The Al Jefferson injury causes a lot of problems for the entire Charlotte Hornets team. Not only do they lose, arguably, their best player in Jefferson, but his absence will stretch their roster thin. Replacing a player that was named an All-NBA Center last year won't be easy, it might be impossible, but the Hornets will have to try. They have talent but none of it will be like Jefferson.
First, they have to decided who they want to step into a starting role. Do they move Bismack Biyombo in to the starting lineup or do they move Cody Zeller to the center position and start Marvin Williams at power forward?
Well the Hornets made it easy on us, by naming Biyombo the starter in the short term.
While Biyombo is going to be starting, don't be surprised to see Cody Zeller getting plenty of minutes at the center position as well. The Hornets have played Zeller at center in the past when going with small lineups -- they did this at the end of the Milwaukee game -- and they will probably do it again during Jefferson's absence. The question, however, is which player should play with the second unit?
Biyombo is a natural center and Zeller is a natural power forward, so theoretically Biyombo would step into the starting lineup and play in the lineups that Jefferson had been playing in. However, Biyombo has yet to play a single minute with the starting lineup this season. Zeller, on the other hand, has played with the starters this season, so we know he has some continuity with those guys, which leads me to believe it might be better for the Hornets to play their two big men with players they're familiar with.
While comfort is important, the bigger issue at hand is how stretched thin Charlotte's roster is. The Hornets aren't very deep at the center position with Biyombo being their only "real" center on the roster, besides Jefferson. Zeller will likely play a lot of center minutes but this takes away the minutes he's playing at power forward. There is a gaping hole the Hornets need to fill and, while they might be low on big men, they do have some options.
A possible, and likely, player to receive those minutes at power forward is veteran Jason Maxiell. So far this season he hasn't been helpful, but Maxiell played a lot early in the year and clearly has Steve Clifford's trust. It wouldn't be surprising to see the veteran big man get a handful of minutes during Jefferson's absence.
Another possibility is rookie power forward Noah Vonleh. After being assigned to the D-League, Vonleh was quickly called back up to provide depth during Jefferson's absence. It looks like an opportunity has appeared for Vonleh to play, but it seems unlikely. Clifford has been hesitant to play Vonleh any meaningful minutes this year due to his lack of understanding of NBA defenses. Still, this might be a time where Clifford chooses trial by fire when his other option is an aging Maxiell.
The possibility of Maxiell playing meaningful minutes makes it pretty clear how much of an impact Al Jefferson's injury will have on the Hornets as a whole. He's not only impacting the starting lineup, but the bench as well due to a lack of depth. The impact of the injury is being felt across the roster and that can't be stated enough.