Hoosiers In The NBA: Hornets’ Free Agent Decisions That Will Affect Zeller’s Role Next Year

Welcome to offseason coverage of Hoosiers In The NBA! Today I am looking at Cody Zeller’s Charlotte Hornets, who have some very crucial free agent decisions that will dictate the franchise’s future.  Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:


The Charlotte Hornets are coming off their most successful season since the franchise was reborn back in 2004 (and were called the Charlotte Bobcats). While key players such as Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and IU’s own Cody Zeller are under contract for next season, the Hornets actually enter the offseason with more than half of last year’s team currently scheduled to  be free agents.

After such a successful year, it would only make sense to bring back as many players as possible but management knows it probably can’t bring everyone back. So for this edition of Hoosiers In The NBA, I’m going to look at the five biggest free agents and how the decision of either keeping or parting with them will affect Cody Zeller’s role on the Hornets next season.


Nicolas Batum

While he’s always been a good player, Nic Batum really flourished in his lone season with the Hornets. Posting career-high averages in points (14.9) and assists (5.8), his passing took some of the pressure off of Walker (letting him focus a little more on scoring) while his defense helped compensate for the loss of Kidd-Gilchrist for most of the season.

If He Returns: Batum’s overall play has earned him a chance to land a max contract this offseason, and all indications are that both he and the Hornets are very interested in making that happen. While the size of the contract won’t likely affect Zeller when he has to re-sign next offseason, it will affect how Charlotte will handle the rest of this offseason as Batum’s new contract will limit how much the team will spend with the rest of its free agents. Chances are that if Batum returns with a max contract, at least one or maybe two of the five players on this list won’t be returning unless they take a considerable pay cut.

If He Doesn’t Return: While the Hornets could just hold on to the remaining cap space after re-signing everyone else, the pressure to remain competitive may force management to spend it which could lead to the Hornets trying to go after some big-name free agents. While that doesn’t sound that bad, it should be mentioned that all of the big free agent names who would be interested in coming to Charlotte are big men like Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside, all of which would greatly hamper Zeller’s role on the team and will likely lead to him signing elsewhere after this upcoming season.


Al Jefferson

The cornerstone of the franchise since he was signed in 2013, Jefferson earned a spot on the All-NBA third team for helping Charlotte make the 2014 playoffs. Since then, Jefferson’s numbers have decreased dramatically (from 21.8ppg and 10.8rpg in 2013-2014 to 12.0ppg and 6.4rpg this past season). Some of the decline may be in part to the many injuries he has suffered the last two seasons, but the more likely cause is that Jefferson will be entering into his 13th NBA season next year and his body is breaking down. No decision this offseason directly affects Zeller more than the decision to re-sign Jefferson.

If He Returns: Keeping Jefferson could mean one of two things for Zeller. It could mean that the Hornets want to move forward with Zeller as their center but they still don’t think he’s a big offensive threat yet and need a backup that can score when needed. Unfortunately it could also mean that the Hornets are not yet convinced Zeller is their future center and both will likely compete for the starting job with the loser likely to be gone by the 2017-2018 season.

If He Doesn’t Return: By combining this with re-signing Batum, Charlotte’s management would be showing complete confidence in Zeller’s abilities. Of course, it’s very possible that even if Jefferson doesn’t return that the Hornets may still sign a veteran big man, but Zeller will have a huge advantage over most players the team could possibly sign to the veteran minimum because Zeller would be much more familiar with Head Coach Steve Clifford’s system.


Courtney Lee

Brought in during the middle of the season to add shooting and fill-in for the injured Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Lee is probably the most expendable of Charlotte’s five key free agents. With a healthy MKG and the likely re-signing of Batum, Lee would likely play a sixth man role next year. For a guy who can start for a number of NBA teams, coming off the bench for the Hornets probably isn’t his preferred choice.

If He Returns: While Zeller still has a ways to go offensively, having a great three-point shooter such as Lee gives Zeller the much needed space to operate in the post. He also gives the Hornets another solid defender, which could help solidify Zeller’s role as starting center. The Hornets have talked about signing a rim protector in free agency, but if the team has more solid defenders that don’t let their man get past them to the rim, the need for a rim protector becomes less important.

If He Doesn’t Return: Losing Lee’s shooting and defense will be tough to replace with one player but could be easily replaced by two. Kidd-Gilchrist, if he stays healthy, should take over defensively for Lee while getting a shooter should be rather easy. There are always good three-point shooters available in free agnecy, including former Hoosier Eric Gordon. Also the Hornets could use their first round draft pick to select a shooter, with wings such as Malik Beasley (FSU), Patrick McCraw (UNLV) and Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall) all likely options when Charlotte picks at 22.


Jeremy Lin

Although it seemed his 15 minutes of fame had vanished after “Linsanity” left the New York Knicks after the 2011-2012 season, Lin has seemingly found a home in Charlotte as Walker’s backup and the Hornets’ sixth man. While his numbers don’t look that impressive (11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, 3.0apg), Lin always seemed to have big games when the Hornets needed him the most. He also formed a pretty formidable pick-and-roll tandem with Zeller.

If He Returns: While Lin’s situation has some similarities to Lee’s situation, the biggest difference is that Lin has already proven that he can be successful and is willing to come off the bench for the Hornets. Lin and Zeller form a great pick-and-roll team so Lin’s return could help Zeller try to increase his scoring for the fourth consecutive season. Lin’s shooting also helps provide the spacing Zeller needs to work in the post. He’s not as good of a defender as Lee but the return of MKG should offset that.

If He Doesn’t Return: As much as Lin could help Zeller score more, he isn’t mandatory for Zeller’s points to increase. Zeller also has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Walker and if he improves it along with his chemistry with Batum than Zeller should have plenty of opportunities to score more this upcoming season.


Marvin Williams

Once Zeller’s main competition for playing time, Williams has now turned into the player Zeller needs most to succeed with the Hornets. Thanks to the Hornets switching to a more up-tempo and spaced-out offense, Williams has turned into an excellent stretch power forward without sacrificing his rebounding. He also provides a perfect mentor for Frank Kaminsky.

If He Returns: It can’t be stated enough how much Zeller benefitted from Williams playing power forward alongside Zeller. Williams shot 40.2% from deep while also grabbing a team-high 6.4 rebounds per game. This compliments Zeller perfectly as it gives Zeller the space he needs to score in the post on offense and also helps cover one of Zeller’s weak spots on defense (rebounding). He also provides a veteran leadership that would be gone if the Hornets part with Jefferson.

If He Doesn’t Return: While Zeller could still succeed with the Hornets next year without Williams, he would need Kaminsky to take his place and provide the same shooting and rebounding. While I do believe that Zeller and Kaminsky are primed to be Charlotte’s frontcourt of the future, I think Kaminsky is still a year away from being a full-time starter. If this scenario plays out, Zeller will need “Frank the Tank” to adapt quickly or both could be playing for different teams in the future.

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Zeller Shines As Hornets Earn First Playoff Win Since 2002

I hope you all enjoy the game-by-game coverage of these playoffs and for more follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBAPlayoffs.

Both the Charlotte Hornets and Portland Trail Blazers won critical game threes on Saturday, but only one of those games featured a former Hoosier playing in the game.

With not much to report on in regards to Noah Vonleh, today’s edition of Hoosiers In the NBA focuses on Cody Zeller as he continues to play a bigger role than I expected at the start of the series. Let’s check out how he did on Saturday:

 


Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: (6) Charlotte Hornets vs (3) Miami Heat (Miami leads 2-1)

Game 1: Miami 123, Charlotte 91

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 9 points (3-4 FG)(3-4 FT), 7 rebounds, assist, personal foul, 20 minutes.

Game 2: Miami 115, Charlotte 103

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 personal fouls, 14 minutes.

Game 3: Charlotte 96, Miami 80

  • Cody Zeller’s Game Log: 12 points (4-8 FG)(4-4 FT), 8 rebounds, block, 2 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 26 minutes.

Despite losing his starting spot to Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller proceeded to have his best playoff game yet as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Miami Heat to earn the franchise’s first playoff win in 14 years*.

(*technically you could say first playoff win ever since the last Hornets team to win a playoff game is the same team that is now the New Orleans Pelicans, but the NBA has given the Hornets the right to keep its city history)

Zeller’s benching had less to do with his performance and more to do with balancing the team. With second-leading scorer Nic Batum out indefinitely, Head Coach Steve Clifford needed more scoring in the starting lineup so he moved up Jefferson. There could have been an argument for Zeller just switching to power forward (which went to rookie Frank Kaminsky) but Kaminsky more than proved his worth by scoring 15 points, nine of which came during a game-changing 18-0 run in the third quarter.

Instead, Zeller responded with playoff career-highs in points (12), rebounds (8), and minutes (26). He also played a huge role in the first half as Jeremy Lin’s pick-and-roll partner. Lin scored 13 of his team-high 18 in the first half with almost all of those points coming off Zeller screens. Zeller also finished with the best plus/minus of any player during Saturday’s game as Charlotte outscored Miami by 18 points when Zeller was on the court.

Maybe what was most impressive, and encouraging for the long haul, was how well Zeller and Kaminsky played together. Although they only played 14 minutes on the court together, the results were outstanding as during that time the Hornets outscored the Heat 37-20, or basically the final scoring margin.

 


Western Conference Quarterfinals: (5) Portland Trail Blazers vs (4) Los Angeles Clippers (Los Angeles leads 2-1)

Game 1: Los Angeles 115 123, Portland 95

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-2 FG), 2 rebounds, assist, steal, personal foul, 7 minutes.

Game 2: Los Angeles 102, Portland 81

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: 0 points (0-1 FG), 1 minute.

Game 3: Portland 96, Los Angeles 88

  • Noah Vonleh’s Game Log: DNP – coach’s decision

 

Hoosiers In The NBA: Midseason Lineup Changes

NOTE: Hello everyone and welcome to a new edition of Hoosiers In The NBA on its new site! Please try to spread the word by liking it on Facebook or retweeting this on Twitter if you enjoyed it. Of course this is completely optional but it is greatly appreciated. Otherwise I hope you enjoy this latest edition and for more coverage follow me on twitter at @QTipsForSports or just look for the hashtag #HoosiersInTheNBA:

The NBA regular season can be split up into three sections. The first section goes from opening night until New Year’s and is when teams play with the personnel they assembled during the offseason. The second section goes from New Year’s until the trade deadline and is the period where teams decide to make changes depending on how the team has performed to that point. The final stretch goes from right after the trade deadline until when the playoffs start and at this point teams have decided whether they’re playing for the postseason or for next season.

We’re right in the middle of that second section and quite a few teams have made moves. While they haven’t all been high-profile moves such as trades, lineup changes are just as critical and happen quite often during this time of the season. This week, I’m going to go over how lineup changes have affected former Hoosiers and their teams. I won’t be going over Eric Gordon’s situation as he is still a few weeks from returning and things will likely change again for the New Orleans Pelicans during that time so there’s no need to speculate how the current lineup changes affect Gordon.

Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:

@ Memphis (L 108-102): 5 points (1-10 FG)(3-3 FT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 37 minutes.

@ Milwaukee (L 107-100): 18 points (3-7 FG)(10-11 FT), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, steal, 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

@ Boston (L 113-94): 11 points (2-6 FG)(7-9 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, 28 minutes.

Vs Boston (W 119-114): 11 points (5-13 FG), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.

@ San Antonio (L 107-92): 19 points (6-16 FG)(6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 35 minutes.

@ Oklahoma City (L 117-114): 37 points (13-20 FG)(8-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, block, 4 personal fouls, 41 minutes.

Vs Los Angeles Clippers (L 107-93): 18 points (5-12 FG)(7-8 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 36 minutes.

Vs Atlanta (W 96-94): 19 points (9-13 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 44 minutes.

The Orlando Magic are the exception when it comes to waiting until midseason to make lineup changes as it feels like they’ve made a lineup change every other week. However, the latest lineup change brings a lot of intrigue and centers around IU’s own Victor Oladipo.

One of the main reasons Oladipo went to the bench in the first place was because there was no spacing between him and Elfrid Payton this season because Oladipo wasn’t a threat from deep. Instead, Evan Fournier and his 39% shooting from behind the arc started at shooting guard. It made sense later in the season that Oladipo returned to the starting lineup when Payton was out with an injury but with the recent lineup change they’re back to playing together again.

The reason for the change of heart is that Oladipo has found his three-point shot again and has been able to create the space needed for this offense to flow. Over the first two months of the season, Oladipo only connected on 26.9% (28 of 104) of his three-pointers. Since the start of January, Oladipo has been a scorching 45.3% (34 of 75) from behind the arc. It took a little while to see if this was an improvement or just a good shooting streak and after 75 attempts I think it’s safe to say it’s improvement.

While Fournier may still be a better shooter, Oladipo offers more versatility both on offense and defense. Fournier is a good enough ball-handler to take over Oladipo’s sixth man role and if he’s shooting lights out during a certain game he can easily transition to playing with the starters as a spot-up shooter. It’s also possible to play Fournier and Oladipo together like they did against the Atlanta Hawks because both can defend shooting guards and small forwards, although Oladipo guards both a little better.

Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:

@ Sacramento (W 129-128): DNP – injury

@ Utah (L 102-73): DNP – injury

@ Portland (L 109-91): DNP – injury

@ Los Angeles Lakers (W 101-82): DNP – injury

Vs Cleveland (W 106-97): 6 points (3-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, block, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.

Vs Miami (L 98-95): 6 points (2-7 FG)(2-3 FT), 8 rebounds, steal, block, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 25 minutes.

Vs Washington (W 108-104): 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, assist, 3 steals, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 30 minutes.

A lot of things have been going on with the Charlotte Hornets and they all affect Cody Zeller in one way or another. While Zeller continues to flourish as the Hornets’ starting center, quite a few people have already affected and will continue to affect his production going forward.

The main person affecting Zeller’s production, mostly in the form of playing time, is Frank Kaminsky. The rookie big man has finally gotten past the first-year jitters and is showing a lot of promise. Since the start of December, Kaminsky has been averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes after averaging only 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes over the first month of the season. The problem for Zeller is that Kaminsky really eats into Zeller’s minutes when the rookie is having a great game. Part of that is the Hornets trying to get Kaminsky playing experience and the other part is that Zeller has been in foul trouble quite frequently. I still honestly believe that Zeller and Kaminsky can play together in the future with Kaminsky at power forward but with a positional logjam at the power forward position, Kaminsky is a center for the time being.

Speaking of positional logjams, there’s about to be one at center now that Kaminsky is earning playing time and Al Jefferson is only a week or two away from returning to play. Jefferson makes things really complicated as the Hornets really want to keep him because of his post scoring but other than that both Zeller and Kaminsky are actually better options at center. Charlotte may have to make a tough decision at the trade deadline as I don’t think you can keep all three in addition to power forwards Marvin Williams and Spencer Hawes.

That brings us to the last lineup change, which is the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is a welcomed addition for Zeller because he takes some of the defensive pressure off Zeller. Kidd-Gilchrist could also help Zeller commit fewer fouls by at least making sure his man doesn’t drive to the rim. It’s just a shame that not long after MKG came back that Zeller may have to return to the bench if Jefferson is given his starting spot back. For now, let’s enjoy them playing together.

Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:

Vs Sacramento (W 112-97): 10 points (5-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 personal fouls, 23 minutes.

Vs Charlotte (W 109-91): 6 points (3-6 FG), 6 rebounds, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 19 minutes.

Vs Minnesota (W 96-93): 2 points (1-4 FG), 8 rebounds, block, 16 minutes.

Vs Milwaukee (W 107-95): 0 points (0-1 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 personal fouls, 16 minutes.

Vs Toronto (L 110-103): DNP – injury

@ Houston (W 96-79): DNP – injury

While I said I wouldn’t touch on how the Pelican’s lineup changes affect Gordon because he’s injured, the same can’t be said for Noah Vonleh. While Vonleh has missed the Portland Trail Blazers last two games and will likely miss a third (he’s listed as doubtful for Monday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies with an ankle injury), lineup changes affect him a lot more than Gordon because Vonleh’s starting spot is nowhere near as guaranteed as Gordon’s spot.

Whether or not Vonleh will remain a starter may depend on how replacement Maurice Harkless does during Vonleh’s absence. Harkless didn’t do much during his first game against the Toronto Raptors but he did play very well on Saturday against the Houston Rockets as he produced 14 points and six rebounds.

The good news for Vonleh is that the Trail Blazers are very focused on developing him and he has also played some solid basketball over the past month (5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in January). However, the longer Vonleh stays out , the more opportunities Harkless has to make a claim for Vonleh’s starting spot.

Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:

Vs Houston (L 112-111): DNP – injury

Vs Sacramento (W 114-105): DNP – injury

Vs Brooklyn (W 105-103): DNP – injury

Vs Memphis (L 110-95): DNP – injury

@ San Antonio (L 110-97): DNP – injury

Vs Los Angeles Lakers (L 99-96): DNP – injury

@ Cleveland (L 99-84): DNP – injury

Season averages:

Eric Gordon: 14.9ppg, 2.1rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.29bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.0% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 88.5% FT, 33.4mpg.

Victor Oladipo: 14.5ppg, 4.7rpg, 4.0apg, 1.33spg, 0.57bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 41.9% FG, 34.6% 3FG, 84.6% FT, 31.1mpg.

Noah Vonleh: 3.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.5apg, 0.46spg, 0.30bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 42.9% FG, 16.0% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 16.0mpg.

Cody Zeller: 8.8ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.9apg, 0.91spg, 0.70bpg, 0.9tpg, 3.0fpg, 48.9% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.8% FT, 25.0mpg.