Charlotte Hornets

Hornets mailbag: Dwight Howard an All-Star? Kemba a top-10 point guard?

Last time center Dwight Howard was an All-Star was the winter of 2014, as a Houston Rocket.
Last time center Dwight Howard was an All-Star was the winter of 2014, as a Houston Rocket. AP

Based on his comments on Twitter and elsewhere, eight-time NBA All-Star Dwight Howard feels he’s been written off of late by some fans and media.

Howard looks like a future Hall of Famer, but the Atlanta Hawks dumped him after a single season playing in his hometown. The Hawks traded him to the Charlotte Hornets for Marco Belinelli and an awful contract for Miles Plumlee. What the Hawks accepted demonstrates there wasn’t much of a market for the first overall pick in the 2004 draft.

Howard maintains he’s fired up about this fresh start in Charlotte. Could that translate into Howard being selected to the 2018 All-Star Game?

That’s one of the questions Hornets fans posed in this week’s mailbag:

Q. Will Howard be an All-Star again, playing with Nic Batum and Kemba Walker, such good pick-and-roll players?

A. Howard was last an All-Star in the 2013-14 season, playing for the Houston Rockets. That season he averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 shots blocked. Last season, Howard’s rebounds were comparable, but he averaged about five fewer points per game.

Will Howard replicate those 2013-14 numbers? I doubt it, and looking to score that much might not be how Howard could best help the Hornets. It’s true Howard should benefit from Walker’s and Batum’s abilities as pick-and-roll ballhandlers. More importantly, the Hornets need him to be a big-time rim-protector; in his prime he averaged nearly three blocks per game.

Regarding the All-Star Game, remember the NBA no longer distinguishes centers from other frontcourt players in the balloting. There was no true center on the East squad in 2017.

Q. Will we see experimental lineups featuring Cody (Zeller) and Dwight?

A. Coach Steve Clifford believes Zeller can play power forward, so that’s possible. Frankly, I think the best thing for Zeller is to play the vast majority of his minutes at center. The trend in the NBA is to have power forwards with the shooting range to stretch defenses. Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky are better suited to that description than Zeller.

I think Zeller will have an advantage over most backup centers. Barring injury, leave him to what he does best.

Q. Do you think Walker and (Malik) Monk could start together, either this season or next?

A. Unless injuries blow up the roster, I’d be very surprised if Monk starts as a rookie. As gifted a natural scorer as he is, he has an awful lot to learn about NBA defense. Specific to pairing with Walker, that’s a very small backcourt (Kemba 6-1, Monk 6-3) by NBA standards. The frontcourt players would give up lots of fouls to compensate for that lack of size.

Q. Why do we care about Julyan Stone so much? Seems like there are better options out there.

A. It looks like the Hornets will sign Stone later this week to be their third point guard. It took weeks for Stone’s agent to negotiate a release from Stone’s contract with an Italian team. So there’s been more attention to this situation than a third point-guard signing would normally draw.

Stone is 6-6, which means he can play either point or shooting guard. You want versatility at the end of your bench. At 28, having played overseas and in the G-League, he doesn’t figure to have an exaggerated opinion of himself. You want that third point guard to stay ready, but not complain if he plays little.

Also, with the Hornets nearing the luxury tax threshold, that slot needed to be a veteran-minimum type of salary.

Q. Clifford’s lineups have been predictable and rigid. Why is he not more creative?

A. I don’t agree that “rigid” describes Clifford’s coaching style. As far as creativity, he’s used Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to guard every position from point guard to power forward.

Clifford has some imperatives, such as minimizing fouls and turnovers. If you can’t play with self-discipline or if you’re a slow learner, you probably won’t do well on his teams. I don’t equate that to rigid.

Q. Where would you rank Kemba among top point guards in the league?

A. I’d put Walker in the vicinity of 10. If you consider James Harden a point guard, then some order of the following would rank ahead of him:

Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

The next plateau would be some mix of Walker, Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, Jeff Teague and Eric Bledsoe.

Q. Will Stephen Silas have an NBA head-coaching job somewhere in the next two years?

A. With Patrick Ewing now Georgetown’s coach, Silas is the Hornets’ lead assistant. Silas was a finalist in Houston in the spring of 2016 before the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni.

I don’t know whether Silas is currently on teams’ short lists in the event of coaching changes. I do know he’s smart (an Ivy Leaguer at Brown), highly organized and has the right personality and work ethic (ask Steph Curry from Silas’ time with the Warriors).

Q. With the schedule out, when will the Hornets put single-game tickets on sale?

A. Sometime mid- to late-September. Until then, only way to secure tickets is through one of the Hornets’ multi-game plans.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell