Let’s get this out of the way first; no. The Charlotte Hornets should not.
In recent days, DeMarcus Cousins was released by the Houston Rockets, and Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin were benched by their respective teams while they await the fulfillment of their trade requests. With multiple veteran bigs looking for a new home and few teams being in the market for one, the center-needy Hornets have popped up as a landing spot for each one of the aforementioned players.
Before breaking down each of Cousins, Drummond, and Griffin in their current state as players, the overarching argument against pursuing any of them is this; none of them will want to join a team fighting for a play-in spot mid-rebuild on a near-minimum salary, especially considering coach James Borrego only utilizes three big men (Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Cody Zeller) when the Hornets are at full-strength. Veterans of their caliber are best-suited on competitive teams that can slot them into a specific role and keep them in their element, not ones like Charlotte that still have holes to fill before being a serious playoff team.
In 25 games with the Rockets, Cousins averaged 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game on 37.6/33.6/74.6 shooting splits with a 51.1 true shooting percentage. Attempting 10.7 3-pointers per 100 possessions, at this stage of his career he’s an offense-only stretch-big that can operate out of dribble hand-off and pick-and-roll situations, though neither skill is too consistent or reliable. His athleticism and mobility have completely faded, which limits his effectiveness as a roll man or rim protector, and rim protection was a slight weakness even prior to his devastating stretch of injuries.
That’s not to say Cousins is “bad” or wouldn’t fit on an NBA team, because he could. With mobile, lengthy help defenders surrounding him and a spaced floor on offense, Cousins could replicate the some of the highlights from his 28-point, 17-rebound, 5-assist performance in a Houston win over Dallas on Jan 28.
Do the Hornets have that kind player? Not really. Gordon Hayward is a savvy off-ball defender and Jalen McDaniels and Zeller have the length and mobility, but teams like the Milwaukee Bucks or Los Angeles Clippers are better suited to play that kind of style at a competitive level.
The Hornets have been featured in the Drummond rumor mill for years. He’s made the “most sense” of any veteran big on the market because his best skill—rebounding—has been among the Hornets’ biggest weaknesses for a couple of seasons. Drummond hauls in 22.8 rebounds per 100 possessions (6.8 offensive) and his rebounding percentage is 24.3, both the best mark in the league. Outside of that, though, most everything has been genuinely horrific for Drummond in Cleveland this season.
First and foremost, Drummond is shooting 52 percent at the rim (sixth percentile among centers) per Cleaning The Glass and a dismal 43.2 percent as a roll-man off of screens this season, per BasketballNews.com’s Nekias Duncan. Both of those numbers counterbalance his rebounding by a significant margin given that he’s attempting 15.2 shots per night while being a poor free throw shooter (59.7 percent) and offering negative floor-spacing on a 30.3 usage percentage.
To boot, Borrego’s defensive scheme isn’t keen to one player planting themselves underneath the rim and inhaling boards; the entire team, even their guards, contribute on the glass. One player won’t solve the Hornets’ problem in the middle, and other problems would be created and/or exacerbated by adding a volatile center, such as Drummond, on both ends of the floor.
There’s a reason the Cavaliers traded a future first-round pick for Jarrett Allen.
In all honesty, writing this section made me profoundly sad. Griffin has been relegated to a perimeter-oriented shooting/playmaking center, a far cry from the hyper-athleticism his game revolved around in the Lob City Clippers era. Averaging 12.3 points (on 11.1 shot attempts), 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as Detroit’s second or third option on offense and a complete shell of himself defensively. Due to his $36.6M and $38.9M salary figures over the next two seasons, Griffin is nearly an untradable asset, likely placing him on the buyout market near the trade deadline.
Much is unclear about what Griffin’s role would look like on a competitive NBA team at this stage of his career. His ball-handling, high-elbow and low-block playmaking are still good and his 2.41 assist-to-turnover ratio signals an ability to make reads at a high level, but every step he takes on the court looks laborious and he doesn’t provide enough spacing (31.5 percent on 6.2 3PA per game) to take advantage of his intellectual passing.
Detroit employs Griffin as a four out of necessity with Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart also on the roster, but on his next team—perhaps the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Lakers—it’s unlikely he’s anything but a center. It’s become an exercise of abject sadness to watch Griffin play basketball in 2021 for anyone who enjoyed watching him in his athletic prime.
None of these free agents are the solution to the Hornets’ issues on the interior; the organization’s preferred solution is likely Washington continuing to grow into the role of a floor-spacing, playmaking, versatile defender at the five. There’s a chance that Charlotte goes out at the trade deadline and seeks a player that can help plug their porous defense and match up with the big, bruising centers they’ve struggled with to this point, but it’d probably be a move closer to the fringes of the roster, which my ATH Live co-host James Plowright gave his thoughts on about a few days ago.
Just in case we forgot, the Hornets also have two rookie centers putting up numbers in the G League. Vernon Carey Jr. is putting up 21.4 points and 10.1 rebounds in seven games with the Greensboro Swarm and flashing some floor-spacing and Nick Richards posted 26 and 10 with two made 3-pointers and 4 blocks in his first appearance. They might be worth a glance at some point, right?