It’s been a hectic week in the association (Dell Curry voice). Let’s jump right into the action, starting with one of the top news items: Will the Charlotte Hornets trade Kemba Walker?
It’s been a week now since ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that the Charlotte Hornets were open to trading Kemba Walker. On a national level, this story may not have registered amid the league-wide hysterics — the Cavs calling out Kevin Love for playing hooky, Damian Lillard meeting with Paul Allen to get investment tips, whatever. Locally, however, it started a mild panic attack.
Hell, even Raleigh sports radio decided to talk some Hornets, too. I believe that’s a first.
Honestly, though, if you are locked into this team, this has been the elephant in the room while now. Spencer Percy, Richie Randall and I discussed the possibility on episode 45 of Buzz Beat Radio — back around Thanksgiving.
It’s the opposite of fun to think about the Hornets trading away possibly the best player in franchise history, especially with an All-Star game in Charlotte on the horizon. Kemba is the team’s best and most marketable player, too — by a long shot. He’s also the team’s best, and maybe lone, asset or note.
Charlotte doesn’t have a surplus of first round picks, although the Buzz currently controls all of their first round selections, which is nice.
The Hornets currently have only two former first round selections on the roster that are still on their rookie deals: Frank Kaminsky, who has plateaued in year three, and Malik Monk, who is currently glued to the bench. Essentially, this team is lacking in terms of young, cheap assets.
Here’s the reality, then. Charlotte is capped out into oblivion — due to the spending bonanza in the summer of 2016, when the Hornets came off a 48-win season and into serious ‘Win Now’ expectations, just as the salary cap exploded. Charlotte already has over $118 million committed to next season, alone. If they don’t make a move, and I don’t think they will, this roster — the one that’s currently 19-27 — is the team again next season.
Whether or not you want to see Kemba get moved, the fact of the matter is, the only way to hit the proverbial reset button for the franchise — and/or shed a big contract, like Nic Batum’s — would be to trade The Captain. That’s just the way things go in the NBA.
To hear more about the possibility of Charlotte moving Kemba Walker, check out the most recent episode of Buzz Beat — where we go into extensive detail.
How about some good news regarding the Hornets, yeah? Well, this week it was reported that fifth-year center Cody Zeller has been cleared for non-contact drills, and will soon start to scrimmage again with his team. That’s great!
An expert screener — he’s second in the NBA in screen assists per 36 minutes — Zeller has been out since early December, when he injured his knee in the loss to Golden State.
I was hopeful in his absence that Charlotte may get creative with some lineup configurations, but that never really happened. Most of the backup center minutes went to Johnny O’Bryant or Frank Kaminsky. Neither of which were that effective.
A return for Zeller could help Charlotte unlock some of the team’s better lineups; the Hornets unquestionably move the ball better with Cody on the floor, as opposed to Dwight Howard. More movement, more activity — and more efficiency.
Although we've only seen 58 meaningful poss. from the 2 groups below this season, the numbers have been outstanding.
Kemba, Batum, MKG, Marvin, Cody: 134.6 ORTG, 112.5 DRTG, +22.1 NET
Kemba, Lamb, MKG, Marvin, Cody: 121.9 ORTG, 85.3 DRTG, +36.6 NET
Long live Cody. #BuzzCity
— Spencer Percy (@QCHspencer) January 25, 2018
Marvin Williams: Doing the damn thing
As challenging as this season has been for the Hornets, the incredible shooting of veteran forward Marvin Williams is a breath of fresh air. This dude doesn’t miss.
Williams, in year 13, ranks 5th in the NBA in three-point percentage — 44.4 percent. All but two of his three-point attempts are of the catch-and-shoot variety: 74-of-169 on those chucks (43.8 3P%).
On attempts that the league defines as ‘wide open’ — no defender within at least six feet — Williams is really special. Marvin has sniped 57 of those 117 attempts, which translates to 48.7 percent. Amongst players with at least 100 ‘wide open’ attempts, Williams ranks third in the NBA in accuracy — behind only Klay Thompson and Paul George.
It’s clear that Williams has flourished this season, playing on the weak-side around Kemba Walker pick-and-rolls. If not for his contract, you’d have to think he’d be a serious trade chip, too.
Williams is shooting 43 percent from deep after a pass from Kemba, 48 percent after a pass from MKG, and 47 percent after a pass from Jeremy Lamb.
Building a house: Brick by Brick
It’s been a tough season for backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams in Charlotte. The former Rookie of the Year, entered the 2017-18 campaign on a cheap, get-right contract. The hope would be: play well, and earn yourself a nice new contract. Eh, unfortunately it hasn’t gone according to that script.
MCW absolutely busts his ass on defense, every night, but I’ll be curious to see what the market is for Carter-Williams after this season.
Carter-Williams has struggled from every level of the floor. He’s shooting just 29 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, and only 40 percent at the rim — a brutal number. The midrange is a dead zone, too: 16.7 percent.
Expand the All-Star Game Rosters
Look, this is such a no-brainer; I almost can’t believe we haven’t done this yet. But it’s time to expand the All-Star rosters to 30 total, 15 from each conference. Players like Chris Paul, Paul George, Kemba Walker — hell, even Lou Williams — should be apart of the festivities this season. (It’s a serious joke that CP3 won’t be recognized as an All-Star; I can make a case that dude should be getting MVP votes.)
Every year, we have the same conversation — “I can’t believe Player X didn’t make the team, instead of Player Y!” Guess what — there are more than 24 elite (and healthy) players in the world!
I sort of hate these discussions, to be honest. Every player that’s in the conversation is very, very good, and a case can be made for why they should be included. Most of the time, we’re splitting hairs to say X is better than Y. Making things more difficult: The criteria for what makes someone more worthy of participation in the game is murky at best, and these debates quickly break apart to really dumb arguments. I’m over it.
So, how about an easy solution?
Active rosters in the NBA are now 13 players — a change that occurred five years ago; full rosters go up to 15 — not including two-way players. So, why the hell are All-Star rosters still just at 12?
I know with increased roster size there will still be some snubs. That’s unavoidable. However, there will be fewer, overall, and those who feel slighted will have less of a case for inclusion. There’s risk, I suppose, in having players decline to participate, and then the alternatives/replacements aren’t deemed as deserving, or whatever. If that’s an actual concern, it’s a minor one — at most.
Plus, the more players that are included, the more teams and fans get involved, too. That will translate to more than just increased sets on eyeballs on the game; it will have auxiliary benefits, too, like improved social media engagement. This is a win-win. Expand the rosters.
T.J. Warren: All his does is get buckets
The Phoenix Suns are, by definition, an NBA basketball team — one of only 30 in the world. But with a roster that has an average age of under 25, interim coach Jay Triano must feel like he’s leading a semi-functional college team at times. The Suns are 17-31, and have the second worst net rating in the NBA. It’s a bit of a joke to watch them try to play defense most nights.
Despite the struggles, T.J. Warren has found some nice productivity in the final year of his rookie contract. Warren rarely lets it fly from deep — only eight percent of his FGA are triples — but he’s still scoring an efficient 20 points per game.
In fact, Warren averages 0.45 points per touch, according to Second Spectrum, which is No. 1 in the NBA. He’s still T.J. Buckets, even if he’s playing nowhere close to Raleigh.
Warren, who has always been an excellent cutter and transition player, is shooting 66 percent on field goal attempts that come inside of four feet, which ranks in the 80th percentile of the league. 199 of Warren’s 366 field goals (54 percent) this season have come in the restricted area. That’s really good for a guy that’s not that explosive of a leaper.
Is Wayne Ellington a top-10 shooting guard?
We talked about Ellington a few weeks ago in a previous St8 of the NBA. Well, the former Tar Heel continues to have a huge season. He seems to get better every game, and the shooting display he put down against the Hornets last Saturday — with MKG draped all over him — was simply incredible.
This production has put him amongst the elite of the NBA wings in terms of offensive production.
Ellington — the most recent success of #HeatCulture — the closest thing to Klay Thompson in the NBA, right now. Around 83 percent of his field goal attempts are three-pointers, and he’s drained 41 percent of those bombs. Over 63 percent of his total field goal attempts are above the break threes! This is insane.
The year is 2018, and Miami ran a triple screen for Wayne Ellington! Staggered pindowns into a handoff with James Johnson — splash.
Ellington, like Thompson, is constantly in motion; he never stops running and sprinting around screens and handoffs. In less than 26 minutes per game, Ellington covers nearly two miles of ground.
He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer; even in a league with limited cap space, you can bet Ellington will cash in this July.
Make You Look: DHO style
The NBA’s evolution to a slash-and-kick league has put extra value on defenders that can switch and check multiple positions. There are a variety of ways to counter that type of defense, like a quick slip. However, I’m partial to the increasingly popular fake dribble handoff (DHO).
Detroit’s Andre Drummond is terrific at this, so too is Kelly Olynyk of Miami. It just so happens that those centers play for the two teams that use DHO are more frequently than any other team in the league. When it works, it’s beautiful.
Watch Olynk leverage Ellington’s gravity, and get a wide open path to the hoop.