Through the first 15 games of the new season, the Charlotte Hornets have been better than expected. However, that doesn’t mean they’re without flaws.
15 games into the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets are off to a better start than most anyone anticipated. While they’re just 6-9, they’re on the cusp of playoff contention at the moment. The Hornets have had games where they’ve appeared to be a young team ready to surprise, then they’ve had games like Monday night’s blowout loss in Toronto.
Charlotte has promising youth at every position but one–center. So far this season, Cody Zeller has started every game but one, and Bismack Biyombo has been the only other center to play a significant amount of minutes. Both are solid players, and can be of use to a young team, however, it’s becoming more clear that neither are foundational pieces for the franchise. With that being said, the Hornets need to make a concerted effort, whether through trades or the draft, to find a starting-caliber big man.
Charlotte’s centers collectively have the worst defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA.
So far this season, the Hornets’ centers are pulling down just 68.5% of the team’s total defensive rebounds. Compared to the rest of the league, that ranks dead-last. To simplify the issue: Charlotte’s centers are the worst in the league at snatching down defensive rebounds. As far as offensive rebounding, the Hornets’ centers rank near the middle of the pack.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, the problem begins with starter Cody Zeller. In 14 games this year, Zeller is averaging 8.6 rebounds per game, with just 5.4 of those coming on the defensive end. Among centers league-wide, that figure is good enough for just 27th. His 8.6 total boards per game aren’t much better. Out of all centers with at least one start this year, Zeller ranks 30th in defensive rebounding, while his primary backup, Bismack Biyombo, is last in the category. Per game, Charlotte ranks 26th in the league in defensive rebounds by centers. All that being said, it points to one major, although disappointing, conclusion: the Hornets’ centers are awful at hauling in defensive boards.
Unlike on the defensive end, Charlotte’s centers don’t have terrible offensive numbers, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Contrary to their defensive performance, the Hornets’ centers haven’t been awful on the offensive end. Charlotte’s centers rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage, and in large part due to Zeller’s growth, third in three-point shooting. They’ve also been fairly decent at offensive rebounding, slotting in at 13th in the league. The one knock on Charlotte’s offensive production from their centers is the fact that the position is providing only 18.1 points per game–a number that ranks just outside the bottom-third of the league. Even this, however, is acceptable, as the Hornets are built for scoring to come from the guards.
Through the early portion of the campaign, Zeller is averaging a career-best 11.6 points per game, and has been a huge reason for the Hornets’ offensive rebounding and three-point success. Behind him, Biyombo has come on as of late as well, adding 7.3 points per game in just 13.9 minutes during the month of November. If Biyombo keeps playing well off the bench, he could become an interesting trade piece on an expiring contract. Regardless of trade scenarios, Charlotte has seen decent, albeit average, offensive production from their centers so far, despite the pitiful defensive showings.
Memphis’ James Wiseman could become a target for the Hornets heading into the 2020 draft.
Despite the “meh” offensive production Charlotte is currently receiving from its centers, Memphis’ James Wiseman could be a perfect fit with the Hornets. Wiseman, the number-one college recruit in the 2019 class, proved throughout high school that he has plenty of athleticism and scoring ability to warrant a top pick in the NBA draft.
In three games at Memphis, the 7’1″ center is averaging 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, while also collecting three blocks per game. In his college debut on November 5th, he dropped 28 points on 11 of 14 shooting. In his second game, he totalled five blocks, and in his most recent game against #14 Oregon, he brought in 12 boards in 22 minutes. If Charlotte has a lottery pick, there’s a legitimate chance that Wiseman could fall to them, especially if his recent suspension impacts his draft stock. If Wiseman is indeed already taken, another solid option the Hornets should consider is Washington’s Isaiah Stewart.