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The Hornets Roster Spot Deathmatch

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The Hornets have too many players on the roster, so someone has got to go.

Following a flurry of moves this off-season the Charlotte Hornets roster currently have 16 players who have a chance to finish on the final 15-man roster. I currently project Wes Iwundu, Nick Richards, Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels to be the four players competing for the last three spots in the “Hornets Roster Spot Deathmatch”. Both Richards and Iwundu have fully guaranteed contracts for the 21-22 season, while Martin (16th August) and McDaniels (25th August) had Non-Guaranteed deals which appear to have been picked up. However, in some rare cases the team, player and agent can agree to push back the guarantee date which often goes unreported.

Who makes the final roster will likely have little impact on the team’s performance this year but there are always exceptions to the rule. Christian Wood was cut by Milwaukee in 2019 in favour of Tim Frazier, Alex Caruso was waived by OKC in favour of former Charlotte Bobcat Reggie Williams, sometimes these decisions on the fringes of the roster can look perplexing years down the line. Financially there isn’t much between the four players in question with each making between $1.5-1.8 for the 21-22 season, with Iwundu and Martin expiring after this year and McDaniels and Richards having team options for 22-23 season. So who do we expect to merge victorious? Wait, that’s the wrong question… Who do we expect to lose? That’s more like it, let’s look at the cases for each player.

Jalen McDaniels

Charlotte Hornets v Washington Wizards Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Perhaps the most popular player among this list among fans, I imagine some are surprised to even see him being considered. However, the team have just drafted JT Thor, a longer more defensive minded player who’s three point shooting likely projects to be better than McDaniels. Despite Thor getting thrown into the deep end in Summer League with little practice time due to the NBA moratorium he impressed. I had Thor ranked as a first round prospect at 28th on my board, despite only just turning 19 and being 4 years younger than McDaniels I think he could provide real competition with McDaniels for playing time, does the team have need for both Thor and McDaniels long term?

On the flip side McDaniels did show some promise as a potential rotation player last season while filling in for the injured Hayward, post all star break he averaged 9ppg 4rpg 1.5apg 0.5blk 0.9stl in 23mpg while shooting 48% from the field and 35% from three. His -11.2 net rating per cleaning the glass was one of the worst on/off numbers in the league, but that doesn’t capture the team context with no LaMelo, Cody Martin, Graham and PJ for the majority of that stretch, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to stay competitive.

Being honest the only reason I have considered him as there’s a slim chance his guarantee date has been pushed back and I wanted to cover all the basis. Overall, I think McDaniels is most likely safe from being cut, his development trajectory has been steady over the past two seasons, not to mention the team has an additional year of control with the team option for 22-23 season. Long switchable wings who can play multiple positions and shoot threes like Jalen has flashed generally are useful guys to keep around. However, if JT Thor significantly outplays him in training camp and some of the other players on this list play well, he could drop into the danger zone.

Nick Richards

G League Ignite v Greensboro Swarm Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Looking at traditional NBA stats is worthless with Richards who didn’t play an NBA minute that wasn’t garbage time, so we need to dig a little deeper. Richards had a strong G League bubble during the 20-21 season averaging 17 points 10 rebounds 3 blocks in 26 mpg, however he was heavily featured on offense and given free reign to expand his game in ways he will unlikely be able to do in the NBA. During the 2021 summer league he played a much more traditional role more akin to his likely NBA future but struggled to impact the game with meagre averages of 7 points 5 rebounds 1 block in 20mpg. Can he develop into being a three point shooter? Unlikely, the stroke looked okay in the g-League where he hit 50% of his threes albeit on only 1.6 attempts per game, and let me tell you he was WIDE open. In Summer League he didn’t hit one but only had two attempts across his four games.

If you’re a pessimist you look that Nick turns 24 in November, meaning his days of being counted as a “Young player” are likely behind him. An optimist might take a rosier view that he only started playing when he was 14 or 15 years old in Jamaica and was late to the game, so his development arc might be a little later than most prospects. Either way, the development opportunities for Richards since being drafted have been less than ideal, with such a packed schedule and limited G-League opportunities last year he has spent most of the past 18 months working out against assistant coaches and video coordinators.

Ultimately, Nick Richards looks to be projected as the 4th or 5th center on the depth chart for a second season in a row. Yes I can hear the Vernon Carey Jr sceptics shouting in the back “But Vern doesn’t protect the rim, defensive rebound or shoot it”. This might be correct as of now, but Carey is 3 years younger than Richards, was signed to the most guaranteed money of any 2nd round contract in the 2020 draft and has a much higher offensive ceiling which he flashed in the G League bubbel, summer league and his 21 point game against the Nets last year. Ultimately, Does any team in the league need 5 centers on its roster? The answer is no, Richards path to making the roster is outplaying Carey Jr in training camp or Kai Jones showing he’s nowhere near ready to play center, both of these are feasible scenarios and would end up with him likely making the roster.

Wes Iwundu

Orlando Magic v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Probably the most unknown name on this list, Iwundu was acquired as part of the Devonte Graham S&T this off-season and came as somewhat of a surprise as he was not reported in the original deal. In terms of position Iwundu projects to play both shooting guard and small forward, but he’s unlikely to crack the rotation and looks to be battling with Cody Martin for the back-end rotation spot.

Iwundu (26) was a late second round pick in the 2017 draft for Orlando, after three years with the Magic he was released and signed a 2 year $3.5 million dollar deal with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2020 off-season. However, after failing to make the team’s rotation Iwundu was traded to New Orleans at the deadline as part of the JJ Reddick trade. The theory of Wes Iwundu is a defensive minded wing who can hit threes, the exact kind of player the New Orleans Pelicans needed last year who ranked 23rd in defense and 28th in three point shooting. So why did Wes Iwundu play in only 16/29 games and just 219 minutes for New Orleans? Maybe because Iwundu isn’t actually a three point shooter (Career 29% from 241 attempts) and hasn’t shown to be difference maker defensively, at least not enough to make up for his shortcomings on offense.

The big question was, did Charlotte push to include Iwundu in the S&T or was it forced upon them as part of the deal? If it’s the former then you can almost guarantee he makes the roster as the team acquired him for a reason, if it’s the latter then he’s almost certain to be fighting for his spot. The rest of the players on this list are well known by Charlotte’s front office, they have drafted and developed them over the past 2-3 years. Iwundu is a complete unknown, will he buy into the culture? Does he fit the Hornets style of play? Maybe, we simply at this point don’t know and neither do the coach staff, he will have more ground to make up compared to his peers in terms of making his mark on the team, he has a lot more to prove despite having more NBA experience that most others on this list.

Cody Martin

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Could Charlotte go from being “Fully Martinized” to “Never Martinized”? Possibly, after his twin brother Caleb was waived earlier this summer Cody will be hoping the same doesn’t happen to him. Despite only being a third year player the 21-22 season will be Cody’s age 25 season, after an abysmal start to last season in which Cody was simply unplayable, he rounded into form later in the year when the opportunity presented itself in the form of injuries to Hayward, Graham and Malik Monk. During a 9 game run in April where he started 7 games Cody averaged 5.7ppg 6.1rpg 3.2apg 1.7apg 0.4blk giving the team a defensive spark and helping the rebounding issue which had plagued the team all season. Cody unfortunately severely sprained an ankle which ended his season, head coach James Borrego praised the recent play of Cody saying he was playing the best basketball of his career before the injury.

Defense has never been the issue for Cody, he rebounds well, plays hard, draws charges and really gets into the ball often picking up full court. However, offensively it’s been a rough ride, he’s just about okay at finishing around the basket averaging 63% on shots in the paint and he does a good job getting there with 50% of his shots coming at the rim. However, in the past two seasons he has shot just 29% outside the restricted area, being an offensive liability, including just 24% on corner threes which is gut-wrenchingly bad. We must not forget the off the bounce play-making flashes which we have seen from Martin which at least gives him one more perimeter skill to impact the game. Could a Bruce Brown role with the Nets work for Cody? Playing in the dunker spot, screening for guards and making plays out the short role, I’d be really interested to see him in that role.

Verdict

At this moment in time if I had to put money on it I would say Iwundu is most likely to be waived, but there’s A LOT to play for in training camp and pre-season so this could very well change. McDaniels was always the strongest out of this group, Richards is definitely in the mix but I think the team will want to give him the benefit of the doubt with the poor development environment he inherited due to the pandemic and give him a full season with the Greensboro swarm. It then came down to Cody Martin and Wes Iwundu, the reason I selected Iwundu as the odd man out was, I don’t think he’s a better defender or playmaker than Cody Martin. Having two non-shooting wings as backups makes little sense, so give me the guy the Hornets have drafted and developed over the past two years who can also play more positions and give you a higher level of defense, he’s also a year younger for what it’s worth.