In CBS Sports most recent mock draft they have the Charlotte Hornets taking USC freshman center Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 8 overall pick. Back in January our very own Chase Whitney profiled the 6-foot-9 athletic big man and how his rebounding and shot blocking could be a welcome addition.
Frankly, I’d love to see the Hornets address the center position either via the draft or free agency this offseason. The center spot has vexed Charlotte throughout the franchise’s history and it’s time to start looking beyond Cody Zeller. I was curious to see just how many viable starting centers the Hornets/Bobcats have had over the years so I pulled some information from Basketball Reference and the results were pretty shocking. There are only nine enters who have appeared in 164 games (the equivalent of two full seasons) or more in Charlotte, and the results aren’t great. Here’s how I’d rank these nine centers rank based on their years in Charlotte:
No. 9 - Bismack Biyombo: 391 G, 19.9 MPG, 4.8 PTS, 5.8 REB, 1.4 BLK, 12.7 PER
Let’s give Biz the props he deserves for being a consummate professional during some tough years in Charlotte. While early in his career he was a useful shot blocker, his offensive limitations made it hard for him to get regular minutes. All the best, Bismack.
No. 8 - Primoz Brezec: 229 G, 24.2 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 14.1 PER
If a center is going to play 24 minutes per game and average just 5.2 rebounds, he’d better be lighting it up on the offensive end or locking people down on defense. At 9.8 points per game, Brezec was just “meh” as a scorer and he wasn’t known for his defense.
No. 7 - Nazr Mohammed: 209 G, 17.2 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 14.1 PER
Mohammed was an effective reserve and part-time starter for the 2009-10 Bobcats team that made the playoffs so he gets credit for that. During that season he played more than 40 minutes in a game twice and went off for 23 points and 17 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers plus another 21 point, 20 rebound outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If the Hornets had just played Nazr 40-plus minutes per game, he’d be in the Hall of Fame!
No. 6 - Cody Zeller: 419 G, 22.9 MPG, 8.6 PTS, 6.0 REB, 1.4 AST, 16.0 PER
Zeller has developed into the poster child of a perfectly serviceable rotational big man. He won’t win games, but he won’t lose them, either. He gets the award for longevity as his 419 games as a Charlotte center is the most in franchise history.
No. 5 - Matt Geiger: 204 G, 25.6 MPG, 10.7 PTS, 7.0 REB, 16.3 PER
In his three seasons in Charlotte Geiger was a serviceable player in helping the team reach the playoffs in both 1997 and in 1998. He started 105 of his 204 games and basically did his job.
No. 4 - Elden Campbell: 265 G, 30.8 MPG, 13.5 PTS, 7.7 REB, 1.8 BLK, 17.1 PER
Elden was a starter who helped the Hornets reach the playoffs in three straight seasons between 2000 and 2002. He wasn’t flashy but he had a solid all-around game. Campbell was particularly good in the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks when he averaged 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in the Hornets seven game series loss.
No. 3 - Al Jefferson: 185 G, 30.5 MPG, 17.5 PTS, 8.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 20.7 PER
Big Al signed as a free agent with the Bobcats in 2013 and had a spectacular season with averages of 21.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while leading Charlotte to a playoff berth. But by his third season in Charlotte injuries had taken their toll and Jefferson averaged just 12.0 points and 6.4 rebounds with some really poor defense before leaving as a free agent. The wheels fell off fast for Big Al.
No. 2 - Emeka Okafor: 330 G, 34.0 MPG, 14.0 PTS, 10.7 REB, 1.9 BLK, 17.7 PER
As the No. 2 pick by the Bobcats in the 2004 draft Okafor was named Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. While Okafor consistently delivered, his rookie season was arguably his best and he never progressed to All-Star caliber player. He could be counted on for 15 & 10 with a couple of blocks every night, but he rarely dominated games. Charlotte got five productive seasons from him until he was traded in 2009. I’d label Okafor a “consistently good center”, not a “franchise center.”
No. 1 - Alonzo Mourning: 215 G, 35.4 MPG, 21.3 PTS, 10.1 REB, 3.2 BLK, 20.8 PER
No surprise here. The travesty, of course, is the only true franchise center in the team’s history only lasted three seasons in Charlotte after a contract extension could not be worked out. The Hall of Famer was a beast from the beginning and it’s a shame more of his career wasn’t spent in a Hornets jersey.
The Hornets have their guard positions locked down with Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier. The forward spots are likely set with Miles Bridges and PJ Washington. Landing a young center like Okongwu who could clean the glass and redirect shots would be a solid addition. It could also give Charlotte their first franchise center since Alonzo Mourning patrolled the paint, Bill Clinton was president, and almost nobody had the internet. Wow, it’s been a while!