If you're a Hornets fan, the news of Josh McRoberts' departure was a little deflating. From the moment Charlotte acquired McRoberts, his career became revitalized and the team found their starting power forward for the immediate future. Now that McRoberts is gone, the Hornets will have to find a viable replacement one way or the other. After all, Hornets fans know that McRoberts' value wasn't in his per-minute numbers, but in the way he became a crucial cog in Steve Clifford's offense.
McRoberts is truly a player whose games you had to watch. This isn't about whether stats or the eye test is better, but the fact that you really needed to do both to understand McRoberts' value to the Hornets. And, really, no one seemed to understand that better than Hornets fans.
One of the biggest reasons McRoberts was so invaluable was his passing ability. Among all forwards and centers, only five other players averaged four or more assists per game with an assist percentage of over 20. For perspective, Kevin Love accounted for assists on 21.4 percent of teammates' field goal makes last season while he was on the floor and averaged 4.4 assists per game to McRoberts' 21.9 percent and 4.3 per game. On top of this, McRoberts had a perfectly average turnover percentage of 12.1, so he was regularly making good decisions. McRoberts' job was to keep the ball moving as much as possible and to make the right decision for the team at that moment. It's not his fault his teammates had trouble making more of those passes into assists.
Speaking of shooting, McRoberts was actually a part of the solution for the Bobcats last season -- a distinction few other of his teammates could share. He liked the three, and unlike Byron Mullens, he could hit it at a respectable clip of 36.7 percent. That number shouldn't blow you away, but it's solid, and 97.3 percent of those attempts were assisted. Additionally, McRoberts shot over 57 percent from 10-16 feet, and over 63 percent at the rim, giving him value inside the arc too. McRoberts was assisted on 81 percent of his own shots, so he's not much of a creator for himself, but he's also not supposed to be.
One thing that Phil Jackson preached in his book Sacred Hoops was the importance of spacing, and McRoberts understands that. He knows where to be on offense, but also what the smart basketball play is for the team. It's an intelligence and understanding of the game that you can't really teach, and the Hornets will undoubtedly feel that void next year. Knowing where to be and being able to analyze what's happening in real-time is a great skill to have for a player who is expected to be a featured rotation player. We saw how all areas of the offense turned to mush with McRoberts on the bench in all areas (ORtg dropped by 5 points per possession, assist percentage down 4.7 percentage points), so there is some concern with finding a viable replacement soon. There's no question Pat Riley saw how McRoberts' style of play is conducive to an effective offense despite Charlotte's struggle on that end at times last season.
No, McRoberts is no offensive game changer, but he can be an important piece to what a team does. His value lies more in his decision-making ability in knowing when to defer and when to call his own number rather than points per game, but he still performed like a top big man last season. In fact, very few players at his position did what McRoberts did last season and the Hornets will no doubt be hoping Marvin Williams can fill some of that role. He does add similar three-point shooting, but has never had the passing ability of McRoberts. Williams' scoring is more efficient (19 PPP to 14.5 PPP), which will help, but he might not be as effective in helping create inside-outside offense as McRoberts' passing was.