The Missing Piece: Re-Handicapping the Field

Published: January 25, 2013

Our first ‘Missing Piece’ of the season introduced all of our possible options and handicapped the field, so now that we are halfway through the season, I felt it was right to revisit and re-handicap the field. Things are a little more complicated this time around, but in a good way. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that the Hornets had massive holes at the point guard and small forward positions, but Vasquez and Aminu have been solid starters as of late, and they are making a case that they are the long-term answers at those positions. In other words- Maybe ‘The Missing Piece’ isn’t missing, maybe they are already here.

But even if Dell Demps picks up all the player options this summer and gives Aminu a reasonable contract, the Hornets will still go into the offseason with over $10 million dollars in salary cap space and, most likely, a lottery pick. Prior to the season, Dell Demps and Monty Williams both said that they would likely add one more significant piece before the 2013-14 season and then move forward with that group. There is no reason to believe that a couple of months of solid play by two young, but limited, vets will change their thought process. Additions and/or upgrades will be made this summer (if not sooner) and with that in mind, let’s take a look at the candidates.

The Favorites

Brandon Jennings, PG Milwaukee Bucks (Age: 23)

Contract Status: Restricted FA in 2013 | Max Hornets Could Offer: 4 years/$58 million | Expected Cost: 11-14.5 million per year

The question you have to ask yourself with Jennings is simple: Can he be an efficient scorer if he was a third or fourth option as opposed to a first option? The fact of the matter is that Jennings has been extremely inconsistent in Milwaukee. At times, he looks like an All-Star and at other times he looks like a reckless chucker. But when you look back at his three and a half years with the Bucks, who is the best offensive player he has played with? Monte Ellis? Andrew Bogut?  In his first two seasons, John Salmons was the Bucks best weapon outside of Jennings, and since then it has been a steady stream of also rans helping him try to carry the load.

Now imagine he comes to a team with Eric Gordon splitting the playmaking responsibilities, Ryan Anderson giving him space to operate and Anthony Davis finishing everything at the rim. Is it likely that we see a more consistent Brandon Jennings at that point? If Dell Demps answers yes, then no price would be too high for Jennings. The beauty of having Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson on such cheap, long term deals is that you can afford to slightly overpay someone else and it wont kill your cap. Even if the Hornets have to pay Jennings the max, they will have their Big Four tied up for just $45 million over the next three years. That gives them $25 million dollars to fill out the roster without getting into the luxury tax. With Smith, Rivers, and Lopez on great deals and the 2013 1st rounder on a rookie scale wage, you would still have plenty of money to bring in a small forward (or re-sign Aminu) and add additional depth.

Eric Bledsoe, PG, Los Angeles Clippers (Age: 23)

Contract Status: $2.63 million in ’13, RFA in 2014 | Expected Cost: Greivis Vasquez or Robin Lopez and 2013 1st round pick

Bledsoe is a huge risk/reward proposition at this point. The advanced numbers tell you that he is an elite point guard who just happens to be stuck beyond the best point guard in the world. He projects as a fantastic player if he were to get starter’s minutes, but can we really truly know how he would fare over an 82 game season as a starting point guard just by looking at what he has done as a backup and spot starter and projecting his Per-36 minutes numbers? Won’t he have to play the game differently if he is getting double the minutes? Perhaps he will have to pace himself more. Perhaps moving to the head of the opposing teams’ scouting report has an effect or perhaps becoming the leader of a team will be too big of a burden.

But what if we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. What if it is a James Harden situation where playing with all that talent was actually limiting him and he just takes off when given the reigns? One thing we know for sure is that his defense translates. He is an amazing on-ball defender and can jump passing lanes with the best of them. He is also a great rebounder for the point guard position and an excellent finisher in transition. But if that is where the positives end and he never really develops the ability to run the point or score effectively in the half court, would he be worth both Greivis Vasquez and a likely top 10-12 pick? Probably not. Again, it is about how you project a young point guard in a brand new situation moving forward. But that is why Dell is paid the big bucks.

Corey Brewer, SF Denver Nuggets (Age: 26)

Contract Status: $3.24 million this year, UFA in 2013 | Expected Cost: $4-$6 million per year

Corey Brewer is not the most exciting option on the list, but as the Hornets spend this summer looking for a young vet who can give them some consistency on the perimeter, they will likely have several internal conversations about Brewer. He is arguably having his best season as a pro, and at the age of 26, he still has room to grow. While he doesn’t offer the rebounding that Al-Farouq Aminu does, he is a significant upgrade in two areas.

For one, he has an extremely low turnover rate for a perimeter player (just 8.4%). Aminu’s turnover rate is more than twice that (19.3%). Brewer is also a legitimate threat from behind the arc, hitting two trey’s per 36 minutes. By comparison, Aminu hits .1 per 36 minutes. In fact, Corey Brewer has hit three times as many three’s this year (57) than Aminu has hit total shots outside of the paint (18). Neither Aminu or Brewer is the perfect player, but Dell will have to determine which is more valuable: Rebounding or Lack of Turnovers and the Spacing that comes with having another perimeter threat.

Rudy Gay, SF Memphis Grizzlies (Age: 26)

Contract Status: $17.89 million in 2013, $19.3 million in ’14 | Expected Cost: Swap of 1st round picks in 2013

The Grizzlies made a deal this week to avoid the luxury tax this year, but make no mistake, they are going to move either Gay or Zach Randolph this summer. If it’s Gay, the Hornets figure to be one of the teams interested, especially if they want to make a serious run over these next two years. Bringing Gay in will take the Hornets right up to the cap, but it likely won’t cost the Hornets many assets to acquire him. Our late lottery pick and some throw-ins like Roberts, Darius Miller, and/or Lance Thomas for Gay and the Grizzlies pick (in the 20’s) would likely be enough. The Hornets could grab a Eurostash or a project with the late first round pick and become a legit contender for home court advantage if they can stay healthy in 2013-14.

The window would be a small one, however, with Gay, Vasquez, Lopez, and potentially Gordon hitting unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015. But if that core can help you establish a winning culture, then perhaps some guys take discounts to stay or maybe New Orleans becomes a free agent destination for others. Gay is definitely overpaid, but you aren’t going to find a guy in this draft who can come in and contribute like Rudy Gay can, and again, you can afford to overpay someone because you are so drastically underpaying Anderson and Davis. Is Gay worth $18 million? No. But are Gay, Anderson, and Davis worth a combined $31 million? Of course they are. If Dell uses the same logic, Rudy Gay could be a Pelican this June.

Draft Possibilities (5-10 range): Otto Porter, SF Georgetown Hoyas; Michael Carter-Williams, PG Syracuse Orangemen; Marcus Smart, PG Oklahoma State Cowboys

Next in Line

Andre Iguodala, SF Denver Nuggets (Age: 29)

Contract Status: Unrestricted FA in 2013 | Max Hornets Could Offer: 4 years/$71.5 million | Expected Cost: $13- $17 million per year

Iguodala will be the best player available at perhaps the greatest position of need this summer, but Dell Demps has to be concerned about his age when he considers making him a long term offer. Iguodala turns 29 this week and next season will be his 10th in the league. The best case scenario is that he is at the end of his prime, but more likely than not, his prime has already passed and he is entering into the backside of his career, where any lost athleticism will really hurt his game. Shooters and low post bigs can maintain their production even when their athleticism declines, but Iguodala’s game is so dependent on his athleticism that losing that could result in him becoming an average to below average player in this league.

On the plus side, Iguodala provides leadership and experience for a team that doesn’t have much of either of those things. Despite being one of the least talented members of Team USA this summer, it was said that he was one of their most vocal guys and the coaches loved him because he was willing to do anything to win. His perimeter defense is still exceptional and he has the ability to create for others at the small forward position, which is something the Hornets have not had on their roster since Anthony Mason. While his skills might decline, he will not be another James Posey at the end of his contract- fat and uninterested. At worst, he becomes PJ Brown- a steady veteran who gives it his all on the court and helps the young guys in the locker room.

Paul Milsap, PF Utah Jazz (Age:27)

Contract Status: Unrestricted FA in ’13 | Expected Cost: $9 – $11 million per year

Looking at our roster right now, it seems that the last thing that the Hornets need is another front court player, but you never know how this roster will look in a couple of months with Dealer Dell in charge. If Demps moves Smith and/or Lopez for some perimeter help, he could be in the market for a big man this summer and Paul Milsap is the exact type of player Monty Williams would fall in love with. Milsap is a hard worker who gives maximum effort every night, and never takes a day off in the offseason. Each year he has come back with a new wrinkle to his game, improving in some aspect offensively.

His minutes have been cut back some and he has been asked to play out of position a lot (SF) in order to accomodate some younger guys in Utah. With New Orleans, he can focus on playing on the block more and would likely get back to dominating the offensive glass. Prior to the addition of Jefferson, Favors, and Kanter, Paul Milsap had offensive rebound rate’s in the low-to-mid teens, which is beyond elite. He can get back to that with Gordon, Anderson, and Davis drawing so much of the defenses attention. And yet again, you are talking about a veteran with nearly 50 games of playoff experience that can come in and lead this young squad as they get ready to make that leap next season.

Chase Budinger, SF Minnesota Timberwolves (Age: 24)

Contract Status: Unrestricted FA in ’13 | Expected Cost: $4-$5 million per year

Last summer, Chase Budinger was worth a mid-first round draft pick. This summer, nobody really knows what he will fetch on the free agent market after a knee injury will result in him missing most, if not all, of the season. He might return in March, but if not, GM’s will have to look at what he did in his first couple of years in the league, and those results are fairly impressive. He has shown the ability to hit from deep, especially from the corner, where he shot nearly 48% last season. He also showcased an above average rebound rate (16.2%) for a small forward, and always maintained a turnover rate below 10%. And he is not just a shooter, as he is one of the best at his position at finishing at the rim (68%) due to his exceptional athleticism and coordination.

He has never been a full-time starter in the NBA as both the Rockets and Timberwolves chose instead to put him in a timeshare at the position. The Hornets could do the same thing with Budinger if they choose to bring back Aminu. Theoretically, the two could split the 48 minutes at small forward, giving the Hornets different dimensions when each is on the court, and they can also play together for a couple of minutes together in a small ball lineup and not lose much on the defensive end because of their ability to hit the boards. It’s an interesting possibility to consider- splitting the money up between two players, Aminu and Budinger, as opposed to giving it all to one guy. A possibility that I believe Dell will strongly consider this summer.

Danny Granger, SF Indiana Pacers (Age: 29)

Contract Status: $14.02 million in ’13, UFA in ’14 | Expected Cost: Greivis Vasquez

Okay, so follow this somewhat unlikely, but possible scenario. The Pacers season ends and Paul George has cemented himself as their star small forward of the present and future so now, Indiana is in a position where they have to move Danny Granger. Recent reports have said that they are looking for a point guard in return and they dont want to take back much salary. The Hornets, having gotten their point guard in some other fashion (maybe a pick and Lopez for Bledsoe?) and deal Vasquez for Granger straight up. Indiana solidifies their backup point guard spot and gets $25 million under the cap to fill in their shooting guard position in free agency. Meanwhile, New Orleans brings Granger back to the Pelican State and fills their hole at small forward.

While it would be terrifying to have two perimeter players coming off of major knee injuries on the same team, the potential of this team would be enormous if it were to remain relatively healthy. In his last three seasons prior to this one, Granger averaged 23 points per game and maintained a healthy defensive rebound rate (13.3%) while keeping his turnover percentage relatively low (10.7%). He is also the best three-point threat out of all the small forwards who could possibly be available, as he is a career 38% shooter from deep and has knocked down more than two per game.

It would be a fairly big risk for Demps considering the fact that Granger will likely only play 10-20 games this season, but we saw him take that same risk last summer with Gordon, so who is to say he won’t do it again? A core of Gordon, Granger, Anderson, and Davis could be practically unguardable, and if a defensive minded point guard like Eric Bledsoe was brought in to fill out that unit, the defensive could be above average as well. Not to mention that, yet again, this would be a move that brings some veteran experience and leadership to a young team. Maybe it is not the most likely scenario in the world, but at the least, it is very, very intriguing.

Kyle Lowry, PG Toronto Raptors (Age: 26)

Contract Status: $5.75 million this year, $6.2 million next year | Expected Cost: Vasquez and some sweetener

Kyle Lowry is starting to stack up some red flags, between his recent injury history and his ability to rub teammates and coaches the wrong way. Last year in Houston, he missed 19 games and got into several verbal altercations with coach Kevin McHale. This year in Toronto, he has missed 13 games and is said to be a disruption because he is frustrated that he is not starting. Lowry seems to be one of those players that needs be coddled a bit, otherwise he will take his ball and go home. But perhaps a little tough love is what he needs, and a coach like Monty could give that out in bunches.

What is undeniable is the talent, as Lowry is one of the most efficient offensive point guards in the league and perhaps the most intimidating on the ball defensive point guard in the league as well. Despite not starting, he is posting a career high PER in Toronto this season (21.5) which is 5th in the league amongst point guards behind only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, and Kyrie Irving. Not bad company. He is also #1 against point guards in defending isolation plays on the defensive end , and he hits his three’s at a nearly 40% clip while also converting 83% of his free throws.

He would be a huge upgrade at the position, and at only 26 years old, he could be a guy who grows with Eric Gordon for the next 5-7 years. Toronto is said to be shopping him and a deal centered around Vasquez and Lopez for Lowry and Aaron Gray could be one that might benefit both teams. The Hornets downgrade at backup center, but they could hold on to their pick and grab another big in June or trade that pick for another young vet who could help this team right away because they would still have $15 million in cap room after making that deal.

Wilson Chandler, SF Denver Nuggets (Age: 25)

Contract Status: 2 years/$13 million, team option in 3rd year | Expected Cost: 2nd round pick

If the Nuggets hold onto Andre Iguodala, then it is likely that Wilson Chandler will be the odd man out in Denver, simply because Denver is not a team that appears willing to go into the luxury tax. With Iguodala and Danillo Galinari playing his position, Chandler is expendable and it might only take a future 2nd round pick to help Denver clear him off their books. In return, New Orleans would get a young vet still in his physical prime, capable of playing above average perimeter defense while filling out the stat column in multiple areas. Wilson was in the top three for blocks amongst small forwards in each of the last three seasons before the lockout, and he also showed he could be an above average rebounder and a playmaker as well.

Chandler has had a tough time finding his place on a loaded Denver team since coming back from his stint in China, but it is obvious that when he gets the minutes that the skill set is still there. Per-36 minutes this year, he is putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds while getting nearly 2 steals and shooting over 36% from deep. Perhaps he is not a full-time starter, but again, he can be the perfect guy to share the position with Al-Farouq Aminu and give the Hornets multiple dimensions that teams will have to account for at the small forward position.

Draft: Alex Poythress, SF Kentucky; Cody Zeller, C Indiana; Trey Burke, PG Michigan; Anthony Bennett, PF UNLV


Nikola Pekovic, Center Minnesota Timberwolves (Age: 27)

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent in ’13 | Expected Cost: $10- $13 million per year

Again, imagine a scenario in which Dell Demps swaps Robin Lopez for a perimeter player and all of a sudden there is a lack of bulk and aggressiveness on the Hornets front line. Enter Nikola Pekovic, perhaps the most physical interior player in the NBA today. Pekovic is 260 pounds of solid muscle, and he uses his size to absolutely dominate the offensive glass. Last season, in fact, he was #1 in the entire NBA in offensive rebound percentage and he is doing it again this year, averaging nearly 4 offensive rebounds per game this year. And his offensive rebounds aren’t like what we saw with Okafor or Chandler, where they backtapped it out 35 feet to a guard to get a new possession. He grabs the boards with force and takes them back up, which is a big part of why he is averaging 16 points per game for Minnesota this year.

It might be hard for Dell to spend so much money on a center this offseason when they are bigger needs on the perimeter, but if Lopez can fetch a solid, cheap perimeter player, the addition of Pekovic could make this one of the most formidable teams in a league where most rosters are built around a small ball concept. For instance, a guy like Pekovic forces Oklahoma City to keep Kendrick Perkins on the court or risk being absolutely obliterated on the glass. There is a logic that says that when everyone else zigs, you zag, and acquiring Pekovic would be that sort of move for Demps. Back to an old school game where you dominate inside-out. It just might be crazy enough to work.

Chris Paul, Point Guard Los Angeles Clippers (Age: 27)

Contract Status: Unrestricted FA in ’13 | Max Hornets Can Offer: 4 years/$77 million | Expected Cost: 5 years/$100 million

While I will admit that the evidence seems to be piling up more and more everyday that CP3 will stay in LA, I will not give up on this dream until the ink is dry on his new contract. Here is my scenario. The Clippers fall in the first round or get demolished again in the second round, both real possibilities. Paul looks around and sees a young core in LA that is not improving and an old supporting cast whose best days are behind them. He then looks to New Orleans who has Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon as a core and thinks- “Which is a better supporting cast, those three or Griffin, Jordan, and Bledsoe?”

Is there really any comparison? Then maybe he gets a peak at the sweet new Pelican jerseys coming out this summer, the fierceness in the eyes of the logo, and he remembers the city he fell in love with years ago. He sits down with two guys he respects greatly in Dell Demps and Monty Williams and they sell him on a future built not with playoff appearances, but championships, in New Orleans. They ask him to look aorund the league and see what other teams can give him the money he wants while maintaining a young core capable of a championship run. He looks around and can’t find another team that meets both criteria, so he puts his name on the dotted line.

Is it really that far fetched?

Draft (If we get a top 3 pick): Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF UCLA; Nerlens Noel PF/C Kentucky; Ben McLemore, SG Kansas

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


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