Spencer Hawes won't make the Charlotte Hornets great again, but he could be their only option at center if Cody Zeller, who suffered a strained right shoulder Wednesday against the Thunder, has to sit out Friday or beyond.
Hawes was the direct return for Lance Stephenson. Both players were disappointments in 2014-15, and the Clippers and Hornets saw an opportunity to swap players in an attempt to move on, and hope the player they received could have a bounce back season.
So far, the returns on Hawes haven't been great -- his 5.4 points is slightly less than his 5.8 from a season ago, and his field goal percentage (39.1) is the lowest of his career. He has managed to raise his 3-point percentage from 31.3 last season to 34.4, but it still falls below his career average (35.1).
Understand that Hawes wasn't meant to be a prolific scorer for the Hornets, but he was meant to be a decent outside threat that forced defenders to move outside the paint. Additionally, his high IQ would help improve the effectiveness of the offense, particularly when moving the ball, but the Hornets have a higher offensive rating (106.4) when he's off the floor, than when he's on it (102.7).
Looking at numbers can provide some context, but it's understandable to see the good he can bring when actually watching him play. He actively looks for others when he has the ball on offense, and seems to have an understanding of his teammates' tendencies, and where they will be at any point of an offensive set. Additionally, while Hawes hasn't been a dead-eye 3-point shooter, defenders will almost always contest a potential open shot. Even if he's not making them, he still has the respect of defenders on the perimeter.
However, what's frustrating is his tendency to settle for mid-range jumpshots off the dribble, or shots from the short corner. He's 9-34 from midrange this season, or 26.5 percent. These shots often come when defenders close out hard on Hawes at the perimeter. Instead of taking the 3-point shot, he takes his defender off the dribble and pulls up in the mid-range. Often, Hawes appears open enough to attempt the 3-point shot, which makes it perplexing as to why he would take the mid-range shot instead, given how poorly he's shooting from that range.
The answer? Hawes is historically a decent mid-range shooter. For his career, Hawes has shot 39.7 percent from between 10 and 16 feet. From 16 feet to just inside the perimeter, he's a career 41.3 percent shooter. This season, he's shooting 35.3 and 31.8 percent from those areas, respectively. If you've wondered why Hawes keeps taking those shots, it's because he's used to making them. Abandoning them, when they've typically been a strength of his offensive game, isn't really a viable option, not when it's become a natural tendency to take them.
So Hawes is, for the most part, a worse offensive player than he was a season ago. If he becomes the temporary stater until Zeller or Al Jefferson return, just what should his role be? Like Zeller has resorted to what's effective (attempting shots primarily at the rim) Hawes should only take occasional open 3-point shots, and easy buckets at the rim. Right now, he's attempting five shots in nearly 17 minutes a game. If his minutes go up, that number of attempts shouldn't. In any lineup, even on with Hairston, Hawes should be the last scoring option. His focus should be to help facilitate the offense, and to rebound on the defensive end (his 3.9 rebounds per game isn't bad given his limited amount of playing time). If Hawes does decide to take players off the dribble, he should look to pass to the open man if a help defender commits. Essentially, Hawes should keep his offensive role minimized.
The other side of this is that Hawes could actually shoot the ball near his career averages. At his best, Hawes can be a productive player, as he was with both the Cavaliers and 76ers. He wouldn't be the starter the Hornets would want for an extended run, but if Zeller misses a few games, it would be nice for the Spencer Hawes of just three seasons ago to re-appear for a short period of time. Maybe that's asking a lot, the team as a whole isn't playing well at the moment, but sparks can come from the unlikeliest of places, so maybe Hawes can provide one.