With Christmas finally upon us, here are a few things that the Charlotte Hornets should ask for this holiday season.
So far, the Charlotte Hornets have been better than just about anyone projected them to be this season. A team that was expected by most to have no more than 20 wins has 13 before Christmas, and is very much in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Much of the success can be attributed to the rapid ascent of second-year guard Devonte’ Graham. A second surprise player for Charlotte has been rookie PJ Washington.
As exciting and competitive as the Hornets have been this year, they are far from without flaw. Charlotte’s defense has at times been nothing more than pitiful, and late-game collapses have doomed the team on multiple occasions. With that being said, here are three things that should be on the Hornets’ Christmas list this year.
No. 1: An upgrade at center
Despite the stats looking decent, neither Cody Zeller nor Bismack Biyombo are anything more than average centers in the NBA. Zeller is perhaps more suited at power forward, and Biyombo is a journeyman in his second stint with Charlotte. Looking past the traditional statistics, the lack of a legitimate big man is evident. Among centers with starts this season, neither Zeller nor Biyombo are in the top 20 in rebounding percentage, and neither are in the top 40 in blocks per game. It doesn’t help that they both are among the worst in defensive rating among all centers.
Options the Hornets could “ask” for this Christmas include the Magic’s Mo Bamba, the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson, or they could hold out until the NBA draft when James Wiseman or Isaiah Stewart become possibilities. Charlotte also reportedly has expressed interest in the Pistons’ Andre Drummond, however, his contract is up at season’s end, so waiting until free agency may be the best way to bring him to Charlotte.
No. 2: A Nic Batum trade
Perhaps one of Charlotte’s worst personnel moves in recent history–if not in franchise history–is giving Nicolas Batum such a lucrative deal following the 2015-2016 season. The new deal was for five years, $120 million. Batum is now in the fourth year of the pact, and is due $25.6 million this year, and $27.1 million next year. In fact, Batum, who has started just two games this season, is making the same amount as Giannis Antetokounmpo–last year’s league MVP.
Batum is averaging just 3.6 points per game this season, and has scored more than six points just once all year. Even as a facilitator Batum has dropped off over the last two seasons. There’s no question that the massive contract is a huge road block in any potential trades, and in order to trade him, Charlotte would likely have to take in another bad contract. If there are any teams who may look into Batum’s services, the Rockets and Bucks could be potential fits.
No. 3: Beef up the bench
With all due respect to the following players, Cody Martin, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Dwayne Bacon don’t exactly instill fear into the hearts of their opponents. Martin and MKG are above-average defenders, although neither is much of a threat on the offensive end. Bacon is still a work in progress, and Malik Monk, although he has displayed enormous amounts of potential, is inconsistent at times. Marvin Williams is Charlotte’s best player off the bench, and there’s serious talk that he could be moved before the trade deadline.
Charlotte’s bench ranks 18th in scoring, 19th in rebounding, and 10th in assists. The assist numbers look good, however the scoring and rebounding numbers leave a bit to be desired. Zeller is the only bench player to average more than 10 points per game this season, and he has started two-thirds of the team’s games. Acquiring a starting-caliber center, as well as getting Washington back from injury would slot Zeller and Biyombo down to the bench, which would strengthen the play off the pine.
The Hornets had a chance to get Lou Williams a few seasons ago, but passed on the opportunity to get one of the best bench players ever. The most likely scenario under the current circumstances is that Charlotte waits until the offseason to build a stronger bench. Doing so now, though, could propel the Hornets into the eight playoff spot.