Charlotte Hornets

Were there better options at point guard than Charlotte Hornets signed?

The Charlotte Hornets came to terms with 6-foot-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams early in the NBA’s free-agent period in July.
The Charlotte Hornets came to terms with 6-foot-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams early in the NBA’s free-agent period in July. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Hornets’ point-guard situation isn’t ideal behind starter Kemba Walker. Backup Michael Carter-Williams had platelet-rich plasma procedures on both knees. Third-stringer Julyan Stone hasn’t played in the NBA since 2014.

Some fans are curious why general manager Rich Cho went with Carter-Williams and Stone when other free-agent point guards, such as Mario Chalmers or Tyler Ennis, were also free agents.

I get why a familiar name like Chalmers sounds appealing. I think to put the signings of Carter-Williams and Stone in context, you have to consider two factors: fit with the roster and salary-cap limitations. Some answers to questions posed by Hornets fans via Twitter:

Carter-Williams2
Michael Carter-Williams (7), here playing for the Chicago Bulls, will back up Kemba Walker at point guard with the Charlotte Hornets. Mary Altaffer AP

Q. What was the thought process in signing Carter-Williams and Stone when seemingly better options were available for the same money?

A. Some of this has to do with the Hornets using the 11th pick in June to select Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk. It very much has to do with managing a payroll that inched close to the luxury-tax threshold of about $119 million.

Monk is a gifted scorer. He is also undersized for his NBA position at 6-3, inexperienced (one season of college basketball) and wasn’t a particularly strong defender for the Wildcats. The logical reaction to that circumstance is to add big point guards who are strong defenders.

Carter-Williams and Stone are both 6-6, and while Carter-Williams hasn’t done much since being named Rookie of the Year in 2014, he’s an above-average defender.

Hornets general manager Rich Cho didn’t have much financial flexibility once the trade for Dwight Howard was completed. Carter-Williams quickly agreed to a one season, $2.7 million contract in July. Nailing down the backup spot quickly made sense, rather than trolling around the free-agent list for months.

Stone can play either guard spot. He has the experience to jump into a bigger role if injuries occur, but he doesn’t have false expectations for playing time. That’s a good fit for a third point.

Q. How is our No. 1 pick? Ready to roll for the season opener?

A. Monk missed a lot of time – including all of Orlando Summer League – with an ankle injury. That has set him back in conditioning, coach Steve Clifford said at a recent media luncheon.

I have no reason to think Monk will be unavailable when the season begins in October. How much or little he plays early is still an open question. Clifford won’t play him exclusively because he was a lottery pick; Monk must earn his minutes.

Q. Should Nic Batum feel like his starting job is in jeopardy, with Jeremy Lamb impressing (Clifford) and the additions of (rookies) Monk and (Dwayne) Bacon?

A. There’s no question Lamb has had a strong offseason that caught the coaching staff’s attention. However, I doubt that makes him a candidate to start, particularly over Batum. It would be that much more of a reach for Monk or Bacon to start this coming season.

Batum shot poorly last season (40 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range), but he still demonstrated versatility, averaging 15.1 points, 5.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds. They need better from Batum, but I certainly don’t equate that to him not starting; they need his playmaking to complement Walker.

Q. Will Walker be forced to play big minutes again? Last season he looked worn down in February, March and April.

A. I agree that Walker looked fatigued often after All-Star break, as the Hornets tried to make up ground to qualify for the playoffs. However, his minutes per game were not up.

Walker averaged 34.7 minutes, playing in 79 of 81 games. Each of his previous four seasons, he averaged about 35 minutes per game.

I think what you noticed was how hard it was for the Hornets to operate without Walker on the court, particularly after Ramon Sessions’ knee injury in February.

The new Charlotte Hornets center pledges $100,000 toward establishing a Boys and Girls Club at the school.

Q. Which roles do you think will create the most competition on this roster?

A. Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky at power forward and Howard and Cody Zeller at center.

Clifford plans to start Williams and Howard, but that doesn’t mean roles have been settled. The Hornets need a big season from Kaminsky, particularly as a scorer off the bench. Zeller did nothing to lose his starting spot; that’s more about Howard’s potential defensive impact.

It’s quite possible, with Howard’s history of poor foul shooting, that Zeller will play in close fourth quarters.

Q. Do you think the Hornets have solved their fourth-quarter scoring problems with their off-season moves?

A. The Hornets had a deficit in fourth-quarter points (minus-0.3 per game), but that wasn’t necessarily an offensive flaw. They averaged 25.7 points in the fourth quarter, right in the middle of a 30-team NBA.

The problem was how fragile a lead was when Clifford had to turn to the second unit. Depth was bad. Adding Monk is an offensive upgrade and Lamb’s strong summer suggests a bigger role. But I think the most important difference will be Zeller playing so many minutes against the opposing team’s backup center. As well as Zeller sets screens and finishes at the rim, he should have a significant advantage.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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