Hornets lose starting center Cody Zeller to fractured hand

Associated Press

While Kemba Walker is the star in Charlotte, Cody Zeller plays a crucial, stabilizing role for the team at center. The Hornets outscore opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Zeller is on the court, with most of his advantage coming on the offensive end where he efficiently scores around the rim.

Now the Hornets are going to have to get by without him for a while, Zeller has suffered a fracture to his right hand, his shooting hand. The injury happened Monday against the Magic, and there are not a lot of details. There is no timetable for his return, but he’s going to miss some time.

Zeller has averaged 9.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. However, that sells short the steadying influence he has on the roster.

Zeller’s absence is difficult for first-year coach James Borrego because he doesn’t have a substitute who has a similar skill set. Expect Willy Hernangomez to get the start, and the Hornets likely will play more Bismack Biyombo and Frank Kaminsky. If the Hornets need offense, Borrego can lean on Kaminski more (but he struggles defensively), while if the Hornets just need stops maybe Biyombo gets more run. Hernangomez likely gets the most time just because he’s more solid on both ends.

Charlotte is a .500 team (18-18) hanging onto a playoff spot in the East (currently the six seed), but a slide with Zeller out could be difficult to recover from when he returns. Charlotte has played the second easiest schedule in the NBA so far and as that changes it will be tougher and tougher to climb out of any holes.