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In-season methods to improving the Hornets at the center position

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Charlotte has gotten off to a solid start; is it time to make a move to bolster their lineup?

Atlanta Hawks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

It’s somewhat depressing to look at it this way, but the 2020-2021 NBA season is already 1/7th of the way over. What’s not depressing; the Charlotte Hornets sitting pretty at eighth place in the East with a 6-7 record through 13 games. Gordon Hayward has exceeded expectations and LaMelo Ball has already established that he went two spots too low at third overall in the 2020 Draft. There’s not much to fuss about... yet.

If the Hornets keep things up, avenues for making the team a formidable playoff contender could be explored. Even though they’ve been okay to start the year, most of us can agree that they aren’t ready to win a playoff series; that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make themselves ready to win a playoff series, though.

The Hornets need another potent shot-creator on the perimeter to pair with Gordon Hayward, but since Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine aren’t realistic targets at the moment, let’s run through a few of the options general manager Mitch Kupchak might have (even though we all know there’s a 0.1 percent chance he makes a trade) at the Hornets’ other position of need; center.

John Collins

At the moment, John Collins is one of the more obvious/actually plausible targets. Per Chris Kirschner and Sam Amick of The Athletic, Collins has grown unhappy with how the offense is run with Trae Young leading the charge. Here’s the full quote:

“[Collins] shared his unfiltered and unhappy views about the way franchise centerpiece Trae Young was running the offense. According to three sources who were either in the session or had knowledge of what was said, Collins raised several issues about the way these Hawks were functioning with Young at the helm. Collins talked about the need to get into offensive sets more quickly and to limit all those early shot-clock attempts that leave his teammates on the outside looking in. He shared his desire to be more involved and expressed a desire for more ball involvement and flow on offense.”

To me, that seems like a guy that’s headed into restricted free agency who might not want to re-sign with his current team. Considering the Atlanta Hawks have Danilo Gallinari (two years, $44.9M guaranteed) and Clint Capela (two years, $35.3M) on the books and they just invested a top-10 pick in Onyeka Okongwu (along with an early-second on Bruno Fernando), their salary cap sheet would be filled up almost entirely by big men and Bogdan Bogdanović, and that’s before they have to worry about signing Young to a max-level rookie extension, which he’s eligible for following this season. Collins simply doesn’t fit into that puzzle without the Hawks making a trade or their ownership forking over luxury tax dollars, nor do they have proper minutes to go around at the center spot.

Obviously, the Hornets do have minutes to go around at the center spot, and they should be able to re-sign Collins for approximately $20M per year with the right to match any offer from another team. Normally, I’d hesitate to give a big man that kind of salary, but Ball and Washington will be on rookie-scale contracts for the majority of Collins’ deal, and I genuinely have a lot of faith in him becoming a premier big man with a bigger role—on both ends of the floor—in Charlotte.

This trade is predicated less on the value of each individual on the court, and more on the value of a player being potentially rejuvenated by a change of scenery. Monk isn’t going to get the opportunity he needs to reach his ceiling in Charlotte, and Collins’ numbers are down across the board with Capela in the fold. Giving up a first-rounder in what could be a historic draft class hurts, but acquiring Collins and plugging the hole at center with a versatile floor-spacing rim-runner without having to rely on out-bidding other teams would be worth it, plus if the Hornets are a lottery team they keep the pick anyway. The 2021 second-rounder via the Brooklyn Nets is bound to be 55th or lower, which is essentially nothing, but could help sweeten the offer.

Out of any big man that could semi-realistically be traded for, Collins is the best on-court fit; he’s one of the best pick-and-roll bigs in the NBA with the ability to space the floor vertically, pop out to the 3-point line and knock down jumpers and make some short-roll passing reads, and he’s agile enough to switch between either frontcourt position. Defense has not been a strong-suit of his, but James Borrego’s zone concepts and small-ball lineups might help him. Regardless, a Ball-Graham-Hayward-Washington-Collins starting five is bound to score a boatload of points.

Myles Turner

The Indiana Pacers got in on the James Harden trade madness and sent an expiring contract in Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets for Caris LeVert and a future second-round pick; good asset management of Oladipo, who was leaving no matter what. With Domantas Sabonis establishing himself as a perennial All-Star, moving on from Myles Turner at some point (who has seemingly been on the trade market for a year) is starting to become an inevitability.

Turner has his flaws—mainly mobility and rim protection—but he is one of the league’s best shot-blockers, averaging 4.2 per game so far this year, and his floor-spacing is coveted at the center position. A pick-and-pop duo of Ball or Graham and Turner would be difficult to stop with all of the shooters the Hornets can plant around the 3-point line, and his utter lack of ability to defend in space would be masked a bit with Borrego’s tendency to play zone.

The reason the center position appears to be so weak on the court right now, though, is because the Hornets are the league’s worst defensive rebounding team, and Turner wouldn’t help with that at all. He’s a career-6.7 per game rebounder that hauls in 15.8 percent of the opponent’s missed field goals while he’s on the floor, placing him in the 23rd percentile among all NBA players, not just bigs. That’s not good, but rebounding is also not as important as it used to be; just outscore the other team, and everything will be okay.

One could substitute Terry Rozier in the place of Cody Zeller and the money still works, and there’s a possibility that the Pacers would rather acquire Rozier and his shooting ability than Zeller and his expiring contract. That deal would be fine, too, but since this is not real, let’s pretend that Indiana is pinching pennies and doesn’t want to commit to Rozier’s salary (and the Hornets can also keep Rozier to be used in a future trade).

Paying Turner $17.5 million per year is not ideal given he’s likely reached his ceiling, but it’s only one year longer than Rozier’s current deal. If he can up his rebound percentages and get back on track from deep—he’s only shooting 28.3 percent on 4.4 3-point attempts per game this season—Turner would alleviate some concerns the Hornets have on the interior.

Mo Bamba

During the trade deadline period last season, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst had reported that Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba was on the market. That may not be true anymore, but for him to have been on the market implies that Orlando wasn’t/isn’t sold on his future with the team. Nikola Vučević has two years and $46 million left on his contract after this season, Aaron Gordon has one year at $16.4 million and Jonathan Isaac just inked a four-year, $69.6 million deal, so the Magic already have a lot of money tied up in big men. If Orlando is settled on those three as their main frontcourt pieces, Bamba simply doesn’t have enough playing time to develop.

Bamba represents almost the exact center archetype that the Hornets need; a long, mobile shot-alterer that can defend in space and step out and shoot jumpers on the offensive end. Last season, he shot 33-83 (40 percent) on above-the-break threes and 37 percent from three as a whole, so there’s clearly something to work with there in regards to floor-spacing. At 7’1”, most NBA bigs have no chance to contest Bamba’s jumper if he gets consistent with it, and he’s been in the 97th percentile or above in block percentage per Cleaning The Glass since he entered the league—that combination of shooting and shot-blocking is rare for someone with Bamba’s physical tools.

After writing this article and doing these fake trades, I just now realized that two of them involve Monk in some way, so let me set the record straight; the Hornets should look to carve out a role for him in Charlotte before shipping him out, but he deserves a better chance/larger role than he has now, and if it takes a trade for him to get that, so be it. The Hornets need someone like Bamba, and the Magic could use someone like Monk with Markelle Fultz sidelined for the remainder of the season.

There are definitely more fake trades to concoct, but these were the most-realistic options that don’t involve the Hornets giving up PJ Washington, Devonte’ Graham or Miles Bridges—which could be a deal-breaker in real-life, but thankfully we live in fake-life and don’t have to worry about that. The valuation of each player/draft asset is probably off, but nobody on the internet has a proper gauge on those things anyway, no matter how hard they may try. All we see is “SUCCESS” beside a checkmark in green font when we send in the trade. We’ll let Kupchak do the dirty work.