The news of Cody Zeller’s torn meniscus feels like a death sentence for the Charlotte Hornets. The team went 3-17 without him last season, and his indefinite absence could erase the playoff hopes of a team already struggling to climb up the standings.
With Frank Kaminsky also out day-to-day with a sprained right ankle, things are even worse short-term. The team is down to three healthy front-court players (four, if you could two-way player Mangok Mathiang, who just received a call-up). But even with Mathiang, the team is thin.
So what will the Hornets do while both are out? Without any serious alternatives, they may have to go small. The second-unit will be most affected, and a lineup featuring either Dwayne Bacon and/or Treveon Graham at power forward is likely in the works. It is ideal? Absolutely not. But right now, Charlotte has little choice.
There are, however, a few ways to figure the rotation. Some involve keeping the starting five as is, others move a starter or two into the bench. This is a short-term plan, mind you; once Kaminsky returns things will likely return to a more traditional rotation. Also note that a few starters will operate with the reserves, as has been the case this season. But for now, these are ways they could go.
Starters: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard
Reserves: Michael Carter-Williams, Jeremy Lamb, Dwayne Bacon, Treveon Graham, Johnny O’Bryant III
Why I like it: It’s a small lineup, but contains a lot of interchangeable pieces. Bacon and Graham can switch between the 3 and 4 spots, and there isn’t a player smaller than 6’5’’ (Graham). For defensive match-up purposes, it could work.
Why I don’t: Outside of Lamb, who looks to score? O’Bryant isn’t afraid to shoot, but I’m worried MCW will give himself the green light to take more ill-advised shots (there’s been too many of them of late as it is). Graham has 3-point range, but is more of an opportunist. Bacon is as well, and his offense has been non-existent of late.
Starters: (Same as Rotation #1)
Reserves: (Swap MCW for Malik Monk; keep the rest of the lineup the same from Rotation #1).
Why I like it: For starters, it puts Monk back into the rotation, and takes a struggling MCW out. Monk’s shooting gives the reserves two guards that can create for themselves, and should stretch the opposing defense more. Bacon and Graham can continue to operate as wings that rotation between the 3 and 4 spots, and O’Bryant remains the lone true big man. If there’s any night to try it, it’s tonight against Chicago.
Why I don’t: As much as I want Monk back in the rotation, his defense has been below average, and his shooting percentages haven’t been great either. Also, I wouldn’t want him as the primary ball-handler. Plus, they lose size and length with MCW out.
Starters: Walker, Lamb, MKG, Williams, Howard
Reserves: MCW, Batum, Bacon, Graham, O’Bryant
Why I like it: I’ve pondered the idea of putting Batum with the second unit, and this gives Charlotte the chance to try it. Batum often operates with this group to in stretches anyways, and could be a calming presence as a playmaker. Maybe it helps him get out of his shooting funk as well? (Okay, maybe this is wishful thinking.) Beyond play-making, the team is again small, but long, and positions 1-4 could theoretically switch defenders on defense. Placing Lamb in the starting lineup gives the Hornets more offensive punch in the starting lineup (and Lamb’s also been slightly better as a starter so far, anyways).
Why I don’t: Batum helps the starting five run at times, even if he struggles shooting the ball. Walker and Lamb could end up taking a majority of the shots, leaving less touches for Howard and potentially killing the ball movement.
Starters: Walker, Monk, MKG, Williams, Howard
Reserves: MCW, Lamb, Batum, Bacon, O’Bryant
Why I like it: This one is for Locked On Hornets co-host David Walker. Placing Monk in the starting lineup lets him operate as the fifth option in the lineup. Defenses won’t be focused no him, and that could mean open looks and better shot attempts for the rookie. Bacon benefited from this earlier in the season, so it figures to give Monk a chance here as well. The reserves now have two starting caliber wings, and again retain the length needed to play small ball.
Why I don’t: A Walker/Monk backcourt could spell trouble. It’s small, and if Monk isn’t making shots it leaves Walker with more on his shoulders offensively.
So, those are just a few. Like one? Hate them all? Let us know in the comments.