JR Smith and Aaron Afflalo- Two Possible Hornets targets?
In the middle of February, just four short months ago, the Hornets shipped local fan favorite Marcus Thornton out of town partly because they were overloaded at shooting guard. Now, as the Hornets prepare for the draft and free agency, they are facing the proposition of not having any shooting guards on their roster.
Willie Green is an unrestricted free agent and the Hornets have the option of whether or not to tender Marco Belinelli. Beyond that, they have nothing, unless you consider Jarrett Jack a shooting guard (I do!). Monty Williams spent much of last season giving 35-40 minutes to one guy at the point guard, small forward, power forward, and center positions while simultaneously playing musical chairs at shooting guard. Some might say that this needs to stop for the Hornets to take the next step, but we just saw a team win an NBA title with a fringe starter at this very same position.
Can the Hornets contend with a Marco Belinelli or Willie Green starting at shooting guard? Sure, but the other pieces the Hornets get this summer better be pretty damn good (Dwight Howard good) for them to be able to get by with a bottom level shooting guard. The Hornets will make every effort to shore up this position so that the team has more balance and so Monty will not have to tinker so much with rotations. The question is whether or not the missing piece to this puzzle is out there, and perhaps more importantly, can we land him?
1. David Lighty- Ohio State
Most people hated the fact that Willie Green got playing time over Marcus Thornton, and if talent was all that mattered, those people would be right for criticizing Monty. The truth is, however, that there were some personality and attitude issues behind the scenes that the Hornets organization did an excellent job of keeping behind closed doors so as not to embarrass the young man. Why do I bring this up, why pour salt back into the wound? Because David Lighty is the anti-Marcus in this regard and that is why he might be a Hornet in two weeks.
Lighty does not have the god given ability or remarkable skill set that somebody like Thornton has, but he is the type of guy who will be a coach’s favorite player. Go back and listen to the interview Monty did just a week or so ago. He said, and I quote, “There are different ways that guys can help this team. Some guys can come in and raise the levels of our practices and that helps us out.”
No, David Lighty won’t be a star, and it is highly likely that he will ever be a starter in this league, but he is an excellent defender and a hard worker who is willing to do anything a coach asks him to do. Think a quicker, but less physical version of Sam Young or perhaps a future Tony Allen with better handles. No, his ceiling isn’t very high, but the Hornets have other avenues to get starters. They could do far worse than Lighty in the middle of the second round.
2. DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky)
A highly touted HS recruit, Liggins didn’t exactly live up to his billing but he did excel as a lockdown defender in college. He is even worse on the offensive end than Lighty, but he might actually be an even better defender because he is versatile and long enough to guard three positions. Liggins wingspan (6’11.25″) allows him to get into passing lanes and contest shots. With the zone likely to become more en vogue next season, a guy like Liggins could be a nightmare on the defensive end.
3. Travis Leslie (Georgia)
If Dell Demps is serious about putting some athletes around Chris Paul, he need look no further. Leslie is raw but he can jump through the roof (40.5 inch vert), and like Liggins, he has a freakishly long wingspan for his size (6’10.5″ despite only measuring 6’3″ without shoes). He can’t shoot and his defense is just slightly above average, but he rebounds wonderfully for his size and did I mention that he can jump through the roof?
Leslie doesn’t fit the Demps/Monty profile on the court, but I think both men realized how unathletic the Hornets were at times last year and they both know that they will need to improve the roster in that area. Leslie has a great work ethic and non stop motor and that might be enough to make him a Hornet despite his limitations elsewhere.
Other possibilities: Scotty Hopson, Gilbert Brown (Sleeper who I really like), Nihad Djedovic
1. Jason Richardson (Magic)
He is almost the top unrestricted shooting guard by default in a relatively weak class. Jamal Crawford is a superior player, but will be out of the Hornets price range. Richardson was awful after his trade to Orlando, but he was playing excellent ball with Steve Nash and would likely return to that form if paired with CP3. In his 25 games with Phoenix last year, Richardson scored just over 19PPG on 47% shooting, including 42% from three.
At this stage of his career, Richardson is basically just a jump shooter, as evidenced by the fact that 87% of his shots last year came outside of the paint. He doesn’t get to the line much anymore and he is just a slightly above average defender. Basically, he is a more consistent version of Marco Belinelli. Question is: How much will teams be willing to pay for that?
2. JR Smith (Nuggets)
People always want to give JR Smith the benefit of the doubt because of his enormous skill set. They think that one day he will put it together and make an All-Star team a la Zach Randolph, but as Schwan has said multiple times, “This guy is the same chucker he was five years ago.” The question is whether or not that inefficient player is still better than anything the Hornets have on this roster or will have a legit shot at in the market.
Smith made the efficient Nuggets offense even more efficient when he was on the court last year (by 4.8 points per 100 possessions) and didn’t do any harm on the defensive end (+1.9). He also got to the bucket more last year than in seasons past (26% of shots taken in the paint compared to 16% in previous years) and who knows- maybe CP3 can help him flip that switch. You gotta take a chance sometimes, right?
3. Shannon Brown (Lakers)
Technically, Brown might not even become a free agent if he invokes his player option, but I have a feeling he wants out of LA. The Hornets made a run at him last offseason and might do so again this year if the price is right. Brown doesn’t have what it takes to start in this league, but he and Jack could be a deadly backcourt combo that could compliment each other very well.
Brown’s athleticism would be a welcome addition to a team that has one of the least athletic backcourts in the league. He has improved greatly as a defender and outside shooter since coming into the league and there is no reason to believe that he couldn’t continue to grow under Monty. Signing Brown would make sense if the Hornets brought back Belinelli or Green to play the “Deshawn Stevenson” role while CP3/Jack/Brown played the role of an upgraded Kidd/Terry/Barea.
Other possibilities: Vince Carter, Anthony Parker, Michael Redd, Sasha Vujacic
1. Aaron Afflalo (Nuggets)
Afflalo is the type of shooting guard that Monty would kill for, but the problem is that Denver will likely match whatever the Hornets can throw at him. He is in some ways the two-guard version of Bruce Bowen, an excellent defender who can kill you with the three ball. Perhaps if Denver overpays Nene or sees Wilson Chandler as more of a priority, they might allow Afflalo to go, but I doubt it.
2. Nick Young (Wizards)
Young, on the other hand, seems destined to leave his current team for greener pastures. The problem is that he will want too much green and the Hornets will likely be out of the running for the up and coming shooting guard. Young put up great offensive numbers for a bad team this year and it is hard to tell if it is a case of a “looter in a riot” or if this is a sign of things to come. I say it is a little bit of both, as Young averaged over 20PPG in the 39 games he started last season, but his clutch time stats were awful.
The Wizards were not involved in many games that were close in the last five minutes, but in the 21 such games that Young participated in, his team went 5-16 and he shot just 40% from the field. The other red flag is that he is even more of a jump shooter than Richardson, as only 7% of his field goal attempts came from inside the paint. The Hornets need somebody who can get into the paint occasionally and get to the line, and they also need someone who can step up big in the final five minutes. I am not sure Nick Young is any of those things.
1. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
Michael Jordan says that he is not looking to cut payroll, but why hold onto a guy who is going to be on social security by the time your team is ready to contend? Jackson needs to be on a playoff bound team and the Bobcats need to start giving Gerald Henderson more playing time. At some point in the next 9 months, Jackson will be traded and the Hornets would be a great fit.
Jackson provides the outside shooting, length, and ball handling that the Hornets need while also giving them somebody who will not shrink when the bright lights of the playoffs are turned on. Jackson’s salary is a bit high, but the Hornets can’t afford to be pinching pennies at a time when they have to convince Paul to stay.
2. Joe Johnson (Hawks)
Johnson’s remaining salary is ridiculous and he is probably only worth half of what he is getting paid, but the fact of the matter is that Johnson probably represents the only chance the Hornets have of getting an All-Star shooting guard to go along side of CP3. If the Hawks get into the position where they are merely looking to dump his contract, the Hornets might have to consider. Think of it this way: What is CP3 worth to this franchise? If Lebron was worth an estimated $100 million to the Cavs, then CP3 has to be worth at least half of that, right?
Under the new CBA, a resigned CP3 would likely only get 14-18 million per year. If you have to overpay Joe Johnson just to keep CP3, then it is worth it financially when all things are considered. At least, that is how I will justify it to myself if the Hornets were to pull the trigger.
3. Brandon Roy (Blazers)
Speaking of bad contracts. Still, Roy has his moments and he is the kind of guy that teammates respect and want to play with. I have floated the idea of a Mek and Ariza for Oden, Roy, and Batum trade before and I still think that it is one that both sides should consider. Roy will never be the player he once was, but he wont have to be if he is playing with Paul and West. He can give 25 minutes of solid basketball every night, and maybe more on rare occasions or in the playoffs.
Again, he is not ideal, but when you are in a position like the one the Hornets find themselves in, sometimes you gotta take a leap of faith.
Even the casual fan can look at the Hornets roster and realize that shooting guard is the position that needs to be addressed, but the problem is that there are not a lot of great options out there. Teams will likely have to overpay for one of the starting caliber free agents and the draft will not provide the Hornets with the player they are looking for at #45.
History says that the Hornets should be patient here and wait for the trading deadline, when they are far more sellers willing to dump guys for pennies on the dollar. In the offseason, everyone is a buyer and the only thing teams are selling is straight garbage. Come trade deadline, you an get a guy like Gerald Wallace for nothing or steal a guy like Kevin Martin away from a bad team. But who knows, maybe Demps will find a diamond in the rough or swindle some poor sucker. We’ll just have to wait and see.