Despite getting a win against the struggling Phoenix Suns this past Saturday, the Charlotte Hornets dropped a close road game to the New Orleans Pelicans, 119-115, on Tuesday night in New Orleans. The loss puts the Hornets at 29-39 with 14 games left in the season. Overall, the Hornets playoff chances are almost officially out the window.
With the remaining games left in the season, the coaching staff has finally (and I mean finally) given the rookies a chance to play. Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon should get more chances to play significant minutes as the season winds down. Another player that needs to be looked at is the newly acquired Willy Hernangomez.
Hernangomez wanted to more playing time, so he asked for a move away from the New York Knicks. The Hornets sent them Johnny O’Bryant and two future second round picks to get the former Sevilla and Real Madrid draft-and-stash player. His contract is quite the bargain. According to Spotrac, Hernangomez will make $1.5 million next season and a non-guaranteed $1.6 million in the 2019-20 season.
But with depth in the front court, the only way Hernangomez can get good playing time is if one of the Hornets centers gets shut down for the season. That someone should be Cody Zeller, who has missed time all season due to a knee injury. Since his return, he’s played less than 18 minutes per game off the bench. After sitting against the Pelicans due to knee soreness, he has now missed 35 games this season.
When Zeller has been available, he’s been able to give good energy to the second unit. His offensive rebounding helps to keep many possessions alive for the Hornets. Hernangomez is capable of doing the same thing plus provide good passing from the post. With the Knicks, it was hard to get playing time with the log jam at center. Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn got most of the minutes while Hernangomez waited his turn. I don’t believe he wants to do that for the rest of the season with the Hornets.
Overall, with the season seemingly lost, the Hornets need to embrace the youth movement so to speak. That process seems to be beginning. With Michael Carter-Williams shut down for the rest of the season after shoulder surgery, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon are getting some chances to play. Shutting down Cody Zeller would be helpful because the Hornets need to see what they have in Hernangomez heading into the offseason. With Zeller out tonight, and possibly Jeremy Lamb, Hernagomez may see the court as they take on the Hawks on the road.