The Missing Piece: Waiting for 2014

Published: February 2, 2013

It has been assumed for the past couple of months that the Hornets would make a large splash either in Free Agency or via Trade sometime between now and August, resulting in us acquiring the ‘Missing Piece’ and moving forward with a complete, dangerous team. But the purpose of this year long series is to examine each and every possibility, and that includes the possibility that the Hornets strike out on their potential targets.

I mean, after all, there are 29 other teams in the NBA all looking to improve, and just because Dell Demps points to a guy and says that he wants them, doesn’t necessarily mean that he can get him. Ryan Anderson joked earlier last week that part of the reason he signed with the Hornets was because nobody else gave him an offer. Hard to believe, but according to Anderson, it is true. What if Dell doesn’t get so lucky this summer? What if he is outbid in free agency and out-asseted (yeah, I just made that up) in trades?

Should he just settle for guys he doesn’t really want or would it be better to hold onto the cap space? Perhaps he signs a couple of guys to one-year deals, somewhat similar to what Dallas did this offseason. That would accomplish three things for Dell:

1. It would allow him to get to the salary floor

2. It would give him expiring contracts that he could move in a trade later in the year

3. It would allow him to go into the summer of 2014 with tons of cap room to give it a shot again

So, let’s assume for this edition that the Hornets summer simply consists of drafting a guy in the top 10 and signing multiple players to one-year deals with an eye on the summer of 2014. Here’s what that free agency class looks like (note: Ages will reflect how old the player will be in Summer of 2014):

The Restricted

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (Age: 23)

Of the guys on this list, Wall is the least likely to change teams, but you never know what can happen, so for now he is in play. Maybe the Wizards find a PG they like more in this year’s draft. Maybe Wall bad mouths the franchise and wants out, or maybe, just maybe he want to play for the organization who dumped Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor more than the idiotic one who traded for them. Either way, Wall could be a potentially dynamic fit next to Eric Gordon, giving the Hornets two explosive guards who can get into the paint at will.

His PER and True Shooting Percentage has gone up every year he has been in the league, but unfortunately his turnover rate has not gone down. For his career, he has a turnover rate that hovers right around 19% , which is similar to Vasquez, but an elite point guard like Chris Paul is usually around 13 or 14 percent. To balance it out, however, he assist percentage has gone up every year and sits at an all-time high 48.2% this season, which is actually higher than CP3’s (46.2%). His game is growing each year, and if the trend continues, he will be worthy of a max contract in 2014. And the Hornets would give him one in this scenario, but in all likelihood, the Wizards would match.

Eric Bledsoe, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (Age: 24)

If the Clippers are unreasonable with regard to their trade demands, why not just wait until the summer of 2014 when you can potentially sign Eric Bledsoe outright and give up nothing for him? Choosing to do this also gives Vasquez another year at starting point guard, where he can prove definitively whether or not he is the point guard of the future. If it is clear that he is not, then perhaps you pursue Eric Bledsoe and sign him to a contract that is impossible for the Clippers to match.

Bledsoe has gotten some starts as of late, as Chris Paul has been out with a bruised knee (normally a one-year injury, but Paul is expected back next week). In those starts, he has averaged just over 1 point per shot (bad), hit 50% from three and 80% from the line (good), dished out just under 5 assists in nearly 33 minutes (disappointing), and kept his turnovers down (2 per game) while getting his steals (2.5) and rebounds (5.3) way up. Basically, he is a 4th or 5th option offensively who thrives on the break and on cuts in the half-court, but he is an absolute monster defensively. He would likely lead the league in steals while also playing terrific on-ball defense, which normally don’t go together. Think of past steals leaders like CP3 and AI. They were gamblers. Bledsoe gets his steals because of his on-ball defense, not in spite of it.

Putting Bledsoe at starter would mean that the offense would likely have to run through Gordon, which might not be such a bad thing. Defensively, though, the Hornets would take a huge leap forward with a guy like Bledsoe who doesn’t allow his man to get past him very often. His individual defense would allow other wing players to stay on shooters and would help keep the bigs out of foul trouble. Two things that don’t necessarily show up in box scores, but are huge factors in the game itself.

Paul George, SF, Indiana Pacers (Age: 24)

Along with John Wall, George is probably the guy who is the least likely to switch teams, but Indiana came very close to not matching a max deal on Roy Hibbert so perhaps they pass on matching one on George. Hey, we can dream right? Let’s say that the Pacers do fear having two guys on max contracts as we head into this new era where the luxury tax becomes far more punitive and the Pelicans can bring Paul George in- how well would he fit? Well I will answer that question with a question? Is there a word that is stronger than ideal? Because Paul George is beyond an ideal fit for this team.

Let’s start off defensively, where George is one of the few players in the league who could actually slow the Western Conference King, Kevin Durant, to a degree. George is 6’8″ with a freakish wingspan, great lateral quickness, and terrific hops. He is fantastic at guarding in isolation and also has a knack for jumping passing lanes for steals that end up in highlight dunks. If the Pelicans are going to have to go through OKC every year, then who better to throw at Durant than Paul George?

On the offensive end, George can provide the spacing that will help Gordon and Davis thrive. He has improved his three-point percentage every year and is now hitting more than two per game. He is also becoming a better playmaker, as he has increased his assist percentage drastically every year, more than doubling it from his rookie season. A core four of Gordon, George, Anderson, and Davis would be deadly, regardless of who the 5th player would be in that unit. An unlikely dream, yes, but one worth having nonetheless.

Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz (Age: 24)

Hayward’s points per game have gone up every season, but his shooting percentages have plummeted. He has gone from 49% to 46% to 43% this year, though his three-point shooting has gotten better and he is still a fantastic free throw shooter. He has also seemed to level out with regard to his turnover percentage, rebounding, blocks, steals, and assists. It appears that Hayward is pretty close to his peak, and that means you will get an above average wing scorer that can hit from the perimeter and finish in transition. He doesn’t do anything poorly, but he doesn’t do anything else at an above average level either. Basically, he is a nice 4th or 5th option on a great team that won’t win you many games, but he shouldn’t lose you any either.

Evan Turner, Point Forward, Philadelphia 76ers (Age: 25)

If you count Turner as a guard, then he is one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA. If you count him as a forward, then he is one of the top passing forwards in the league. The reality is that he is a bit of a hybrid, a point forward of sorts that can create for himself and his teammates in a non-conventional way. Offensively, he is somewhat of an anomaly. He is elite from 10-15 feet (46%), very good from three (41%), but horrible from everywhere else. From the Hornets perspective, a backcourt of Turner and Gordon could be very interesting, as they could split the playmaking duties and it would allow Gordon to defend PG’s (who are more his size) and Turner to defend shooting guards. A small forward who can stretch the defense would probably be needed next to those two guys, but it would be an interesting option to consider.

Familiar Faces

Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls (Age: 29)

Deng will only be 29 in the summer of 2014, but when you factor in his minutes played, he has the wear and tear of a 32 or 33 year old. Deng came into the league at 19 and has averaged 36 minutes per game since arriving. That includes the last two years where he has been in the top 5 both years in minutes played. When you add in playoffs and the projected number of minutes he will play this year and next, you are looking at a guy who will be over 25,000 minutes played when he hits free agency. By comparison, David West has only played 22,000 minutes in the league and most of us would agree that he is too worn down to play for this young, up and coming team.

But similar to what we have seen with David West, Luol Deng can provide some veteran leadership and steadiness to a young team that is poised to reach the playoffs. He wouldn’t have to come in and be a first or second option, nor would he have to play the 38-40 minutes he is getting in Chicago. If the Hornets hit on their 2013 pick and the young guns continue to develop, then Deng could be similar to what Sean Elliot or Avery Johnson was in Duncan’s first few championship runs.

Danny Granger, SF, Indiana Pacers (Age: 31)

By the summer of 2014, Danny Granger will be more than a year removed from an injury that will cost him the majority of the 2012-13 season, and teams should be able to evaluate  precisely where he game is at. The last time we saw him, he was a well-rounded offensive player who was moderately efficient on that end, averaging approximately 1.2 points per shot. His three-point stroke has been solid throughout his career, as he has shot 38% or better in 5 of the last 6 seasons. He is also a 85% shooter at the free throw line and is above average in rebounds, steals, and blocks for his position. Of course, another big reason why Granger could be in play here is because of his ties to the area. He was born in New Orleans and went to school in Metairie, so if the price is right for both sides, perhaps he can finish his career back at home. He can offer some of the same intangibles that Deng can bring, with a better outside stroke and less wear and tear (18,000 minutes).

Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors (Age: 28)

The trade of Jose Calderon in the Rudy Gay deal means that Kyle Lowry isn’t leaving Toronto anytime soon, but he will be completely unrestricted in 2014, and the Hornets can choose to pursue him then. Lowry really has only been a starter the last three seasons, so he should still be at the back end of his prime in 2014, and he has improved each of the last three seasons on his perimeter game, where he is shooting a career high 39.6% from deep this season. His rebound, assist, and steals rates have all been on the rise as well over these past three years, and paired with Eric Gordon, he could help provide a dynamic back court on both sides of the floor.

The Darkhorse

Andrew Bogut, C, Golden State Warriors (Age: 29)

There have been countless debates about what Anthony Davis’s position of the future is, and while I maintain that he is more likely to play center than power forward, the truth is that it is more about finding a front court mate who compliments his game than finding a guy who plays the right “position”. Enter Andrew Bogut, a great defensive big man with a high basketball IQ that can play in the low post or high post offensively. Like Davis, he is another guy who can effect the game without the ball, allowing Davis and Bogut to alternate who gets the most possessions offensively, basing that decision purely on who has the bigger mismatch. Bogut can be the David Robinson to Anthony Davis’s Tim Duncan if the Hornets choose to try and win a title with the Twin Towers approach.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on For past pieces in the series, click here. 




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