Jump Shot Ratings

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With the draft come and gone, summer league concluded, free agency past its height, and training camps a couple weeks away, we are officially in the worst part of the NBA calendar. Seriously, you can only read so many player profiles, preseason rankings, and projections before they all just start to say the same thing. Zach Lowe already has the eccentric NBA rankings market cornered, this year tackling court designs. Finding a topic worth covering without feeling redundant is a challenge in September. So, as your stereotypical short, un-athletic white guy I decided to tackle an important topic: ranking Charlotte Hornets jump shooters. This is a purely subjective, aesthetically based ranking. Results are irrelevant. Hornets fans need to know who has the Mona Lisa of jump shots, and whose jump shot belongs in the garbage (I hate to pile it on, but we all know where this end of the spectrum is headed).

Rankings take into account mechanical soundness and the “Eff You” factor. The “Eff You” factor is a matter of stylistic flair that demoralizes an opponent as soon as the shot goes up. The kings of the jump shot “eff you” are Steph Curry and Damian Lillard. To rate highly by this metric, consistent results are required, but being a consistently great shooter doesn’t necessarily grade out in style. So, without further ado, your 2014-15 Charlotte Hornets Jump Shot Rankings, in reverse order.

14. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

This has been covered. Nobody knows what MKG’s shot is going to look like this upcoming year, but the photo evidence isn’t encouraging to me.

MKG reconstructed jump shot

MKG is my favorite Hornet. But someone might want to call a priest to exorcise the demon living in his right elbow.

13. Bismack Biyombo

I wanted to like Biz’s shot more than I do. I love the guy. Who doesn’t? He obviously finds so much joy in life that I can help but feel my spirits lifted. But the jumper just doesn’t have it. First of all, he suffers from gangly limb syndrome. His arms and legs are so long he can’t seem to figure out what to do with them. His feet are spread way too wide, feet all pigeon-toed, knees appearing to buckle. The ball comes from the left side of his body, shooting elbow flared out, off-hand way too involved… I will say this, he has a nice high release point that helps corral his arms a little bit, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

12. Gerald Henderson

This might be a personal preference thing and probably isn’t fair at all, but Hendo’s jumper is sneaky ugly for me. Let’s start with the feet. I hate the “one foot (way) forward approach.” A shooter’s strong-side foot should be a little forward, say 6 inches. But a full step? It completely throws off your alignment. You can see how it opens up everything else (hips, shoulders). The release is fine, but there’s a mechanical slowness to the entire shooting motion. He never looks comfortable shooting, and I’m never comfortable watching.
What bothers me most is that there’s no reason for any of these issues. Henderson doesn’t have abnormally long arms or large hands. He grew up in a basketball family. And if he had a reliable 3 point shot with a quick release, he would be a completely different player. Alas, it looks like he has one more year as a Hornet before he opts out and moves on to a new team.

11. Marvin Williams

I’m not actually sure how to refer to Marvin Williams. One name? Both names? Marvin seems too personal. Williams is too generic… I digress. He’s expected to be a stretch 4 for the Hornets. Hopefully it works out but when it comes to my personal rankings, Marv here commits a cardinal sin. The leg kick. I’ve spent the past 2 years trying to eliminate the leg kick from my son’s jump shot (he’s only 11, so it’s probably too soon). Other than that, everything looks good. Balanced, a nice quick release, good follow through. But those feet…

10. Al Jefferson
Should Al be higher than Marvin Williams and Gerald Henderson and maybe even Biz? Nope. Why is he? Let’s check the tape.

9. Cody Zeller

Cody’s shot is exactly what you would expect out of an Indiana boy. Fundamentally and mechanically sound, balanced, elbow tight, full extension, follow-through… it’s also epically boring. I could fall asleep watching Cody Zeller jump shots. On a side note, Eric Gordon may have the most boringly effective jump shot in the league. Imagine that. Another Indiana guy.

8. Noah Vonleh

Vonleh is an interesting shooter. There’s not a lot of tape for his shooting, even if I had the patience to dig through college highlights. Another guy to play at Indiana, another mechanically sound shot. He beats out Cody with a little more “eff you” (love the extended follow-through) and his ability to maintain solid form despite having long arms that could get in the way and huge hands. The future is bright with this guy.

7. Jeff Taylor

I’ve covered Taylor’s shooting (here) extensively so I’ll keep it simple. Points for form and a little bit of style. Negative points for a snail-like release.

6. Kemba Walker

I like Kemba’s 3-point shot for the most part. He’s got solid balance, a nice compact release, good follow-through. I don’t love how he doesn’t fully extend his legs, but I love how quickly he gets his shot off. I think he’ll improve as a 3 point shooter over time. Things fall apart a little bit in the mid-range, something he loves a little too much. While he has an uncanny ability to find his balance using jump-stops, he doesn’t consistently follow through with his legs and arms once he gets inside the arc. As a fellow mid-range short-armer, it bothers me more than it probably should. Extra points for flair though. All of the flair. Putting Kemba above Jeff Taylor speaks to my soft spot for quick releases, high arc, and swaggy jumpers.

5. Lance Stephenson

Now we’re cooking. Quick release, no hesitation, consistent form, deep range with no effort… The results aren’t quite there, knocking him down a peg. But I see it getting better as his career progresses. I don’t need to say anything about the swag factor. Born Ready indeed.

4. Jannero Pargo

Pargo is the ultimate street ball gunner. When he gets the ball, shots are going up from anywhere and everywhere on the court. I love it. I have to dock him for doing it in garbage time. It’s one thing to drop 3’s against the Blazers when you’re already down 30 points (that game still hurts). It’s another to do it when it matters.

3. Brian Roberts

Roberts is a lot like Pargo, except he did it in games where it actually mattered. A quick trigger with an equally quick release and deep range. Charlotte has been lacking in overly aggressive shooters and Roberts is a member of the newest platoon of long range assassins, along with the next 2 guys. We need more pull-up 3’s in transition.

2. PJ Hairston

Not a lot of video here, so we’ll just roll with the NBA.com highlights (while giving my weak video editing skills a break). The D-League stuff isn’t high quality and I refuse to include anything in my posts involving that hideous shade of blue. The mechanics aren’t perfect, but this time I don’t care. It’s so fun to watch PJ jack shots up from all over the court. Quick and confident, unlimited range… Hopefully Coach Clifford can clean up the rough edges and turn him into a 3-and-D monster.

1. Gary Neal

Gary Neal was the inspiration for this list. I was recently watching clips for something else I was working on and I realized I had never recognized how great his shot looks. I’ll let the video do most of the talking. Just look forward to the constant movement, flying around screens and along the baseline, popping out for gorgeous 3’s. The form isn’t necessarily perfect. But it’s quick, it’s balanced, it’s consistent, and it has a flair about it that lets the defense know they’re in trouble. Lance, Brian Roberts (he needs a nickname that’s NOT B-Rob. Let’s be better guys), PJ Be Shooting, and Gary Neal are going to bring something this team desperately needed.

-Bradford Coombs
@bradford_NBA

What To Do With Hendo?

Gerald Henderson Illustration by Mike S
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The Charlotte Hornets made a major splash during July’s free agency sweepstakes, inking rising star Lance Stephenson to a three year, $27 million contract. Although there was a bit of drama leading up to the particulars (“who” and “how much“), the decision itself wasn’t a surprise. An upgrade at one of the wing positions had been anticipated since mid-season, when it became apparent that Charlotte’s potent inside-out attack led by Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker was hamstrung by perimeter guys who either couldn’t shoot (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) or who were hesitant to do so (Gerald Henderson).

Flash forward to the 2014 Playoffs: Charlotte’s post-season cameo versus the Miami Heat was brief but featured a few bright spots to build upon, notably:

MKG’s performance in Game Two was his best as a pro. At just twenty years of age, he pestered the league’s best player on defense and aggressively attacked the rim on offense. With Big Al hurting and the spotlight on, MKG stepped up and showed cynical fans and nervous Charlotte execs that the former number two overall pick might not be a bust after all. Kidd-Gilchrist’s all-world defensive abilities and untapped offense potential make him the odds on favorite to remain in teal in purple now that Lance is in the QC.

Three’s Company?

Some have assumed the Stephenson signing simply pushes Gerald down the depth chart a notch as the team’s third guard and sixth man. That’s an assumption I’m just not buying, mainly because:

A.) Third guards are rarely mid-range, grinder types. Outside of his excellent off the ball abilities, Hendo often takes forever manufacturing his offense and rarely do those posessions end in threes. Ideally, you want your bench guy to be a gunner – a Jamaal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, J.R. Smith type who can generate points both in bunches and in a hurry.

B.) Charlotte has exactly two of those types of bench scorers already on the roster (Gary Neal, P.J. Hairston) whose games’ are much better suited for the role.

C.) Hendo can play some small forward in a pinch but at 6’4″, he’s a small-small forward. Coach Clifford prefers size and the team has MKG, Jeff Taylor and Marvin Williams logging minutes there already. Which brings me to…

D.) There simply aren’t enough minutes to go around. Hendo has averaged north of 32 minutes per game over the past three seasons. A team captain, I find it difficult to believe that Gerald will be ok with taking a DRASTICALLY reduced role in the prime of his career with a potential new contract (he has a player option for next season) on the horizon.
Have a look at this simple minutes chart:

BaselineSimpleMinsChart

Even if we assume that Hendo takes all of the Neal/Hairston minutes, that still leaves Gerald twelve minutes shy of his recent average. Sounds like a recipe for three unhappy guys to me. Besides…

E.) Hendo was actively shopped to at least two teams leading up to July’s Draft: Charlotte offered Henderson and the 24th overall pick to Orlando for Arron Afflalo. There was also an unreported, but since confirmed trade (by the Baseline’s own @benweinrib) proposal that would have sent Gerald to the Clippers for the 28th overall pick. Think of it this way, if Hendo was on the verge of being dealt BEFORE the Hornets secured a new starter at SG, then what’s stopping them from doing the same now that they have Lance?

The Fake Trades

This post may as well have been titled “Biyombo and Hendo Trade Scenarios”. I’ve written about What To Do with Biz extensively so go read that first if you feel that his inclusion is misplaced. Either way, Biz and Hendo represent a combination of redundency and value while their salaries combine to fit nicely into several two-for-one swaps.

Hornets trade Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo to Cleveland for Anderson Varejao and Memphis’ First Round Pick

WHY CLEVELAND DOES IT: Once the Kevin Love trade goes down, Cleveland will be desperate for both a starting SG and a center who can play more than fifty games a season. Dion Waiters’ ideal role is as a meaty Jamaal Crawford bench scorer and Hendo slots in nicely as the starter and fourth option. Gerald pads Lebron & K-Love’s assist numbers with cuts to the rim on offense and gives the Cavs at least one guard who gives half a crap on defense. Meanwhile, Biz supplies the flammable Love/Kyrie combo with rim protection and won’t, I repeat, WILL NOT be required to touch the ball…EVER.

WHY CHARLOTTE DOES IT: Let’s face it, Varejao is going to get hurt at some point during the year. It’s inevitable. But during those 50-60 games he does play, Anderson will allow Charlotte to do some amazing things with their second string center…like catch the ball, run basic pick and rolls, etc. Beyond that, he’s an expiring contract, thus the Memphis late first rounder as a sweetener. It’s a little help now, a little help in the future for the Hornets – all for two guys who likely aren’t in the team’s long term plans anyway.

Hornets trade Gerald Henderson and Bismack Biyombo to Brooklyn for Kevin Garnett

WHY BROOKLYN DOES IT: The Nets need a legit SG in the worst way. Now that Paul Pierce is gone, Joe Johnson will likely move to small forward full-time and Sergei Karasev isn’t going to cut it as the starter. Bismack gives Brooklyn a third rotation big to backup oft-injured Brook Lopez and even allows the Nets to trade either Lopez or Mason Plumlee for a legit piece at another position down the road.

WHY CHARLOTTE DOES IT: This is crazy, right? KG is old, on an expiring contract and has lost about ten steps. There’s also this caveat: Garnett has a no-trade clause and can shoot down any deal. So why would either side agree to this?
If you’ve made a major investment in VERY young players, why not give them a role model, a leader and a mentor? Say Lance or P.J. get out of line in practice, with Garnett around, they may think twice. If Kemba, Lance, MKG, Cody Zeller or Noah Vonleh become stars one day, they may look back at their season with KG as a lesson in leadership. This stuff matters. It’s one of the reason San Antonio has been able to build and maintain their culture for so long and one of the reasons Washington went after Pierce.
As for Garnett himself: D-Will and Joe Johnson are older, Pierce and Livingston are gone and Blatche is still unsigned. Do you bet the last season of an illustrious career on Brook Lopez’s feet or do you join the best young team in the Eastern Conference?

Hornets trade Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo to OKC for Kendrick Perkins, Andre Roberson and a protected 1st Round Pick

WHY OKC DOES IT: The Thunder have some very young wing talent on the roster in Jeremy Lamb and they just signed Anthony Morrow as a floor spacing rotation guy. But do you really want either of those guys playing meaningful Playoff minutes? Defensively, Gerald is better than both of those guys and while he might lack the raw offensive upside as Lamb, his pro game is much further along. A Hendo/Reggie Jackson/Russell Westbrook three guard rotation with a little Morrow mixed in is solid. Also: we get to hear an exasperated Biyombo and Ibaka duo explain that there are “two Congos” for an entire season.

WHY CHARLOTTE DOES IT: Perk catches a ton of flack and he’s nearly the turnover machine that Biz has been over the past couple of seasons. But he’s a tough as nails veteran big who can neutralize opposing bigs. Kendrick may not be flashy but he knows NBA defense. Clifford will love having him back there. Roberson’s an intriguing combo forward who played well in the D-League last season. He’s on a cheap rookie deal and is some nice insurance should Jeff Taylor’s recovery stagnate or if Taylor bolts via free agency next summer. The pick would be a highly protected first.

Hornets trade Gerald Henderson to Miami for Josh McRoberts

NOTE: Free agents signed during the summer can’t be traded until December 15th, so this one would have to happen mid-season.
WHY MIAMI DOES IT: Unless they want to go VERY small with two PGs when Dwyane Wade misses time, the Heat will need to add some quality wing depth and who better than Wade-lite? An iso, post-up, volume-scoring mid-range doppelganger who could slide right into the starting five during Wade’s sabbaticals, Hendo is just what the doctor ordered for a Miami team that’s in no position to tank (they owe their first round pick to the Cavs).
Meanwhile, McRoberts and Chris Bosh are similar players who likely won’t play all that much together, especially with Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen back in the fold. And with Lebron’s July surprise, both Josh and the Heat may decide that this wasn’t a great idea for a variety of reasons.

WHY CHARLOTTE DOES IT: Uhh…like, duh…

-ASCHIN
@BaselineBuzz

Josh McRoberts Sad Face

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McRoberts-Gone

Josh McRoberts has agreed to join the Miami Heat and a tear forms in the eye of every Hornets fan. After being misused at Duke (Coach K misusing a big? No way!) and wandering the league in various states of hair growth, Steve Clifford finally unlocked the McBeast that had been lurking all along. By moving him to the perimeter, Clifford allowed McRoberts to take advantage of his play-making skills, facilitating the offense and being just productive enough as a shooter to keep the defense honest. By almost every metric (plus/minus, RPM, WARP, EWA) McRoberts was one of the most productive and important players on the team. Losing him hurts. But there’s no value in dwelling on the past, so it’s worth looking at how this affects the team for the upcoming season. We’ll approach it on a mostly individual basis. It should be noted these are just my opinions and don’t reflect any sort of insider knowledge. For whatever reason Rich Cho and Steve Clifford won’t return my phone calls and I was recently delivered a strange piece of mail that says something about a restraining order and being within 100 yards of either of them. I need to figure that out… (none of that is true, except that these are just the opinions of an uniformed nobody).

Rich Cho

Cho is all in on the young players. He easily could have outspent Miami to retain McRoberts. This is pure speculation, but it seems a player option on the 4th year rather than something like a team option or a partial guarantee was the sticking point. Cody Zeller has 3 years left on his rookie contract after which he’ll be getting a raise on his salary. Kemba Walker has one more year and MKG has 2. Cho’s specialty is managing the cap and failing to meet Miami’s offer is, in all likelihood, a matter of doing that aand preparing for extensions to kick in. This is the first real gamble of Cho’s tenure. Betting on Biz, Kemba, MKG, and Zeller in the draft wasn’t making a bad team worse if they didn’t work out. Losing an essential member of a playoff team for the sake of future financial flexibility, just as the team is gaining momentum, is a bold and potentially dangerous move. If the young guys turn out to be what he hopes and the flexibility gives him a chance to make a move down the line he comes out looking great. If the picks are all busts and the team takes a massive step backwards his job might be on the line. Cho will also need to find a 5th big to go with Zeller, Vonleh, Jefferson, and Biyombo. Kris Humphries’s name has popped up and Jeff Adrien is always a welcome addition to the roster.

Steve Clifford

McRoberts was Coach Clifford’s safety blanket. He facilitated the offense, opened up the floor, and allowed Al Jefferson to operate on the block without clogging the lane. He made hustle plays and was always willing to do the dirty work, as LeBron’s throat can attest to. With him moving on, Clifford is going to have to find a way to craft a post heavy offense that lacks elite shooters. He’ll have to find ways to take the burden of creating off solely Kemba’s shoulders. Most importantly, he’s going to need to bring Cody and Noah Vonleh along and make them productive players on offense and defense sooner rather than later. This is an area where Gregg Popovich excels and is part of what sets him apart from other coaches. If Clifford wants to prove himself as one of the elite coaches, this is a time to do it.

Cody Zeller

Zeller will be affected more than anyone else on the team. He seemed to be in line for similar playing time to last year. Clifford started experimenting with playing him and McRoberts together towards the end of the season. He averaged 22.2 minutes per game in April and that looked like it would continue. He will now be forced into the starting lineup, most likely absorbing all of McRoberts’s 30 minutes per game. He should look to stretch himself as a shooter and as a playmaker. Clifford has been very deliberate about how he has brought Cody along, but there is no longer time for that. The first thing he will need to do is cut down on the turnovers. McRoberts turned the ball over 8 times for every 100 possessions. Cody turned it over 13 times per 100 possessions. That number needs to go down. A lot of those turnovers were on destination-less drives to the basket. Hopefully a strengthened core and more experience will help him keep his balance on such drives or he will look for an open teammate more often. The other are for improvement is his shooting. This is an area that almost assuredly will be better. In March and April he shot over 50% from the field as he got more comfortable in his role. The key is to add more range to his shot. With his smaller frame, he is going to have to develop a 3 point shot in order to be effective, especially with Al Jefferson on the team. That development may not come this season, but he does need to start shooting them. The only way to get comfortable in game situations is to do it in game situations. The coaching staff will need to be patient as he adapts to the longer shot and he will need to maintain his confidence even if he struggles some. He doesn’t need to go all Channing Frye this season, but he needs to let it fly when he is open to start the process. Zeller will have to take a step forward for this team to be effective again.

Noah Vonleh

The rumors surrounding Vonleh’s drop were centered mostly on the amount of development he required and his work ethic. The Hornets’ players are a hard working group without question, so they will be there to help him stay focused. The lack of NBA preparedness is going to be a much bigger problem, especially now. Steve Clifford is not Larry Brown. He sees the value in young guys and gives them appropriate time while not necessarily hurting the team. Vonleh probably wasn’t going to see a lot of time this year. Somewhere in the 5-10 minute range. That’s now going to be closer to 15-20 as the only legitimate power forward on the bench. Nobody knows what to expect from him. He was billed as a shooter, but his college sample size was tiny. He didn’t dominate at Indiana, but Tom Crean wasn’t doing a lot to help him out there. He can be inattentive and needs to develop a better feel and IQ for the game. For now Clifford will probably expect him to focus on rebounding, defending the basket, and stretching the floor. In all likelihood he won’t be asked to create or facilitate the offense. He probably won’t have any plays run for him outside of the pick and roll where he will be expected to roll hard to the basket. If he can focus on the basics he should be able to be a neutral presence on the floor. That sounds harsh, but for a project big man with limited experience not hurting the team would be a big win.

Bismack Biyombo

Biz looked dead in the water going into next season. He played only 14 minutes per game this past season. While he improved significantly overall, his development hasn’t been quite what the team had hoped and management seriously considered not picking up his option. Towards the end of the season Clifford started using Zeller as a center with McRoberts on the floor at the same time rather than going to Biz. Don’t plan on seeing a lot of Zeller and Vonleh on the floor together. Instead, Clifford may choose to do what he was doing with McRoberts, subbing him out relatively early and letting him stabilize the bench unit. Biz’s responsibilities won’t change. He will still expected to rebound and defend and to try to stay out of the way on offense. This may be his last chance. He needs to take advantage of it.

Gerald Henderson & Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

With McRoberts gone, the wings are going to have the ball in their hands more with an opportunity to create for themselves and others. For Henderson, this means a couple things. The first and most obvious is that he needs to unshackle himself and start shooting the 3 ball. No more taking one dribble in for a mid-range shot. There is a banner up in the Hornets’ practice facility that says, “Quick Decisions: Shoot It, Drive It, Move it.” If anyone needs to take this motto to heart, it’s Henderson. He has a tendency to catch, turn, face, and survey. Then look some more. Look a little more. Then drive to the right baseline and shoot a fade-away jumper. The surveying needs to be done before the ball comes. He should know where guys are on the floor and where the defense is and make a decision. This will keep the defense on their heels and all the team to generate offense out of more than just Jefferson post-ups and Kemba Walker dribble drives. Henderson is not a great passer, with an assist ratio lower than JR Smith and Caption Iso-Joe Johnson, and gets tunnel vision when he gets the ball, another reason he needs to be more decisive on the catch. If the jump shot isn’t there and the lane isn’t open, make the simple pass and get the offense going.

MKG’s approach shouldn’t change as much as Henderson’s. He will still be expected to score off cuts and offensive rebounds. His shooting can be addressed elsewhere. The change MKG will experience is tied to Gerald Henderson. Clifford could look to play more small-ball, moving Henderson to the small forward position and MKG to the power forward position with Jefferson or Zeller at center. Assuming Vonleh doesn’t have much to contribute as a rookie and Biz hasn’t magically replaced his hands with something other than stone cut-outs of hands, going small would be a way to get Jefferson and Zeller rest without a massive drop-off offensively. Clifford didn’t throw small-ball lineups out there at all last season according to 82games.com. He might have to out of necessity this year.

Kemba Walker

Kemba’s adjustment will be simple, but heavy. He will have to accept even more responsibility initiating the offense. Plays often began with Kemba bringing the ball up on the side of the court. McRoberts would cut to the top of the key to receive a pass, Kemba would cut through and get to his spot, and the offense would begin from there. Zeller will do this some, but he’s not nearly the passer McRoberts is yet. Clifford may choose to use more pick and roll to initiate the offense, taking advantage of Zeller’s speed and athleticism and Vonleh’s shooting ability. But it will likely be Kemba’s job to get the offense going more than he did last season. Ideally, Cho would be able to find a backup point guard with the size to play with Kemba to help alleviate some of that pressure but as presently constituted, it’s all Kemba.

Al Jefferson

Similar to other players, Jefferson will need to be more of a play-maker out of his spots. While his passing has improved over his career and his assist ratio was right in line with other back to the basket centers like Brooke Lopez and Dwight Howard, he still has a tendency to attack double and triple teams on the block. He’s successful far more than one would expect but without McRoberts’s shooting and passing Jefferson will have to assume some of those creator responsibilities by recognizing double teams quicker and moving the ball, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a basket.

There’s no way around the fact that losing McRoberts is a major blow to the Hornets. He’s a rare player that combines shooting, passing, athleticism, and unselfishness into a productive and essential role player. He can’t be replaced but his responsibilities can be distributed across the remaining pieces. To keep the ball rolling as an organization everyone is going to have to step up and it begins with a clear vision from both Rich Cho and Steve Clifford. Expect a tough start to the season as the players and coach adjust, but with quality leadership from the organization and the players’ ability and willingness to do what is asked of them it should be another successful campaign in Charlotte.

What To Do With Biz?

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Picked seventh overall in the 2011 Draft, Bismack Biyombo entered the league with high expectations. As the championed prospect of former OKC exec and current Cats GM Rich Cho, “Biz” (founder of #biznation, brother to Billy) was immediately compared to another shot-swatter from the Congo, Serge Ibaka.

Three years later, Biyombo has certainly lived up to the comparison from a shot-blocking standpoint. His per 48 block numbers trail just behind Serge and he’s the only player in the league to average at least a swat per game while playing less than 15 minutes a night. It’s a near guarantee Biz would rank amongst the league’s Top 5 shot-blockers if he were playing starters minutes.

More impressive is Biyombo’s rebounding. In just 14.3 minutes per game, Biz is averaging 4.9 boards. That’s Kenneth Faried-level insane. Biyombo’s rebound rate of 19.3 blows away anything Ibaka’s ever posted. Again, if Biz were starting, he’d likely be averaging double figure rebounds and crack the league’s Top 10.

The problem, of course, is at the other end. While Serge has moved his gorgeous jumper further and further out to the three point line, Biz still has trouble finishing anything outside of a dunkthat is if he hasn’t fumbled the ball first. Despite extremely limited touches on offense, Biyombo’s turnover rate is twice as high as Ibaka’s and nearly three times the rate of Josh McRoberts – a guy who’s constantly handling the rock. When it comes to protecting the basketball, Biz is less Ibaka and more Kendrick Perkins.

Turnovers are a major no-no for coach Steve Clifford so it’s no wonder the staff was looking forward to Brendan Haywood’s eventual return. While Haywood isn’t nearly the shot swatter Biyombo is, he’s also not going to give the ball away immediately after touching it and offers just enough post scoring so that the team doesn’t have to entirely change the way it plays when Big Al goes to the bench. He’s also a better system defender than Biz – just check out last years defensive on/off court numbers – Mike Dunlap’s Bobcats gave up ten points per game less when Haywood subbed in for Biyombo.

The size of the gap is probably an aberration given the coaching misadventures and Biz’s youth but there is a very real story buried in those numbers. Clifford’s gushing comments about Haywood’s past exploits last summer weren’t lip service. Had he been healthy this season, it’s likely Brendan would’ve taken Biz’s spot in the rotation.

Points at a Premium

If you haven’t heard, the Bobcats have a hard time scoring. They’ve played better at that end since the All-Star break but against a good D, the late game offense generally devolves into a triple teamed Al Jefferson with Kemba Walker left to improvise. In order to stay in close games, Clifford relegates Biz’s fellow one-dimensional phenom, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to the bench in favor of a good to league average three point shooter (Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal or Chris Douglas-Roberts) just to keep the opposing wing defenders honest. MKG can at least catch a ball and do a few things with it once he has it – so if he’s sitting, you know Biyombo’s not sniffing crunch time.

All of which brings us to the premise of the post. Despite the strides Biyombo has made over the last few seasons, there’s essentially zero chance that he’s in their long term plans for the following three reasons:

1. Al Jefferson. Big Al’s the most talented player in franchise history and has at least 4-5 solid seasons left in him. Thus, the starting center spot is occupied for the foreseeable future and you can’t play Al & Biz together. Next.

2. MKG. Unless you like watching 3 on 5 hoops or want to lose a ton of games on purpose, you absolutely can’t play MKG and Biz together in the same lineup. Since Big Al’s return from an early season ankle injury, MKG and Biz have barely logged any minutes together. Clifford’s no fool. If the Cats keep either long term, it’ll be MKG.

3. Money. Two off-the-court comps for Biz: Derrick Williams and Evan Turner. As a high Lottery pick, Biz is due $3.8 million next season and after that, the team would have to extend a $5.2 million qualifying offer as the first step towards restricted free agency. So yeah, it’s not gonna happen. Just as Williams’ and Turner’s contracts spooked their respective teams into abandoning them this season, Biyombo’s looming free agency and disproportionate cap hold will likely jettison him to another team as soon as a decent opportunity presents itself.

Open for Biz-ness

So where exactly would that opportunity be? The team acquiring Biz would ideally be both offensively advanced and in desperate need of a rim protector who doesn’t have to score. Dallas, Portland and Golden State immediately come to mind as potential candidates. Unfortunately the Warriors have serious cap issues and another raw center (Festus Ezeli) returning from injury next season. The Blazers practically have a stable of developing young could-be bigs at the end of their bench. But Dallas…oh yes, Dallas. I think we might have a match!

Consider first Mark Cuban’s penchant for aggressively raw big men with over-sized contracts (Erik Dampier, Gana Diop, Haywood, Tyson Chandler). Now combine that with an offense practically tailored for Biz: the league’s all-time greatest stretch four and a couple of pick and roll instigators in the backcourt:

“Nah Biz, just set this pick and get the hell out of the way. We’ll take care of the rest.”

The Mavs are practically starting Old Biz now, with veteran Sam Dalembert occupying much the same role. Biyombo’s directive would be clear and simple: Get rebounds, dunk putbacks and block shots. Sure, he’ll still have to improve his hands and figure out how to not foul out of games before halftime but once he does, Big D could be Biz’s ticket to a big payday.

So what would Charlotte receive in a Biyombo to Dallas trade? The Mavs don’t have a first round pick to trade until after the Draft (when they’ll likely send it to OKC) – and no one in their right mind would pay that high a price anyways. What Dallas does have is Boston’s 2014 2nd Round pick. As of today, that’s the 34th overall selection in the Draft and with a deep class on the way, Charlotte could find an intriguing guy who slips (Isaiah Austin, James Young, Mitch McGary) or a Euro “draft & stash” prospect for the future. Best of all, the Hornets would save around $3.2 million in the deal – giving them the ability to find a two-way veteran backup on the cheap (ala Golden State with Jermaine O’Neal).

And really, from an “asset” perspective the trade would basically be a wash. Remember that Cho originally traded up from 19th in order to pick Biyombo at seven for basically no cost (unless you count an angry Stephen Jackson as an asset). Swapping a late first for the 34th pick in a deeper draft a few years later is hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to the franchise – and the real mistake of course was passing on Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Nic Vucevic on Draft night back in 2011.

In the meantime, let us enjoy our remaining time with Biz, soaking in his incomparable likability, his endlessly entertaining tweets and his tenacious effort each and every time he steps on the court. After all…

ALL YOUR BLOCKS BELONG TO BIZ!

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 10 Review

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The Draft Issue

What a stinker this week was for the Bobcats. What an absolute steaming pile of dog doo doo. The team finally returned home after a dismal road trip only to drop a winnable game at home against Southeast Division rival Washington on Tuesday night. They traveled to Minnesota on Friday and get splattered on by a team that they’ve (surprisingly) owned for much of the last decade. The final bit of brown was served the next night in Chicago, a fumbled loss at the hands of a Bulls team that had just traded away its best healthy player.

The Cats currently stand at 15-23, eight games under .500 and out of the Eastern Conference top eight. Here’s the worst part: in the past few seasons, the Lottery provided a safety net for GM Rich Cho’s OKC-styled plan but this year’s pick goes to the Bulls if outside the Top 10 and the Bobcats are just talented enough to make that nightmare a reality. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that even if the Bobcats were to keep their Lottery pick, there is no guarantee Cho would draft a player of any consequence.

How We Got Here

Cho’s four Lottery selections over three years (picks 7, 11, 2 and 4 overall) have yet to land a single All-Star or All Rookie First Team nod. Only one of the players selected (Kemba Walker) has shown any signs of being more than an above average starter. The other three – Bismack Biyombo, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller – seem stuck in development limbo, either in the midst of learning hoops essentials or an entirely new position. MKG and Zeller should end up being ok eventually. They have the intangibles and hoops acumen to overcome present day weaknesses and become at least quality NBA players. Biyombo is probably a lost cause – the team basically admitted as much when they debated extending his rookie-scale team option for next season. All in all, Cho’s drafts, given the quality of the picks and talent available, have been disappointing – even more so when you factor in that his entire team building strategy is built around the Lottery. Here we are, years after the dismantling began and the Bobcats are no closer to a perennial All-Star (much less superstar) than they were before.

The post-mortem on Cho’s Draft woes lead to one conclusion: he fails when drafting “projections” of what a player might be versus who they are now. The mentality behind this probably stems from his days with Seattle/OKC – a branch of the Spurs culture (GM Sam Presti arrived via San Antonio) suited for transforming raw specimens into productive assets. The Bobcats had zero experience with this type of development before Cho arrived and Cho only compounded the risk by selecting his prospects in the Lottery versus the late rounds (i.e. Serge Ibaka, Manu Ginobli).

Executing The Right Strategy The Wrong Way

Had San Antonio drafted Biyombo, for example, he would’ve been taken in the late first round, stashed in Europe for a few years and only brought back Stateside once he was ready to contribute (see Tiago Splitter). But the Bobcats couldn’t afford to handle it that way, they were pitching youth and promise while bottoming out — how else could you sell a putrid, seven win team to the fans? Biz was brought over immediately after the team paid millions to his Spanish club via a buyout. Since then, the Cats have invested three seasons, additional millions of dollars in salary, countless training resources and thousands of minutes played in Biyombo and the only positive asset he’s likely to bring via trade is a salary dump. Biz is owed $4 million next season and it would be shocking if another franchise sees him as anything but a backup center at this point.

Here’s a list of notable players drafted after Biyombo:

Brandon Knight, Walker, Klay Thompson, Alec Burks, the Morris Twins, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Mirotic, Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler.

Realistically, the only player on this list that you could get for Biyombo one for one in a trade is Shumpert and that’s because the Knicks are terrible defensively and are poorly run in general. No way Chicago trades Butler for Biz today, for example, even though Jimmy was selected twenty three spots later. In total, there were at least thirteen more valuable, more productive players chosen after Biyombo, which is not exactly the best way to begin your tenure as a Draft-focused GM.

Projections Not To Be Confused With Reality

Getting back to Cho’s flawed “projections”, look no further than his most successful pick (Kemba) to discover a more reasonable Draft formula:

  1. Does this player possess an elite, instantly translatable NBA skill? Kemba: elite quickness – YES.
  2. Can this player shoot, pass and dribble? AKA Does this player have a sound basketball foundation? AKA “The Jalen Rose Rule of Drafting” Kemba: YES.
  3. Does this player possess the intangibles to improve upon their single elite skill and sound basketball foundation to become something more? Kemba: YES.

Now try running through this test with Biyombo:

  1. Shot blocking – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A  - still learning fundamentals.

Uh-oh. Let’s try it with MKG:

  1. On-Ball Defense – YES.
  2. NO.
  3. N/A - still fixing broken shot (fundamental).

Yikes. What about Cody:

  1. NO.
  2. YES.
  3. N/A - no elite skill.

Now, I’m not saying this is the end all be all of Lottery Drafting Guides but if a player can’t shoot/pass/dribble, how in the heck is he going to be an All-Star? If he doesn’t have one elite skill, how is he going to be an All-Star? You gotta have all three. Look at Boogie Cousins in Sacramento. Elite post game, can do everything but has a terrible attitude that’s held him back. Reggie Evans is an elite rebounder but that’s it. Career role player. CP3 is an elite floor general, does everything and is driven to win. Superstar. Same goes for Damian Lillard.

Klay Thompson was an elite shooter coming into the Draft. He had sound fundamentals and, as the son of a former NBA player, was a big time worker. Not sure why you’d pass on him for a guy who can’t even catch a basketball much less pass/dribble/shoot. Michael Carter Williams was an elite floor general, could pass/dribble (though struggled with his shot somewhat as a freshman – the mechanics weren’t broken) and had the intangibles. There are shades of gray, sure, but as an overall strategy it can lead you to the promised land.

Oversell, Under Deliver

NBA talent evaluation is incredibly difficult – make no mistake – but so is open heart surgery and our society has figured out a way to put the right people in those positions to perform their jobs successfully. Rich Cho has done much more good than bad in his time in Charlotte. He’s wrangled their once wild cap situation, he’s made trades that have brought as much or more to the team than they’ve given up and his eye for low-cost free agents has been exemplary.

The problem is this: if you are going to subject a fanbase to a years-long, historically gruesome tear-down – pacifying them with dreams of young stars acquired through the Draft – then you MUST deliver on that promise. The Bobcats as constructed in 2010 were not going anywhere special but they were certainly not destined for a soul crushing seven win season either. The choice was made, the city and fanbase shouldered the embarrassment and shame and yet the shining young stars are nowhere within sight. Thus far at least, through the lens of Cho’s own lofty strategy, failure is the only grade.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Charlotte Picks Cody Zeller Fourth in Wild NBA Draft

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Cody Zeller illustration by Mike S.

Bobcats GM Rich Cho Selects Cody Zeller

Turns out the rumors were spot on. Cody Zeller wasn’t at the top of any mock draft (at least not this year) but Rich Cho & Co worked him out, ran the numbers and made the call. And I like it.

MJ & Cho

The pick shows that MJ has given Cho carte blanche to run the team. Whether Zeller works out or not, this is massive step forward for MJ as an owner: Hire smart people, let them do their job. If not, hire even smarter people and allow them to do better ones. MJ is the greatest basketball player of all time, now it’s time to create opportunities for others to excel at their careers be it Rich Cho or the team’s next GM.

Zeller’s Skills

You may not have heard for all the uniform (or uninformed?) boos but Cody Zeller is a tremendously skilled 7-footer who is ready to step in and contribute right away. A pick ‘n pop weapon, Cody can shoot the mid-range or roll to the rim off the bounce. He’s the fastest, quickest big in the Draft and will be fantastic in the Kemba-led transition game. UPDATE: Cho, Higgins and Clifford said as much in their post-draft pressers; while Kemba Walker was apparently a big fan of the pick.

Belief in Biz

The Zeller pick also shows a ton of faith in 2011 first rounder Bismack Biyombo. The Bobcats have given up on prospects all too often throughout their history. Biz won’t turn 21 until August and exhibited a much wider array of skills in his sophomore campaign. Pairing him with a skilled big like Zeller will take a ton of pressure off Biyombo to dominate offensively. New head coach Steve Clifford and associate HC Patrick Ewing will have a lot of young talent to mold over the next couple of seasons.

Where He Ranks

Remember also that Cody Zeller would have gone Top 3 in last year’s vaunted Draft class had he declared. Zeller’s game was picked apart much like Harrison Barnes during his sophomore season. They say familiarity breeds contempt and that has been true in the Draft for a while. Nerlens Noel only managed half a season with Kentucky; fans and scouts salivated over what their imagination projected him to be next year, not who he is or will be.

McRoberts/Henderson Returning

I’d imagine the Zeller selection only helps the team’s decision to bring back another Indiana-born and raised big man: Josh McRoberts. McBob played great for the Cats after coming over from Orlando at the trade deadline and should come somewhat reasonably priced. Josh does a lot of the same things Zeller can and will aid in Cody’s transition to starter.

Additionally, the pick can only mean good things for Gerald Henderson fans. By passing on Kansas guard Ben McLemore, Charlotte has to fill the SG spot by either re-signing Hendo or bringing in someone else via free agency. Bank on Gerald coming back. UPDATE: The team announced earlier today that Henderson would be extended his qualifying offer, while Byron Mullens would not. This opens the door for both Henderson and McRoberts to return next season. We’ll know for certain once the free agency period begins in couple of weeks.

Humphries Trade Rumor

UPDATE: SI.com’s Chris Mannix tweeted after the Boston/Brooklyn mega-swap that PF Kris Humphries could be re-routed to Charlotte. A proposed Ben Gordon for Humphries trade was rumored during February’s deadline. There are a few over-priced veterans entering expiring years floating around the league so a Hump/Gordon swap could be expanded into a three team deal to include others (Danny Granger for example). Keep a look out for this one. A hard-nosed, down and dirty rebounder, Humphries could be the perfect complement to both Zeller/McRoberts when Biyombo is out of the game.

-ASChin
twitter: @bobcatsbaseline


Here’s What Baseline Readers Thought Before the Draft:

POLL : What to Do with the 4th Draft Pick?

  • Alex Len (29%, 33 Votes)
  • Anthony Bennett (37%, 42 Votes)
  • Cody Zeller (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Trey Burke (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Trade the Pick (22%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 115

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Nerlens Noel: High and Low

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Nerlens Noel illustration by Mike S.
Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib debate the merits of Kid n’ Play cosplayer/Kentucky freshmen center, Nerlens Noel.

The Nerlens Noel Pre-Draft Debate

ASCHIN: Noel has been 2013’s projected top overall pick from the moment the 2012 Draft was over. Between the length, athleticism and instincts around the basket at both ends, it’s easy to understand why. But here we are, just days before the Draft and there’s talk that the 19-year old Kentucky center may drop out of the top spot. How is this possible? Has the hate gone too far or have the scouts and doctors just had enough time to properly evaluate Noel as a prospect?

BEN: Could there be a better scenario for the Bobcats than drafting Noel? He’s the guy everyone would have expected Charlotte to take had they won the lottery because of his enormous upside and interior presence. Not all great teams have a rim protector, but almost every team with a great rim protector is very good (Indiana, Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis, and even LA). Furthermore, it’s puts Charlotte in prime Wiggins/Parker/Randle position for next summer. What’s not to love with this pick? The dude was a beast at UK and even blew out his knee chasing down and blocking a guard on a fast break.

ASCHIN: I take it that you haven’t listened to the Bill Simmons Father’s Day podcast with Ryen Russillo. Turns out Noel has some world class “bad dudes” running his show from behind the scenes that make Lebron’s entourage look like a MENSA summit by comparison. Nerlens apparently blew off a dozen of the league’s top agents for months before signing with Andy Miller last Friday. Combine that with Noel’s slight frame (tough to add bulk to narrow shoulders), ACL injury, growth plate surgery, raw-as-Biyombo offensive game and you have potentially the WORST Bobcats 2013 Draft candidate. Frankly, Charlotte can’t afford to draft back-to-back-to-back defense-only projects and even if they could, would you really want to invest a Top 5 pick around “the next Theo Ratliff“?

BEN: I actually don’t see the weight issue as such a big deal. Dr. James Andrews recommended Noel drop weight to expedite the recovery, and Noel said he was 228 pounds before the injury. That means he put on 13 pounds in a half year at Kentucky, so he’s shown he can put on weight. But the Bobcats just need to add talent at this point, and he’s the most talented guy on the board. Sure, he may miss two months, but that’s a small sacrifice to make in an otherwise non-competitive season to land the most talented player down the board. He may be Theo Ratliff at the very worst but who is Alex Len if he doesn’t develop an offensive game? Timofey Mozgov? Noel offers the best interior defense in the draft – something the Bobcats desperately need – and he would give them a high-upside 7-footer, something the team has never had. As for the offense, Memphis seems to be doing just fine with about two offensive options, and one of those is Mike Conley. Mike Conley!

ASCHIN: 228lbs?! That’s losing 15% of his body weight in three months – if this were Sean May we were talking about maybe I’d buy it, but a beanpole like Noel? Sounds fishy. Regardless of his physical or mental makeup, I think all this Nerlens talk is doing a severe disservice to the team’s incumbent young rim protector, Bismack Biyombo. Am I crazy for expecting big things from the STILL ONLY 20 YEAR OLD former Lottery pick? Biz really improved his fundamentals this year even if it didn’t show up in the stat sheet and he’s becoming a better on-ball defender game by the game. Also: Biyombo weighs in at a chiseled 245 and still sometimes struggles with uber-bigs like Roy Hibbert (listed at 280). I can only imagine what Hibbert would do to a sub-225 pound bamboo shoot like Noel. #biznation

Bismack Biyombo Illustration by Mike S.

Bismack Biyombo | #biznation

 

BEN: I’m a huge Biyombo apologist! Serge Ibaka didn’t break out until age 21 or 22, so I’m not totally concerned he’s having trouble catching the basketball just yet. But imagine how tough it would be to score down low with Biyombo and Noel awaiting. Charlotte could finally stop guards who thrive off penetrating, which has been one of the teams biggest issues. Imagine the two growing together under the tutelage of Steve Clifford–who has a great reputation of developing big men–and Patrick Ewing. Even newly hired Mark Price may help their embryonic offensive games. The only concerns I’m hearing are that Noel won’t play for part of this season (oh no, they won’t win a championship next year!) and his defense is way ahead of his offense. Given that he’s a year younger than Alex Len, don’t you think Noel will be better than where Len is right now in a year? Len has put up back-to-back pedestrian season, including nearly identical offensive numbers to Noel, despite getting much more praise. Len’s line was 12-8-1-2-0 on 53.4% shooting versus 11-10-2-4-2 on 59.0% shooting for Noel. Age matters, too.

ASCHIN: Well, I’m only a little younger than Tim Duncan so by that rationale, I should be drop-stepping Chris Bosh sometime before I hit 40. At some point you realize guys either have elite offensive instincts or they don’t and Noel clearly doesn’t. As well as Serge Ibaka has developed, he’s still very limited offensively. When’s the last time you saw Serge put it on the floor for a straight line drive? High posts? He sticks with his bread & butter 15-20 foot jumpers and finishes around the rim – both firmly in his wheelhouse. I think both Biz and Noel have that type of potential going forward but it would be damn near impossible to play them together without some world-class offensive phenoms surrounding them (see Ibaka & Perk in OKC). I’m not the biggest Cody Zeller fan in the world but I at least understand the philosophy behind considering him as the pick. You’d love to pair Bismack or Noel with a highly skilled floor spacer – especially with a short-range player like MKG at the other forward spot. So it’s gotta be either Biz OR Noel. And I’ll take Biyombo’s work ethic, attitude and physical size over Nerlens any day. #biznation

Also, Noel wouldn’t be able to suit up for the team until at least the All-Star break. I know that you are firmly in the pro-Tank ’13 camp but don’t you think it’s a tad bit disrespectful to ask thousands of fans to spend their hard-earned money on a team BUILT TO LOSE for a THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR?

BEN: I don’t believe for a second you’d rather take Zeller over Noel because he’s a “better fit”. I’d rather find fits for elite talent than fit together lesser talent. Just look at when Minnesota drafted Wes Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins because they needed a wing player. As for the last question, I think you can lower ticket prices as a good will offer if you’re really worried about fans, since winning will ultimately draw in the most money. That’s why I’d rather take the best talent (that also allows the team to capitalize on its likely three draft selections next year). Sure, Andrew Wiggins is far from assured, but from the looks of it, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart will be very good, too. A top-five choice if you draft Noel? That’s almost assured. Nearly every NBA superstar was taken near the top of the lottery, so why not go all-in on the best talent in this draft and the most hyped draft in 11 years?

ASCHIN: You lost me at “elite talent”. Chad Ford has Noel grouped with a half dozen other prospects in his 3rd Tier – that usually means starter not superstar. I just think Biz and Noel are the same player with similar upside. Nerlens has the edge in finishing instincts around the bucket while Biyombo has the will and physical size that will allow him to defend the league’s elite centers. As for the ’14 Draft, Marcus Smart was projected to be selected behind Noel all season long before he decided to return to OSU. And don’t forget, this time last year Shabazz Muhammed was everyone’s favorite savior. Remember all those “2012: The Greatest Draft Ever” articles? Didn’t exactly turn out that way.

When you combine the Lottery’s odds with perpetual Draft class uncertainty and the Bobcats’ less than stellar Draft record (Cho has been better but far from perfect), you are basically playing the PowerBall with your fans’ time and money. It’s irresponsible and short-sighted. Case in point: during the Hornets’ heyday, NOT ONCE did the team’s fans have championship aspirations. Not once. All the sell-outs, all of the love from the Muggsy to Divac to Mashburn and B-Diddy eras was earned from simply being competitive and hard-working. That’s really all the city ever asked from ’88-’98 – before the lockout and all the Shinn nonsense. Charlotte isn’t Vegas, it isn’t a win-or-gome home town. It only wants you to compete, play hard and not embarrass anyone. That’s pretty much the opposite of tanking.

BEN: Looks like we just differ in philosophies, and that’s okay. However, judging by Cho’s history and reported philosophy, I’m guessing he’s firmly in the Noel camp. Sure, he’s warted, but everyone else in the draft is warted, too. The one point I keep coming back to is that the potential three draft picks next year are among Charlotte’s biggest assets. You make a good point about overrating drafts, but no prep player recently has received the hype of Wiggins or even Parker. They can’t afford to squander having multiple high draft picks in such a highly-touted class, an opportunity that won’t come around for years. Since they already owe Chicago a first-rounder, they have no choice but to go all-in on the 2014 draft. And Nerlens Noel represents the chance to land the best talent in both drafts combined.