Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets questions: Parker’s minutes, Hernangomez’s role and should media care what players think?

Charlotte Hornets point guard depth

Hornets coach James Borrego on how Tony Parker’s return and acquisition of Shelvin Mack changes the point guard mix.
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Hornets coach James Borrego on how Tony Parker’s return and acquisition of Shelvin Mack changes the point guard mix.

If you had told me this in July, I would have laughed, but I thoroughly believe it now:

Veteran point guard Tony Parker is second only to Kemba Walker as the Charlotte Hornet this team could least afford to lose the rest of the season.

It’s for a spectrum of reasons: Parker’s poise, his wisdom, his experience, his ability to keep the second unit organized, and his value closing out games alongside Walker as a two-point guard backcourt.

The Hornets have a team option for next season in the contract Parker signed in July, but Parker hasn’t said whether he intends to play a 19th NBA season. He would sure be welcomed back. As general manager Mitch Kupchak said recently, Parker has exceeded all the team’s expectations.

Parker’s value, and how coach James Borrego will use him in a playoff chase, leads this week’s fan questions in a Hornets mailbag:

Q. I went to the Nets game and Parker played a lot: Second game of a back-to-back and he played 30 minutes, including some long stretches. Does Saturday reflect a change in his usage or was that an isolated event?

A. Somewhat both. I certainly don’t see Parker regularly playing anything close to 30 minutes the rest of the season, but if he demonstrates he can handle it physically, I expect Borrego to lean on him more in this playoff hunt.

That partially reflects how much they need his presence (226 career playoff games). But Borrego also has noted that Parker has additionally recovered from the quadriceps tendon rupture that threatened his career two springs ago. Early in the season, Borrego seldom played Parker for more than five-minutes stints. Now those stints often stretch to 6-to-8 minutes. That adds up to more total playing time.

Q. Considering Walker plays so well with another point guard, is there a chance the Hornets draft a point guard to eventually start with him?

A. That is really two questions in one. I always see merit in drafting point guards; I thought the Hornets should have kept the rights to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on draft night, but it was a pre-arranged trade to the Los Angeles Clippers (the Hornets got Miles Bridges and two second-round picks).

I think Borrego, like a lot of NBA coaches, sees closing games with two point guards as a good tactic if the right personnel is available; that gives the opposing defense a lot to counter, since the offense can then be initiated from either side of the floor. However — and this is a big however — Kemba shouldn’t be viewed as a shooting guard or even a combo guard. He’s a point guard who doesn’t mind playing part-time off the ball.

Q. Borrego has used a “small-ball” lineup with Marvin Williams at center. With the recent lineup change (making Bridges a starter and sending Jeremy Lamb to the second unit), do you think Borrego will keep trying that or even use Williams more at center?

A. I think Williams has played more at center this season than I ever would have imagined, and it’s worked out OK. It is very on-brand for Borrego to try unorthodox things, partially to make the other coach adjust to him. Borrego has told me he doesn’t want to be reactionary as a coach. I think experimenting with Williams at center is a good example of how philosophically he approaches this job.

I don’t think you will see either a big uptick or big down-tick on Williams at center. It’s one of those things you try night-to-night and adjust based on results. Bridges playing more isn’t greatly material to Williams at center.

Q. Do you think Willy Hernangomez is in the Hornets’ future plans? He’s faded out of the rotation and not lived up to the hype coming into the season.

A. Hernangomez had played in only one of the previous eight games. Borrego is going with Bismack Biyombo (or Williams) at center behind Cody Zeller.

Do I think this is the end of Hernangomez as a Hornets prospect? No. I think young big men with potential get plenty of extra chances to prove themselves. At worst, Hernangomez has played well enough this season that he’d be a commodity next summer when the Hornets front office talks potential trades.

Q. Whose shot has gotten better since being drafted: Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?

A. Depends on whether you mean “Whose shot is better right now?” or “Whose shot has improved the most?” I’d probably take Zeller over MKG narrowly in a shooting contest of jumpers 20 feet from the rim. However, MKG has probably come further, as far as how awful his jump shot looked as a rookie to now.

Q. Does bouncing between Charlotte (the Hornets) and Greensboro (the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Swarm) have any positive impact on Devonte Graham’s and Dwayne Bacon’s development? Is there a purpose in them having big scoring games with the Swarm, but can’t get into Hornets’ rotation?

A. Graham says so. He has frequently mentioned that games with the Swarm allow him to apply things he sees in NBA games and pointers he gets from Parker and Walker.

I notice when Graham or Bacon posts big numbers with the Swarm, and I pass it on to the fans. However, I view G-League statistics like I view summer-league stats: An indication of progress, but don’t equate that to compelling evidence they should play in front of others in Charlotte right now.

Q. What’s it like going into a post-game press conference or locker room after a tough loss? Do you feel you have to watch what you ask, to not tick off the coach and/or players?

A. I don’t worry about friction with players or coaches. I’ve done this a long time and I have a reputation for being fair and treating those I cover with respect. So when tough questions are appropriate to the situation, I don’t really care if that makes others uncomfortable or annoyed.