I think we’re about to see something this Charlotte Hornets preseason that will differentiate it from the previous two:
Brisk competition for minutes. And specifically at power forward and shooting guard.
You might ask, “Shouldn’t that always be the case?” and I’d understand that sentiment. The best way to keep people on their toes is via competition.
The counter-argument to that is if you’ve constructed a roster at the NBA level, and you don’t at least have a strong notion who should start before a ball is bounced, is that really a plan?
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This preseason is different. The Hornets are coming off a disappointing 33-49 season in which they lost their last six games. The front office focused on two flaws – a lack of height and deficient 3-point shooting. Seven new players were acquired, nearly half the maximum 15 roster spots. There was a mandate for change.
You might question that considering four of five starting spots already seem foregone conclusions. Point guard Kemba Walker, shooting guard Nicolas Batum, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Al Jefferson all figure to get the nod as starters.
But the Hornets pursued better depth over the summer, and that means playing time is more up for grabs.
Specifically, I think the competition between Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky at power forward will be interesting, regardless of who starts the opener. This will be more about minutes distribution and defining roles.
Zeller was chosen fourth overall in the 2013 draft. He contributed in his second NBA season, averaging 7.6 points and 5.8 rebounds and starting 45 games, roughly half the regular season.
But Zeller still needs to get stronger and, despite how he was billed coming out of Indiana, he’s never been a 3-point threat. Not once in 144 game appearances has Zeller attempted an NBA 3-pointer, and that is not how coach Steve Clifford wants to play.
Clifford wants to play “one-in, four-out,” NBA terminology for surrounding Jefferson with four 3-point threats. The Hornets aren’t going to get many 3s from Kidd-Gilchrist, so it’s important the power forward can make a corner 3-pointer to spread the floor.
Kaminsky has that skill. He demonstrated at Orlando summer league his range extends outside the NBA 3-point line. He’s also a good passer and ball handler, which will allow him to feed Jefferson in the post.
That’s not to say Kaminsky, the ninth pick in June’s draft, is close to a finished product. Typical of rookies, he’s not strong enough just yet to hold his ground physically against veterans. But he brings skills to his position that differentiate him from Zeller and veteran Marvin Williams. That should get him into the rotation sooner than later.
The other spot that should promote strong competition is the first wing player off the bench. Kidd-Gilchrist will get abundant minutes as the Hornets’ top defender. Batum, acquired in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, will be a focal point of the offense.
Someone else will get 20 to 25 minutes per game at shooting guard or small forward. There are abundant options.
Jeremy Lamb, acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder, is looking to re-ignite his career. Troy Daniels and P.J. Hairston are both looking for minutes. Free-agent signing Jeremy Lin might play some shooting guard in addition to backing up Walker at the point.
All these guys are on the roster in an attempt to address the Hornets’ biggest flaw: Charlotte’s 3-point percentage – 31.8 percent – was worst in the NBA last season.
It’s tough to see the Hornets improving much without the 3-point percentage rising. Teams could crowd Jefferson in the lane without much fear of other Hornets beating them with 3s.
So anyone who can consistently make 3s figures to be rewarded with minutes. Let the shoot-off begin.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell