How long can you realistically expect to rein in a fringe NBA rotation player before he finally becomes his true self? The Hornets coaching staff is hoping the answer is at least one more year, in the case of Spencer Hawes.
To summarize Spencer Hawes a little: he is the type of player who put a chip on his own shoulder, and refused to remove it. After being picked 10th overall by Sacramento in the 2007 Draft, Hawes struggled early in his career, as you would expect from an offensive-minded NBA center who had to play two full professional seasons before he could even legally purchase a beer (or legally operate a "large passenger vehicle," so I'm told, which undoubtedly frustrated Hawes a little further).
Sacramento traded him for an aging Samuel Dalembert, and Philadelphia never really wanted (or needed) him, so he took it upon himself to improve his game. Which in his case, meant: stop being the Spencer Hawes that he was, and become the Spencer Hawes that he wanted himself to be.
In 2013-14, a contract season in which he was traded at the deadline, Hawes saw some of his first regular action outside the center position. He had been developing his three-point shot in the offseason, and the 76ers wanted to use him as a stretch power forward in some sets. For a low-post player who hadn't found success from range just yet despite all his efforts, Hawes was somewhat surprisingly effective as an overall shooter.
Then he had to go and shoot .416 from three that year.
Between the 76ers and the Cavaliers, Hawes took over 300 attempts from beyond the arc, and he hit more than 40 percent of them. Nearly completely abandoning the mid-range shot, Hawes bellowed "This is me now!" This brings us to...
...with the Los Angeles Clippers, where Spencer Hawes decided that the best course of action was to steadily maintain his outside presence, using it to establish a well-rounded offensive game that allowed him to score on defenses from any point on the floor, including the low block, and utilizing that constant threat to set up teammates, leading to a truly efficient offensive machine when he was on the floor.
Haha, yeah, just kidding. Spencer Hawes shot nearly half of his field goal attempts from behind the three-point line.
You might think that approach would be a poor one for him to take. And you'd be right! Hawes' three-point percentage plummeted by more than 10 percent, finishing the year with a .313 three-point percentage, and a mark of .393 overall from the floor. The Clippers' offense suffered, with Hawes finishing last in offensive rating among Clippers who played over 130 minutes. Objectively, this did not work.
The question is whether Spencer Hawes cares about objectivity.
That's not to say that I think he's a selfish player. He's gotten along with teammates at every stop, and there's nothing in his history to think that he doesn't want to win basketball games. It's whether he thinks the current trend he's on will help the team, once he improves. And whether the coaches agree.
The biggest area of improvement necessary for Hawes next season will be his shooting. He shot below 40 percent total last year in a career low season. If he's going to be useful for the Hornets then he has to shoot his way on the floor, and stay on the floor. He's going to start off getting minutes just because he's Charlotte's best option at backup center, but poor shooting could easily get him taken out of the rotation.
The odd man out
And here's part of the reason why. The Hornets' roster, as currently constructed, might not accommodate for stretch-four Spencer Hawes. Pair him with Al Jefferson, and the defense relies entirely on perimeter players. Pair him with Cody Zeller, and they might not be able to find an easy offensive option open in the post. Pairing him with Marvin Williams plays to the strength of neither player, and pairing him with Frank Kaminsky would probably be a nightmare for Hornets fans.
The Spencer Hawes of old? That's more workable. Post-and-pop Spencer Hawes was a better passer, and a more well-rounded offensive player, not to mention a lot less risky, given that he wouldn't be nearly as reliant on the three. The Zeller pairing could be particularly intriguing, and if he plays more of his traditional role as a center, Marvin (and potentially Kaminsky) could complement him pretty nicely too. I can't really see a way in which Hawes and Jefferson work as a pairing, but that's workable.
What to expect
It all depends on which Spencer Hawes that Spencer Hawes decides he wants to be. He's going to be an up and down player this season, but it's reasonable to believe he won't play as poorly as he did in his most recent year in Los Angeles. That said, there are going to be nights where fans wish they had a better option at backup center.