payton — that would be a head scratcher.

Bradford: In a vacuum no. But this draft is heavy on wing prospects and light on point guards and post players, especially in the Hornets’ range. Elfrid Payton is the wild card. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that glorious hair under a teal hat.

ASChin: Aside from Randle/Smart falling, Payton is the only non-wing option. He’s a big point with crazy length who could allow Kemba to continue to play off the ball as a scorer (perhaps to the detriment of Kemba’s growth as a true PG).

Q: The Spurs put on a “How to Beat Miami” clinic during the Finals. The Hornets share both a division and conference with Lebron & Company. Assuming the Heat’s Big Three stay together, how will the Spurs’ successful strategy affect who the Hornets’ target in both the Draft and free agency (if at all)?

DrE: Sure, in that you’re always looking for a Hall of Fame Coach who will stick around for 10+ years and be totally open to evolving with the times, and a core of three Hall of Fame players willing to set the tone for professionalism and greatness while taking less money, thus enabling your front office to surround you with quality role players and depth and an overall culture of continuous internal development. But seriously, the Spurs showed the importance of players who can stretch/space the floor with their shooting range and have high basketball IQ — i.e. making the right plays/passes on offense and understanding and executing team defensive concepts — which is why I think people have locked in on McDermott as the Hornets pick at #9.

Bradford: I don’t really think it does. What the Spurs did goes so much deeper than just the roster. Obviously versatility is important in their system, but I think all GM’s and coaches crave versatile players. What the Spurs have really brought to the forefront is the importance of continuity. They have a GM, coach, owner, and players that are all on the same page and have been building a culture and system for years. I believe that’s what MJ is trying to build. I expect Cho and Clifford to be around a long time. Otherwise it will be more of the same Charlotte franchise.

ASChin: It should and it will. Remember, there was an under-the-radar Eastern Conference team that gave everyone headaches throughout the season even though they lost their best player: The Atlanta Hawks. In leiu of Al Horford’s torn pectoral, longtime Popovic disciple Mike Budenholzer rotated in a steady diet of sharpshooters and ball-movers that frazzled much of the East for two-thirds of the season. Charlotte fans will recall that it was none other than Atlanta backup center Pero Antic, aka “The Eastern Block”, who ripped their hearts out with a buzzer-beating fallaway three back in December. The Hornets were one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in the NBA last season. If they are serious about competing with Conference’s best, that will have to change.

Q: The Hornets have two first round picks and a second. MJ has said he also wants to make a splash in free agency. Given those additions, which of the following players are least likely to be back with the team next season: Josh McRoberts, Gerald Henderson or Bismack Biyombo?

DrE: Easily Henderson. Though I could also see a team wanting Biyombo for rim protection in a trade.

Bradford: They’ll all be back, at least to start the season. I expect McRoberts to sign a 3 year contract. I’m not sure Biz has any value. He’s the rare player whose rookie contract is more than his actual value. I could see Henderson being dealt during the season if anything happens. Afflalo is clearly on the trading block and has been in Hornets fans minds for the past year. If they can find a way to swap it will happen. I think Henderson would be great coming off the bench though.

ASChin: Anyone who’s paid close attention to the team over the last half decade knows that Michael Jordan and Henderson have a close relationship. That may keep Gerald in purple & teal a little past his expiration date unfortunately. I really like Hendo as a player but he just doesn’t fit on a team that’s building around Big Al and Kemba’s inside/outside game. Now that Cho’s running the show solo, I expect him to make the right decision. Hendo is gone.

Q: Now that Rod Higgins is officially out as Hornets President, there will be no question as to who is making Charlotte’s picks. Given his previous Draft track record, how good do you feel about Rich Cho’s new role as decider-in-chief?

DrE: Pretty good, though it would be nice to see him hit a home run with one of these picks. Lots of singles and doubles so far.

Bradford: I think it’s great. Obviously the draft hasn’t treated him particularly well, but I think he can get better with more experience. His work ethic and preparedness have been referenced constantly. I don’t think he’s too stubborn to learn. There are also reports of looking for an assistant GM. I think that’s a good thing. Everyone needs someone else to bounce ideas off. The Higgins/Cho relationship was never clearly defined publicly so who knows how division of labor worked. A more clearly defined front office structure is a good thing.

ASChin: From a trades and free agent perspective, I’m thrilled but Cho’s Drafts thus far have been ho-hum. Kemba is a keeper and likely the best pick value-wise of the Bobcats-era (an extremely low bar). MKG flashed his potential in Miami during Game 2. Cody could become a poor man’s Bosh one day. Biz remains an enigma who was taken over Klay, Kawhi, Faried and Vucevic. Now that Higgins is gone, there will be no confusion as to who makes the Hornets picks – for better or for worse.

“Never Turn Your Back On The Grind”

Standard

The Baseline reached out to trainer and video coordinator Raphael Barlowe, creator of Chris Douglas-Roberts’ web-series “I Am Not a Star”, to uncover more details about CDR’s hard-fought return to the NBA:

BB: The documentary project takes place over a span of years, offering an intimate portrait of CDR’s personal journey back to the NBA. How long have you known CDR and what was your ultimate goal in producing the videos?

RB: I met Chris in November 2012 when he first signed with the Texas Legends of the D-League, so I’ve only been part of his journey back to the NBA for the past 14 months. I’ve always had an interest in the behind the scenes aspect of the lives of NBA players and Chris was the first person I approached about creating a web series. At first he seemed hesitant because he really did not know me and he was not where he wanted to be in his career. A few weeks later he had a 49 point game in his D-League debut and since I was video coordinator for the team, I was the only one who had footage of that game. I edited the video and sent to him and posted the link on Twitter. A few hours later it had around 5,000 views. To my surprise, after he was released by the Mavericks he sent me a text and agreed to shoot the web series. The ultimate goal was to tell his story and also show that he was high character guy off the court. Often people may see pro athletes and tattoos and it gives off a negative stereotype.

BB: In many ways watching a player like CDR’s journey to the league is much more dramatically interesting than, say, an annointed Lottery pick – those stories are rather straight lines, Chris’s path is filled with lots of twists and turns. Did you have any idea that Chris’s story would play out like it did?

RB: Yes. I knew he’d get back to the NBA and I felt like if given the right opportunity he would succeed. The whole web series might have a total different feel to it if he never made it back. I have nothing against playing overseas, but the series was all about his journey back to the NBA.

BB: CDR has been praised by the Bobcats for his maturity. Part of that you illustrate through his humbling experiences on the league’s periphery. The doc also introduces us to a young a family man. How much of CDR’s success do you think is owed to his personal responsibilities as a father?

RB: I think his responsibilities as a father play a huge role in his recent success. Last summer when things were not looking so good he posted a picture of him working out on his Instagram with the caption “If I quit what is Corleone (his son Vito’s nickname) gonna think of me? Anyone who knows Chris knows his kids are his everything. We’d workout until 3am and he’d still get up around 7am to feed his daughter breakfast. 20 years from now, he’ll be able to tell his kids his story about how dedicated he was to his craft and how they benefitted from his hours in the gym.

BB: Bobcats fans and the local media keep asking about Chris’s hair but he explicitly answers the question in episode three: “The universe just took me to this”. (Great quote btw) I feel like this could be an alternate title for the series or maybe the name of the sequel. Do you feel CDR’s quest to be different, to be an individual, has translated to his game in any way?

RB: I think his game has always been different. Even when I did not know him personally and just watched him at Memphis, I noticed he had an unorthodox game w/ the high dribble, floaters from odd angles and he played like a lefty. He was never considered a ‘shooter’ or a great athlete, but he was known as a scorer because he was so crafty. So the hair just fits into his unique individual style that matches his game and how he dresses off the court.

BB: My favorite thing about the series is that it shows us yet again that most non-star pro athletes are just regular dudes with mostly regular lives. Sure, CDR rolls up to a fast food drive thru in an Italian sports car but he also has to take care of crying babies, go buy diapers, take his girl to The Cheesecake Factory, etc. Was this an explicit intention of yours, to show the everyday, banal side of a pro ballers’ life?

RB: Yes. I wanted to show a side of players that nobody sees. Maybe things would be different if he was a mega star like Lebron or Durant and had a max contract with commercials airing all day long. He probably would not be able to go to the store and buy diapers as often as he does. Even to my surprise he lives a very, very normal lifestyle. After games he can be seen loading the kids in the car, going to birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese and watching Yo Gabba Gabba and other kiddie shows on Nickelodeon.

BB: As his trainer, how do you feel about CDR’s vegan diet? He looks noticeably leaner now than a few years ago. Do you think it has helped his game?

I personally so not know much about the vegan diet, but he says he can feel the difference and he’s never tired. He looks as if he can play 48 minutes per night at a high level. I do not know if its the diet or what, but it is working and paying off.

BB: “Never turn your back on the grind” – basically sums up the theme of the entire series. We see Chris struggling to find his way back to the league early on but his faith in “the grind” – it’s like a mantra – eventually manifests it’s way into Chris’s reality with the Bobcats. Is this common philosophy amongst guys trying to get into the league or is this trait special to CDR?

RB: That’s a tough question. I think everyone who’s trying to get in the NBA feels they are grinding and working hard. However, I think what Chris calls “the grind” may be insanity to others. We worked out twice per day for 5 days per week from February through the NBA Summer League. My brother and I kept track of his makes and misses and he’d easily make 200- 250 shots per workout. He’d go home and sit in an ice bucket to prepare for the next midnight session. I’m sure experiencing the NBA lifestyle then going to Europe and D-League added some fuel to his fire, but I do not think you just pick up that type of work ethic along the way. I believe he’s always had a work ethic, he just took it to a totally different level. Even now that he’s back in the league and playing good minutes, he brought me out to Charlotte so we could work on his off days.

BB: My fave moment comes in episode 4 where CDR is watching the insane McRoberts behind the back pass and can’t believe a 6’11 guy could make that play, calling it “magical” – hilarious because it was Chris himself who had to finish the play on the other end. What is your favorite moment in the series?

RB: I would have to say going to Memphis with him was my favorite moment. I knew he was a big deal in Memphis, but I did not know he could run for mayor. LOL. The minute he walked from the hotel to the FedEx forum the fans were all over him. He probably signed a few hundred autographs and took even more pictures. What I did not capture on the episode was we ran into his old AAU coach from Detroit. He gave me insight on Chris’ background and mentioned how proud he was to see Chris where he is today as person, father and basketball player.

BB: It’s been reported that Coach Clifford’s familiarity with CDR is what ultimately landed him in CLT. How did Chris make such an impression on Clifford during last year’s Lakers camp?

RB: I did not know Chris at the time, but I’m assuming Coach Clifford saw the same things Kobe Bryant saw during camp. I remember reading reports about Kobe being impressed with his game. Chris has mentioned he felt he was one of the best players in that camp, but for whatever reasons the Lakers chose to go in a different direction. Fortunately for Chris, Coach Clifford took notice.

BB: CDR has never shot over 32% from three in an NBA season. He’s flirting with 40% with CLT. Three and D guys are valuable in the league. Can he keep this up?

RB: I believe he can stay around the 40% mark. He set a goal to shoot 40% from 3 last summer and he’s very close to achieving it. Lately teams have been closing out hard on him and he’s shooting a lot more contested threes. We go to the gym and put up a couple hundreds 3’s on his off days, so I’d like to think the percentage will increase next season. He made 25 3’s in March compared to only 32 in his previous 4 seasons combined.

BB: Bonus Question. How did you become involved with the Texas Legends? I find it an interesting coincidence that CDR arrived via a team now operated by former Bobcat Eduardo Najera. Also, I have to ask, as a Legends guy what are your thoughts on PJ Hairston’s NBA future?

RB: I joined the Legends in 2010 as an intern. I had to do a lot of the grunt work and odd jobs like drive the team van and wash laundry to earn respect and trust of the staff. I eventually worked my way up to video coordinator and a basketball operations title. I was not as involved this season as I had been in years past, but I’m still involved in a small capacity and the team has given me the freedom to spend time here in Charlotte.

I think PJ has a shot to be a first round pick. He put up good numbers in the D-League and even had some 40 point games. The talent is there and I think where he ends up in the draft will depend how well he handles the interview questions from his Carolina days.

Special thanks to @Barlowe500 for the interview. Watch the entire four part series “I Am Not A Star” here.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz