While the Hornets roster continues to get rounded out after a slow offseason devoid of big moves, there are still a number of gaps to fill. Let’s take a look at the best remaining free agents who could provide some immediate help in Charlotte. But first, here are the key players at each position the Hornets will rely on this year:
Guards - LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, James Bouknight
Wings - Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels, Kai Jones, Miles Bridges (if he plays this season)
Bigs - PJ Washington, Mason Plumlee, Mark Williams, Nick Richards, JT Thor
While as Hornets fans we can talk ourselves into this being a young team on the rise, an objective view of the Hornets roster is it’s pretty weak outside of the starting front court of LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. I’m assuming Miles Bridges isn’t playing this year.
Charlotte needs a proven guard to pair with Ball and Rozier. We can hope James Bouknight takes a step forward in Year 2 but his rookie season wasn’t very promising. The Hornets wings have a lot of quantity while lacking quality, but overall should be “good enough” this year, especially if Gordon Hayward can stay healthy. Charlotte’s bigs also need some help as it will probably take time for Mark Williams to make an impact.
So, the priorities are a backup guard and another big man. We’ll cover the guards in this column. Based on the players currently available on the NBA’s Free Agent Tracker, here are the guards the Hornets should target.
2021-22 stats: 64 G, 28.7 MIN, 13.5 PTS, 3.3 REB, 4.6 AST, 43.1% FG, 34.4% 3PT
The 6-foot-3 veteran is about to turn 29 and has always been a capable scorer and distributor. He split time last year between the Celtics and Rockets and averaged over 13 points and four assists per game. His advanced stats were right near league averages with a 13.0 PER and VORP of zero. He had averaged at least 15 points per game in each of the five seasons before last year so he can definitely score, and the Hornets second unit needs that.
While Schorder can score and set up his teammates on offense, he’s not a lockdown defender. Last year per ESPN his defensive Real Plus/Minus of -2.02 ranked 41 of 91 point guards, so he’s not great but he’s not a disaster, either.
Of all remaining free agent guards, Schroder’s my top choice. He’s a proven NBA quantity still in the tail end of his prime who would bring instant offense to the Hornets second unit.
2021-22 stats: 62 G, 22.7 MIN, 6.4 PTS, 2.2 REB, 0.8 AST, 42.3% FG, 39.0% 3PT
The 12-year veteran is about the most boring, safe option among guards still available on the market. His calling card is his defense and 3-point shooting, and he does them both well. Bradley’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus of 1.25 last year ranked 20th of 91 point guards. He’s a career 36.5% 3-point shooter and hit 39.0% of his 3s last year while averaging 3.4 attempts per game. His advanced stats of a 7.8 PER and -0.6 VORP last year were pretty bad, but he’s more of a specialist than boasting an all-around game.
At 31 years old Bradley’s by no means over the hill. He’s the type of smart, steady veteran who knows his role and consistently gets the job done. He’s not going to score 25 points off the bench and singlehandedly win some games, but he’s not going to lose them, either. New head coach Steve Clifford could probably plug Bradley into defensive schemes where he could disrupt the opposing team’s second unit.
Dennis Smith, Jr.
2021-22 stats: 37 G, 17.2 MIN, 5.6 PTS, 2.4 REB, 3.6 AST, 41.8% FG, 22.2% 3PT
The No. 9 pick in the 2017 draft by the Dallas Mavericks has seen his career go in the wrong direction in recent years. As a rookie in 2017-18 he averaged an impressive 15.2 points and 5.2 assists per game then followed that up the next season with 13.6 points and 4.8 assists. But in the three years since then he has dealt with a host of injuries and has been relegated to a bench role playing around 17 minutes per game, usually averaging about six points and three assists per outing.
Smith flashed potential early in his career and is still just 24 years old, so if he’s healthy there’s a decent chance he could contribute. Interestingly, he has three career triple doubles with the most recent one coming in 2021 with the Pistons when he dropped 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. When healthy he has flashed tantalizing potential as a versatile, explosive athlete. There’s probably a reason why he has played for four teams in five seasons, but he could be worth taking a gamble on.
Which player would be the best fit in Charlotte?
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Dennis Smith, Jr.