Cody Zeller

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Hornets plan to start Dwight Howard over Cody Zeller

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In the last three seasons, the Hornets went 63-53 with Cody Zeller starting at center and 57-73 otherwise.

Charlotte plugged a major hole by acquiring a second center, Dwight Howard. But this team found a groove with Zeller starting at the position.

So, who will start this year?

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Coach Steve Clifford said Friday that his projected starters, going into training camp Sept. 26 at Spectrum Center, are Kemba Walker at point guard, Nic Batum at shooting guard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Marvin Williams at power forward and Dwight Howard at center.

This is a tricky situation.

Howard is far more accomplished than Zeller and was probably better last season. But Zeller is seven years younger. If Howard is still better, he won’t be for long.

A five-time All-NBA first-teamer, Howard is also more likely to chafe at coming off the bench. But does Clifford want to implicitly reward that? Other Hornets might especially dislike a newcomer getting preferential treatment.

Unlike Howard, Zeller can play some power forward. But Zeller is far more effective at center, to the point it might not be worth eating into Marvin Williams’ and Frank Kaminsky‘s minutes at power forward. (Don’t even start on Williams playing small forward.)

There’s no easy answer, but it probably makes sense to give Howard the first crack at starting. Given Howard’s free-throw issues, Zeller might finish games. That could be a workable compromise.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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Later Monday night, one of Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, or Kawhi Leonard will be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. (The smart money is on Green to win, but you can make a legitimate case for any of the three.)

Before that award is handed out, the NBA released its All-Defensive teams.

Not a lot of surprises here, especially on the first team. Green, Gobert, and Leonard are the top three vote getters for DPOY, so they were going to make this team, and since this team is positionally tied that meant two guards had to join them. (Each team has to have two guards, two forwards, and one center, and the voters have to vote that way.) Chris Paul and Patrick Beverley made that cut. The ballots were cast by 100 members of the NBA media (full disclosure I had a vote). A full list of who voted for whom will be made public on Tuesday by the NBA.

The biggest surprise: No LeBron James. Good defenders such as Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, and Klay Thompson also didn’t make the cut.

Here’s who made the All-Defensive teams.

2016-17 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE FIRST TEAM

Position, Player, Team, Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Forward Draymond Green, Golden State, 198
Center Rudy Gobert, Utah, 196
Forward Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio, 192
Guard Chris Paul, LA Clippers, 140
Guard Patrick Beverley, Houston, 110

2016-17 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE SECOND TEAM

Position, Player, Team, Total Points (out of 200 possible)
Guard Tony Allen, Memphis, 80
Guard Danny Green, San Antonio, 68
Center Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 58
Forward Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 53
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 35

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Avery Bradley, Boston, 46 (12); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 45 (16); John Wall, Washington, 38 (14); DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers, 35 (1); Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 35; Hassan Whiteside, Miami, 25 (1); Marcus Smart, Boston, 21 (5); Jimmy Butler, Chicago, 18; LeBron James, Cleveland, 12 (1); Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 11 (2); Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, 10 (5); Paul George, Indiana, 7; Kevin Durant, Golden State, 6; Dwight Howard, Atlanta, 6 (1); Mike Conley, Memphis, 5 (1); Jae Crowder, Boston, 5; Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 5; Wesley Matthews, Dallas, 4 (2); Stephen Curry, Golden State, 3; Andre Iguodala, Golden State, 3 (1); Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte, 3; Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, 3; P.J. Tucker, Toronto, 3; Trevor Ariza, Houston, 2; Nicolas Batum, Charlotte, 2; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 2; Eric Gordon, Houston, 2 (1); Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 2 (1); Steven Adams, Oklahoma City, 1; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland, 1; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit, 1; George Hill, Utah, 1; Serge Ibaka, Toronto, 1; Damian Lillard, Portland, 1; Luc Mbah a Moute, LA Clippers, 1; Austin Rivers, LA Clippers, 1; Isaiah Thomas, Boston, 1; Cody Zeller, Charlotte, 1.

It should be noted that Atlanta’s Millsap had as many total points as Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo for the final slot, but because the Greek Freak got seven first-team votes as opposed to zero for Millsap, Antetokounmpo wins the tie breaker. Also, Boston’s Bradley and Golden State’s Thompson had more points than Antetokounmpo, but they could only be listed as guards.

Report: Charlotte Hornets pick up option, will bring back GM Rich Cho for next season

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The Charlotte Hornets are the most unlucky team in the NBA, they have the point differential of a 42-38 team (via Basektball-Reference.com), but some ugly losses — they are 0-9 in games decided by three points or less — have them on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Kemba Walker was brilliant, but the Hornets defense regressed, and they missed the depth that Jeremy Lin and other veterans provided. When their guys were injured, specifically Cody Zeller for a stretch in the middle of the season, the Hornets couldn’t recover.

Owner Michael Jordan is apparently not laying the blame for that at the feet of GM Rich Cho. He will be back next season, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have picked up the option for next season on general manager Rich Cho’s contract, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Hornets recently activated the 2017-18 in Cho’s existing deal.

This is the right move.

The Hornets need a smart, steady hand at GM spot. Jordan, as an owner, should be able to have input but what the Hornets don’t want is him or anyone catching a few games of someone playing well in the NCAA Tournament and demanding they move him way up the draft board. Or getting involved in trade details. Jordan was as great a player as the game has ever seen, but that’s different from running a basketball organization. The franchise seems to have learned that.

The Hornets have some decisions to make this summer, but they are in a stronger position than it looks — and with a decent team — heading into the draft and free agency.

Otto Porter’s unassuming game lifting Wizards

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With his Wizards down three to the Bulls and a five-second difference between the game clock and shot clock, Otto Porter guarded Tony Snell off the ball in the corner while Aaron Brooked dribbled near half-court. Porter watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at Snell, watched Brooks, peeked back at – nothing. Snell had cut to the other side of the court, leaving Porter flat-footed.

Though Snell missed his open 3-pointer, that play two years ago – heavily Vined and immortalized on Shaqtin A Fool – might remain casual fans’ main exposure to Porter.

“Just a basketball play,” Porter said earlier this season. “Shit happens.

“It’s over with. It’s over with and moved on.”

Porter is providing plenty of reason to forget about that gaffe. But it seems nobody is noticing.

His teammate, Bradley Beal, became the popular choice to replace an injured Kevin Love on the All-Star team (a spot that ultimately went to an unhappy Carmelo Anthony). And maybe Beal deserved it. But it wasn’t a certainty Beal was even the most deserving Wizard. Despite getting minimal All-Star buzz, Porter leads Beal in Win Shares (9.3 to 8.2), Value Over Replacement Player (3.9 to 2.7) and Real Plus-Minus-based wins (10.0 to 8.5).

In fact, Porter ranks 19th in the NBA in win shares (9.2) while using just 15.0% of his teams’ possessions while on the court – an outlier combination, especially for a perimeter player. It’s just hard to make such a positive impact while controlling the ball so little. Here’s the top 30 in win shares plotted by usage:

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The latest non-center to surpass nine win shares with a sub-16 usage percentage came more than a decade ago with Shane Battier, an ace defender. Though he’s not nearly the slouch he appeared to be against Snell, Porter is no more than a solid, if unspectacular, defender.

So how does Porter help Washington so much?

Start with his outside shooting. Porter is making 43.7% of his 3-pointers this season, fourth among qualified players:

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Nearly all Porter’s 3-pointers are assisted, as he spots up around the perimeter while John Wall and Beal dictate the action. And while those star guards bring an element Porter can’t match, don’t dismiss Porter’s contributions to the symbiotic relationship.

There’s a skill in getting open, and 84% of his 3-pointers have been classified as open or wide open by NBA.com. Porter moves around the perimeter, finding the right spot to receive a pass and launch. He’s one of only eight players to make 50 above-the-break and 50 corner 3-pointers this season:

Player Above break Corner
Klay Thompson (GSW) 187-457 (40.9%) 77-176 (43.8%)
Trevor Ariza (HOU) 112-343 (32.7%) 75-187 (40.1%)
Stephen Curry (GSW) 261-641 (40.7%) 50-109 (45.9%)
CJ Miles (IND) 95-263 (36.1%) 64-125 (51.2%)
Otto Porter Jr. (WAS) 89-199 (44.7%) 59-138 (42.8%)
Kyle Korver (CLE) 100-241 (41.5%) 52-95 (54.7%)
Kevin Love (CLE) 84-231 (36.4%) 56-138 (40.6%)
Tony Snell (MIL) 86-204 (42.2%) 52-139 (37.4%)

Of that group, only Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver – commonly accepted as the NBA’s three best 3-point shooters – and Porter are drilling 40% of their shots from both locations.

Leave Porter open, and he’ll convert the 3-pointer. Cover him tightly – no easy task give his wise off-ball movement – and Wall and Beal have more room to operate.

“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Some of our sets, we put the teams at some decision to make.”

Porter is an aggressive cutter, to the point Brooks had to tell him to ease off earlier in the year, because he too often clogged the paint. But forward mostly lets the game come to him. Even Porter gets in a highlight for scoring, it’s usually because Wall made such a flashy pass.

Porter plays so much within himself, he has just 43 turnovers in 2,591 minutes this season. The current low-water mark for a player in a 2,500-minute season is 54 turnovers, by Michael Cage for the 1995-96 Cavaliers.

Nothing about Porter’s game jumps off the page. He just plays with historic efficiency.

We’ll soon see whether the league’s decision-makers notice.

Porter will become a restricted free agent this summer, and he should be coveted – even if he’s not a traditional star like Beal.

Someone has to create, and it won’t be Porter, who dribbles just 25 times per game. That’s less than Andre Drummond, a lumbering center who plays even fewer minutes per game. Wall dribbles 524 times per game.

Despite the advanced stats, there is sound reason Beal was a trendier All-Star pick than Porter. A team full of Porters would struggle to generate the open looks that real Porter thrives on. On a team full of Beals, some would initiate the offense while others spot-up in smaller, higher-efficiency roles.

But many real teams already have a high-usage scorer or two. They can’t get enough good complementary players like Porter.

A max contract – which projects to be worth more than $146 million over five years – isn’t out of the question.

That’d be a lucrative reversal for Porter, who has escaped bust labels to become a Most Improved Player candidate. A max deal would finally bring attention to Porter for something other than his defensive lowlight.

It’d also separate Porter, the No. 3 pick in 2013, from other top picks in a draft that has mostly underwhelmed.

No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett is already out of the league. No. 2 pick Victor Oladipo (four years, $84 million) and No. 4 pick Cody Zeller (four years, $56 million) previously signed extensions worth well below the max. No. 5 pick Alex Len will likely receive even less.

Porter plays such a methodical style, it’s easy to forget he’s just 23, young than most of his draft-class peers. Though his athleticism limits him some defensive matchups, his ability to play both forward positions provides versatility. He could significantly help numerous teams over his next contract.

Porter can always shop for an offer sheet, but it’s hard to see him escaping Washington. Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said he wants to keep Porter and Brooks sounds on board.

“He’s a great kid. He works hard. I like everything about him,” said Brooks, who acknowledged he didn’t fully appreciate Porter’s skills until coming to Washington.

All it takes is watching Porter closely to get on board.