How willing is new Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard, when it comes to blending into the mix of his new teammates?
In particular, will he embrace the pick-and-roll offense point guard Kemba Walker plays so well? Will he expect numerous post-ups? Will the ball move smoothly from player-to-player or will it “stick” – the NBA term for the ball in one player’s hands too long?
That was one of the questions Hornets fans asked in this edition of the mailbag:
Q. Do you think Howard will play more pick-and-roll with Walker, or will he post up most of the time?
A. Walker is this team’s best player and very adept at pick-and-roll offense. I think Howard should go with the flow on that. There’s no question Cody Zeller will be in plenty of P-Rs (he sets precise picks). Hornets coach Steve Clifford compliments Howard on what a savvy, knowledgeable player he is; getting in tune with what Walker does best would be the savvy choice.
Q. Do you think Treveon Graham and Johnny O’Bryant are locks to make the roster because of the salary cap?
A. Good question because, as you imply, the Hornets don’t have much payroll flexibility as they inch toward (general manager’s Rich Cho’s term, and a good description) the number where the Hornets would have to pay luxury tax ($119.266 million for each team).
I would not say either Graham or O’Bryant is a “lock” to make the regular-season roster because eventually more experienced players might settle for a veteran-minimum offer as training camps approach. However, I think Graham played so well in Orlando summer league that he’d get every opportunity to make this team in October. O’Bryant didn’t perform as consistently well in Orlando as Graham, but the Hornets do like him.
Q. Do you believe Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot can be different next season?
A. A substantial difference, I doubt it.
Players have improved their shooting after they reach the NBA (as opposed to rebounding, where if you were unproductive in college that typically carries over to the pros). However, there was so much wrong with MKG’s shot coming out of that one season at Kentucky. It’s a shame no one succeeded in improving his technique as a teenager.
The two shoulder surgeries two seasons ago interrupted any progress with his jump shot. Last season he was 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Not only is that a terrible percentage, but it means he averaged one 3-point attempt for every nine games played. I saw Hornets coach Steve Clifford working with MKG on his back-to-the-basket post moves a couple of weeks ago. Maybe running sets with him closer to the basket could make him more of a factor offensively.
Q. Is Kidd-Gilchrist not considered the Hornets’ sixth big man? He can play power forward.
A. Yes, Kidd-Gilchrist can play power forward in certain matchups, and I suspect we’ll see that next season, particularly with so many teams choosing to play small for portions of games.
That could be a way for the Hornets to justify keeping Graham over a third center. Clifford has traditionally wanted insurance against injury at center and point guard, since those positions are harder to fill mid-season, but sometimes you have to go with best option, as opposed to optimum position.
Q. What position do you think the Hornets will be at the end of the regular season?
A. Fifth, sixth or seventh seed would be my guess this far out from training camp.
Cleveland and Boston are still clearly the elites in the East for now. Regarding the Celtics, I think Duke’s Jayson Tatum has huge potential, and Gordon Hayward will take immediate pressure off point guard Isaiah Thomas. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are the standard in the East so long as LeBron James stays there.
I see the next tier as some mix of Washington, Milwaukee and Toronto. After that, another tier that would include Miami, Charlotte and perhaps Philadelphia or Detroit. I really like the Pistons adding Avery Bradley.
Q. Does Graham have a legitimate shot at taking the backup small forward spot away from Jeremy Lamb?
A. Interesting topic because Lamb and Graham are so different. Lamb is a shooter/scorer and can be a spectacular finisher at the rim with his leaping ability. Graham is clearly the better defender and could play some power forward as well.
I could see a situation where first small forward off the bench changes from game to game, relative to each matchup with the opposing roster.
Q. Do you see the Hornets going with a developmental point guard, like (former North Carolina player) Marcus Paige, or a more experienced player as third point?
A. I think if they go the developmental route, then they should continue with the time they have invested in Briante Weber. But point guard is such a crucial position that I’d guess Clifford would be more comfortable finding an experienced third option.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell