The Eastern Conference just took a hit. It must have been a strike of energy, because it’s actually moving in the right direction.
Excluding Cleveland, the Charlotte Hornets have the most reasons to be throwing parties, screaming at the top of their lungs, and preparing for a run. The signing of Lance Stephenson this week has escalated the team’s outlook through the roof, and it’s time to give them the attention they need.
I’m joined by Brendan Taylor from TruSchoolSports.com, as this is one of the hardest working writers trying to get into the industry. He grew up a supporter of the Hornets/Bobcats, and we sit down to get his full, uninterrupted thoughts on the team.
Young: Hello Brendan,
So, what you would consider one of the greatest days in Charlotte’s NBA history struck us Wednesday morning. Lance Stephenson is now joining forces with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, and fitting into the Steve Clifford lineup is something you must be excited for. What were your initial reactions?
Taylor: Hey Shane,
Yes, it was a glorious day for the teal and purple. We’ve had a long line of solid shooting guards in our history (Dell Curry, Jason Richardson, David Wesley and Kendall Gill). Those guys were good, but never had the potential or all-around skill-set of a Lance Stephenson. I’m beyond excited because, contrary to popular belief, this is not only a top four team in the East, but a contender moving forward. So, like the fan base, I’m excited!
Young: Agreed, and although Stephenson only averaged 13.8 points per game last season, his entire arsenal has improved since the times we witnessed him standing on the sidelines mocking LeBron in the 2012 Playoffs. He hired a shooting coach — as most young guys in this league are doing — and nearly shot 50 percent for the year.
Indiana is in the dumps with the move, but you can’t blame him for wanting to sign a shorter contract and get more money when he’s 26 years old (2017). But, in Charlotte’s sense, what does this mean for the guy they seemed committed to at the shooting guard position, Gerald Henderson? He has started all but just 10 games in his last three years with the Hornets.
Taylor: When it comes to Lance and what he can do on the court, I think a lot of that is his role. Last year with the Pacers, his Usage Percentage was under 20%, so he was the third scoring option. He led the league in triple doubles (five total) which is impressive at the age of 23.
When it comes to Gerald Henderson, most Hornets fans will tell you that as a starting shooting guard, he is the definition of “average.” He doesn’t really stretch defenses, as evident by his career 30% 3-point shooting. Outside of that, he does little to nothing to instill fear into the opposition or leave his imprint on the game. Next year will be his sixth season in the league, so what you have is a 6th man or solid bench player and nothing more. Thus, expect Henderson to come off the bench in a role better suited for him.
Young: Yeah, the talk of Henderson being used as trade bait now raises some eyebrows, especially if he’s uncomfortable with switching roles instantly. Stephenson may have just signed with Charlotte to give a low-blow to Indiana for their “disrespectful” offer of five-years, $44 million. In no ways was that lowballing Lance, it was just the most they could afford without exceeding the tax line!
But, on the other hand …. maybe he inked with Charlotte because he truthfully believes in them. They didn’t win a single game against Miami in that first round in April, but each game was competitive for LeBron and company. He changes that, as he actually gives them a chance now. However, I think You and I respectfully differ on them being a top four team in the East. With the boys down in Miami changing roles and adding Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, and satisfying Chris Bosh, you would escalate Charlotte over them in the standings?
Taylor: In fairness to Charlotte, we had Al Jefferson way below 100% after his foot injury in Game 1. Despite that, Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist kept them competitive. But, at the end of the day, the Hornets lack of wing production was exposed mightily.
No disrespect to our rivals in South Florida, but yes I’m picking the Hornets over the Heat and there’s good reason to it. Charlotte was an elite defensive team last year with no rim protector and only two above average defenders in Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist. When you stick in a guy like Lance Stephenson onto a team that already has established themselves as one of the better teams in the NBA, then what’s not to like? Lance can guard/play three positions, so the versatility will pay dividends. Lance was also top 10 in Defensive Win Shares last season.
Walker, for the first time in his career, has great backcourt partner and is in a position where he’s not going to be forced into taking 18 shots a game for his team to have a chance to win. So, when you factor in that the outlook of the three best players on the roster drastically improved, coupled along with top 5 Coach of the Year candidate in Steve Clifford, then you have to put the Hornets over the Miami.
Charlotte has more answers then questions, while the Heat are the opposite. Who can produce at point guard? Can Dwyane Wade stay healthy? Will the Heat run a starting line-up with 2 prototype stretch 4′s in Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts? These are reasons I don’t see Miami being better.
Young: I can certainly come to terms with those remarks on Miami, as they are in a completely different boat now. Charlotte didn’t drastically mix things up this offseason, they just purely added a talented guy while Erik Spoelstra will have five to six new, fresh faces to deal with. The competition in South Florida, the Southeast Division, and the Eastern Conference has went from heart-rending to watchable.
Seriously, more people will probably pay attention to the East this season because of these moves. What better for Adam Silver and the league as a whole, as this prevents the average fan from claiming the NBA has imbalance of power.
You mentioned Kemba Walker, and I have to comment. God bless his soul, as he’s barely shot over 42 percent for a season in his pro days. From a guy that’s watched him extensively since 2011-12, do you really believe his shooting woes are attributed to his 15.7 attempts per night?
I mean, fans and critics need to sit back and think: That’s a lot of offense to carry a team on your back with, and maybe he didn’t need that role coming into the league? Maybe he needed to land with a different team and be a backup for an All-Star before turning into a “first option” point guard?
Taylor: Yeah, I always thought that should have been the case for Kemba …. but that legendary run he went on to lead Connecticut to a national title saw his draft stock soar and he landed in the queen city. As bad as his shooting numbers have been from an efficiency standpoint, Kemba always finds away to impact the game when his shot isn’t falling. If there is anybody in the league that could handle the level of awfulness in Charlotte and turn that into a positive, it is Kemba.
I mean, how many guys do you know could win a national championship, lose 128 games in their first two seasons, and then become a focal point on a playoff team in his third year?
I think in a weird way, him being forced into that role his first three years in the league forced him to really find the happy medium of facilitator and scorer. In the first three seasons of his career, he never had the luxury that John Wall, Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry had — a formidable backcourt partner. I think what’s happened the last three years has been great for Kemba, because it’s challenged his patience and forced him to learn the details of the position more than if he were a backup on a winning team somewhere.
With Lance Stephenson in town, he finally has talent on the wings and in the paint, so if Kemba were to make the jump from “fringe top 10 point guard” to “bonafide All-Star” that time would be now.
Young: Oh completely agree, the fact that Vonleh fell in Charlotte’s lap at No. 9 was miraculous, and I still can’t believe it. But, that’s what happens when Aaron Gordon is picked way too high, and Nik Stauskas gets love from a team needing shooting. Walker will rebound from his struggles, and a monumental reason for that is the rejuvenation around the team. The new colors, more ecstatic fans, and a better team will do that for anyone.
I’d like to get your brief take on how the perception has been on Michael Jordan in the last few years? Let’s be honest …. this living legend has gone from being beloved around the world to having that small label of “atrocious NBA owner and evaluator of talent.” Personally, I’m ready for him to correct all his wrongs. Owning a business is much different from dribbling up the court and saving the team yourself.
Taylor: As far as MJ the owner is concerned, I think he’s gotten better with time. Its sort of like his career. When he was playing, he had a hard time getting over the hump that was the “Bad Boy” Pistons, eventually he figured it out. It’s the same thing as an owner. He took his lumps drafting busts like Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, but realized that there are people more suited to evaluate talent than him, so he hired Rich Cho in 2011.
Ever since that day, Charlotte has stockpiled asessts and drafted the likes of Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeff Taylor, Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston. The last two years, MJ has put his foot down and opened up the check book to sign Jefferson and Stephenson.
So, from an organizational standpoint, MJ has taken a step back and became a role player if you will. He still gives his input, but the final decision is Rich Cho’s — not his — and the trust factor he has had with the front office has been brilliant.
Young: Great analogy to his career, never thought of it in that fashion. The last thing we can hope for in this league is that these “smaller” teams — just their reputation — get more coverage on National TV. Obviously those with League Pass (you and I) can’t get enough of any team out there, including the Bobcats. Just had to call them that ONE last time!
But, as a final outing, I absolutely have to get your last stance on this …. how do you see the East’s 1-8 stacking up next April? From what we know thus far.
Taylor: Yeah, I’ve been a League Pass junkie for many years and its the greatest gift any NBA fan can give or receive. For crying out loud, I used to watch the Sixers a whole lot on League Pass.
Hoping small market teams get their justice, due to hating how big markets run the media and control the perception of the league. It’s all good, just dont call them that anymore. That name has an ugly past that us Charlotteans rather not revist (unless your talking last year, or Gerald Wallace).
From what we know thus far, I got it like this:
2. Wizards (If Nene is healthy)
8. Bucks (Jabari with the Carmelo Anthony effect)
Young: WHAT did he just say? Milwaukee? Get you some sleep, brother …. I think you may need it. Peace.
Taylor: I know that’s a wack top 8, but I think that’s very possible. Peace.