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2016-17 Player Preview: Spencer Hawes

The big man from Seattle brings floor-awareness and three-point shooting to the 5, but where does he fit as Zeller and Kaminsky grow into their positions?

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
Hoping to see that three-finger celebration more this season.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Key Stats: 57 GP, 18.2 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 1.9 APG, 4.3 RPG, 40.5 FG%, 37.3 FG3%

Oh, Spencer Hawes. The backup big man has been in Charlotte one season, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Lance Stephenson trade. It was a confusing move for the Hornets at the time. While we needed to get Lance out of the locker room (and off the court), we didn’t really need a stretch-four/three-point shooting five with the young big-men on the roster. Days after landing Hawes, Charlotte drafted Frank Kaminsky, further crowding the inside. Where would Hawes and his 2-year, $11.2 million contract fit?

We found out at the beginning of last season: he’d fit in just fine as a floor-spacing, pass-making, hair-styling, three-point shooting big man off the bench... when healthy.

Spencer started his career in Sacramento as a 19-year-old top ten draft pick who couldn’t really find his groove over three seasons with the Kings. He was traded to Philadelphia in 2010, and there reinvented himself as an above-average three-point shooter. In 2013-14, he shot 41% from beyond the arc and earned a contract from the Los Angeles Clippers in the form of a four year, $23 million deal. But he never really clicked in Los Angeles either, ending the 2013-14 season out of the rotation on the end of Doc Rivers’ bench.

So he came to Charlotte, and Clifford and company hoped to rediscover the shooting from his 2013-14 season while building on his top ten draft selection potential. He came close to matching his best season, but didn’t quite find that form. There were always moments when fans around Time Warner Cable Arena facepalmed and yelled his name angrily, more often because no one expects their backup center to shoot a three. But he made a fair share of his shots too. Shooting 37% from three-point range, Spencer was a positive +/- while on the court for the first time since 2011-12.

His role on the team isn’t quite clear, even when healthy. He provides a bit of the floor-awareness Josh McRoberts brought to the team, making solid passes and spacing well. He shoots threes, but struggles with the mid-range jumper and is far from dominant in the paint.

“The Needle” suffered a back injury last season that kept him out of several games in February and March, and that allowed Frank Kaminsky to come on strong in what used to be Spencer’s minutes. He also suffered a knee injury in the playoffs that cost the team needed big man depth against Hassan Whiteside and the Miami Heat.

The center position in general was a crapshoot in 2015-16, with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, Kaminsky and Hawes all battling for minutes and looks, but of the four, he’s now clearly the fourth option. Depth is good, and that’s what he’ll provide this season with Roy Hibbert replacing Big Al, but unless his shooting improves dramatically, it’s likely to be his last season in Charlotte.

That’s not to say the trade to acquire Spencer was a mistake though: he has fit in far better than Lance in the locker room and with fans. While that’s a very low bar to set, his love of sushi and man-bun hair stylings made him one of Jeremy Lin’s favorites, earning the label “hair mentor.” He’s always been fun off the court, and liked by his teammates. And he makes for a great gif on the sideline too.

As an objective sports-writer, the Hornets will likely let Spencer go elsewhere in the summer of 2017. But as a fan and season-ticket holder, I love what Spencer brings to the Hornets. He’s a likable guy, fun on the sidelines, and provides a decent backup option at Center. I wish he wouldn’t take some of the shots he does, but when he gets hot and the threes start falling, the crowd really, really enjoys it. He needs to improve his game on the court this season, particularly in the paint and from mid-range, but I hope to be yelling “Spencerrrr” often again this season, even if 60% of the time it’s in frustration. Stay healthy, big man.