The first few weeks of the Charlotte Hornets' season have been a roller coaster for everyone involved. The highs have been amazingly high. The lows have been, well, panic-inducing bad. For two of the longer-tenured Hornets, the roller coaster has remained more towards the lows than the highs.
Gerald Henderson, a team captain and someone who had to endure the dark days of the Charlotte Bobcats franchise, has played a grand total of three minutes in the last three games after averaging more than 18 minutes in the first five games. And sadly, that is better than Bismack Biyombo. The former top-ten draft pick saw his first playing time of the season Sunday, only because the Lakers were blowing out Charlotte. And even then, Biyombo only saw three minutes of playing time. His lack of playing time has been a hot topic among fans, leaving some to wonder what it would take for Biyombo to see playing time again.
Clifford has stated earlier this season that he will play the players that are playing the best, and has proven it by benching Lance Stephenson for entire fourth quarters earlier this year. We know that coach is a man of his word, but is demoting Henderson and Biyombo to nothing more than garbage time players best for the team? Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of it.
Allows Henderson to heal
Let us not forget, Henderson missed the preseason thanks to a hamstring injury, and there's a chance that he's still recovering from that setback. If he is not 100 percent, it is probably best to let him rest and fully recover from the injury.
Allows coaches to see what other players can do in their place
With Gerald Henderson being relegated to the bench, P.J. Hairston has stepped up and made the most of his time. He and Gary Neal have provided scoring sparks off the bench, and Clifford has gone out of his way to praise Hairston for his efforts on the floor. Noah Vonleh (remember him?) should also be nearing a return to the team, and team members and fans alike are intrigued to see how exactly he will perform for the team. Benching guys like Henderson and Biyombo allows coaches to see what exactly other players bring to the table and what roles they can fill in, and for a team like the Hornets still trying to establish rotations, that is paramount.
They have already had chances to earn playing time
Both Henderson and Biyombo have had chances to show their worth on the court. As stated earlier, in the team's first five games, Henderson played an average of more than 18 minutes a game. Both players have had the offseason, preseason and practices to show Clifford and the coaching staff that they have earned the right to see more playing time, and neither seems to have really done that.
Adding them to the rotation may do more harm than good
The team seems to be close to establishing roles and rotations on the team, and trying to add Henderson and Biyombo to the mix would only mess things up. Cody Zeller and Gary Neal have settled in nicely coming off the bench, P.J. Hairston seems to be coming into his own and Jason Maxiell has been called by Clifford the most physical prescience on the team — and if there is anything we know Clifford loves, it is tough, physical players. Here is an interesting statistic: among the top ten teams in bench scoring from the 2013-2014 season, only five finished the year with winning records.
Need to keep players fresh
The NBA season is 82 games long, and if you want to make a run in the playoffs, it is imperative to keep your players as fresh as possible (see San Antonio Spurs for further examples). While the Hornets cannot emulate the Spurs, Al Jefferson is currently averaging nearly 36 minutes a game (tied with 18th-most in the Association), and Kemba Walker is not far behind at more than 34 minutes a contest. Henderson cannot directly sub in for Walker, but Biyombo could for Jefferson, and keeping Jefferson as healthy as possible should be the team's number one priority. As he goes, the team goes. If he goes down, the team is in deep trouble. It would be very difficult for Jefferson to keep playing as long as he is now and be fresh for the playoffs, when the team will need him most, so why not play more people off the bench to keep the starters fresh for when it matters most?
Henderson will need time to adjust to new roles
While Biyombo has spent the majority of his career coming off the bench, Henderson has spent the majority of his as a starter or, at the very least, a top option off the bench. With this team, that may no longer be the case. It takes any player time to adjust to a new role with the team, and Henderson will be no different.
Less Biyombo means more Maxiell
Whether or not more Maxiell playing time is a good thing remains to be seen, but I personally have not been too impressed by the veteran big man. I would love to see Biyombo get some of his minutes, at least for the defense that Biyombo brings. Regardless of where you stand on the Biyombo versus Maxiell debate, it is usually not the best sign for a team to give so many minutes to a player who was signed days before media day.
For the team to play to its potential, it'll need Henderson
The Hornets, in my opinion, will be better when Gerald Henderson is playing and contributing routinely. If the team is able to throw him, Neal and Hairston off the bench at any time and in the proper situation, they will be able to start playing closer to the potential we all expected from them when the season began. Plus, if nothing else, it seems cruel to make Henderson suffer through the awful Bobcats days and bench him now that the organization has turned things around. But, such is the business of the NBA.
Personally, I don’t think it’s better to keep them bench, because you need to keep players fresh throughout an 82-game season, especially if you plan on making a run in the playoffs. But right now, Biyombo hasn’t earned playing time ahead of the likes of Zeller and Maxiell (Vonleh remains to be seen), and Henderson is battling the likes of Stephenson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Neal and Hairston for playing time, and all are playing better than Henderson at this point (with the exception of maybe Stephenson, but that’s another story for another time). The team’s biggest problems remain on offense, and neither Henderson nor Biyombo are known for being offensive game changers. So, for now, I understand why Clifford has benched these veterans.
Both players are being class acts about the situation and seem to be taking the benchings in stride for now, as they are often seen among the team’s biggest cheerleaders from the bench. How long it will last remains to be seen.