Charlotte Hornets

Dwight Howard coming off the bench with Charlotte Hornets? Sounds like a non-starter

New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has played only one of his 954 career NBA games as a non-starter.
New Charlotte Hornets center Dwight Howard has played only one of his 954 career NBA games as a non-starter. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Based on the questions I received on Twitter for this week’s Charlotte Hornets mailbag, there’s a strong curiosity about whether center Dwight Howard might be better used off the bench than as a starter.

I got that topic several ways when I solicited questions over the weekend. I get why, since center Cody Zeller has established himself at that position and Howard has already played 13 seasons.

So, let’s address that issue off the top:

Q. Am I crazy for thinking Howard coming off the bench could be an intriguing idea? Could he handle it?

A. I looked it up on Basketball Reference (which is a great research site): Howard has started 953 of the 954 regular-season games he has played, since entering the NBA as the No. 1 overall pick in 2004.

I think circumstance (Howard’s comfort zone) and economics (the guy will make more than $23 million a season as a Hornet) say the wise thing is to start him. When Zeller moved into the starting role (when Al Jefferson was hurt), he said it wasn’t a big deal whether he started or came off the bench. I realize that was two seasons ago, but Zeller seems like an adaptive guy. He should enjoy the advantage he’ll have over most of the NBA’s backup centers. He’s on a new contract extension, so he should be content.

Also, keep in mind who starts and who finishes aren’t necessarily the same thing. With Howard’s history of poor foul shooting, I anticipate Zeller playing plenty in the fourth quarter.

Q. Do you think the Hornets will bring in another veteran player before the season? If so, is a Spencer Hawes reunion a possibility?

A. I would say it’s unlikely the Hornets would add another guaranteed contract before training camp starts Sept. 26, and more unlikely the Hornets would sign Hawes.

The Hornets are inching toward the luxury tax (about $119 million), and owner Michael Jordan would need a compelling reason to justify crossing that line. As for Hawes, I don’t know that by the end the Hornets were particularly enthused about his motivation. If Hawes ended up back here, I would guess it would have to be in reaction to an injury to a center.

Q. Would Jordan ever consider going into the luxury tax to bring in a player to complement Kemba (Walker)? I feel like we are wasting (Walker’s) prime.

A. Jordan has indicated in the past he can’t justify being a tax payer unless the Hornets are in position to contend for more than the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t jump beyond the tax threshold if something was available – a free-agent signing or a trade – that would significantly move the needle. This team was bold in June when it traded for Howard. We have no idea whether that will work out, but I do think it demonstrates Jordan isn’t timid about choices to improve this team’s talent.

Q. Any chance (rookie Malik) Monk cracks the starting five, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist coming off the bench?

A. If you mean this coming season, I’d be very surprised if Monk were to start, barring a significant injury situation. A 6-foot-3 shooting guard, Monk would make the Hornets starters smaller and lesser defensively. Hornets coach Steve Clifford generally tries to start games with his best defensive combination on the floor.

Q. How much point guard do you expect to see Monk play this season?

A. That is definitely something I anticipate the Hornets experimenting with in preseason exhibitions. They wanted to use Monk some at the point in summer league, but he was held out of Orlando in July with an ankle injury.

Monk says he has the skills to play some point. If that’s so, it would definitely benefit him, since he’s somewhat undersized for an NBA shooting guard. Would I expect him to play that position in front of Michael Carter-Williams? No.

Q. How much of a concern is 3-point shooting?

A. According to nba.com, the Hornets finished 18th among 30 teams in 3-point percentage at 35.2 percent. They were eighth in 3-point frequency; 33.6 percent of their shots came outside the arc.

I thought Nic Batum and Marvin Williams missed more open looks last season from the perimeter than they did the previous season. I don’t think those were bad shots, so much as shots that should have been made.

Monk should improve this team’s perimeter shooting. But keep in mind, when Kidd-Gilchrist and Howard are part of your core unit, you’ll be only so good outside the lane.

Q. Boston and Toronto lost a lot of depth. Are the Hornets now one of the deepest teams in the East, if the young players play well?

A. Depth was a big concern when the Hornets self-evaluated after last season’s playoff miss. The pattern was that when coach Steve Clifford had to bring in the bench, a lead was fragile both at home and on the road.

There is no question the Hornets are deeper. Rookies Monk and Dwayne Bacon look promising. The biggest improvement in the depth should be Zeller playing with the second unit.

The reserves should not be a weakness. I’ll reserve judgment how much of a strength they’ll be, in part because we haven’t seen Monk even in summer league.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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