One thing resonated when I asked on Twitter for fans’ Charlotte Hornets questions Thursday:
Many of you want rookie guard Malik Monk to have a bigger role, up to and including him starting this season.
I get it: Monk had a spectacular fourth quarter Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 18 of his career-high 25 points. He’s entertaining in the different ways he can score. And new is always sexy, in sports and culture in general.
That isn’t coach Steve Clifford’s plan for a team expecting to reach the playoffs with two starters (Dwight Howard and Marvin Williams) each with 12 or more NBA seasons.
So on to your questions:
Is there a chance Monk ends up in the starting lineup at all? Even when (Nic) Batum gets back in the lineup?
If you mean this season, I think it would take a slew of injuries for Monk to start. Clifford chose to start second-round rookie Dwayne Bacon as a fill-in the first couple of games, because Bacon’s 6-7 height and strong build give him a better chance of defending starting NBA shooting guards.
Monk is 6-3, not a particularly strong defender, and being used at both guard positions. He’s averaging 22 minutes per game in a significant role that, as Wednesday illustrated, has him in late in a close game. That’s a lot for a rookie, including one chosen 11th overall.
Do you see the Hornets trading a wing when Batum gets healthy?
Considering their history, I never disregard the possibility of the Hornets making a trade: They seem to deal as much as any franchise in the NBA.
However, I think Clifford – and I assume this goes for the front office and ownership, too – would like to see a sample of this roster a lot closer to full strength before making changes. The biggest flaw last season was an unreliable bench. If Batum’s return makes Jeremy Lamb an impact reserve, that would help the current situation considerably.
Having said that, the way Monk and Bacon have responded to playing so early in their careers means this team is deeper potentially than it looked over the summer. So it would be no surprise if the Hornets get calls from teams in need of a shooting guard or small forward.
Would Batum be better served with a (Manu) Ginobili role, playing with Cody (Zeller) in the second unit, with their chemistry?
I think Batum will play a bunch with the second unit regardless of whether he starts. A big portion of Batum’s job here the past two seasons has been trying to keep the reserves organized, particularly in the second quarter.
You are certainly right that Batum and Zeller collaborate particularly well in the pick-and-roll. Zeller will play a lot of minutes with starters, particularly in the second half. I don’t know that Batum will start immediately, when he returns from his elbow injury, but I don’t see him as a sixth man long-term, either.
With Cody’s and Dwight (Howard’s) injury histories, do you see them adding another defensive big?
Zeller missed 20 games each in two of his last four seasons. Howard has been remarkably durable for a player with more than 32,000 NBA minutes: He has played 71 or more of a possible 82 regular-season games four of the past five seasons.
I think the Hornets’ selection of big men – add Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Johnny O’Bryant – is a strength. The two players who Clifford would like to play more are O’Bryant and forward Treveon Graham, but there aren’t minutes for them barring injury.
Do the Hornets look at getting better at power forward? Marvin is handy, but not really starting caliber.
I think you’d get quite an argument from Williams’ teammates to the contrary. Williams isn’t a great pick for a fantasy-league team, but he’s important in keeping the Hornets organized defensively. He was terrific guarding Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who entered that game as the NBA’s leading scorer.
Williams backed up by Frank Kaminsky is a good mix of skills in an NBA where making the 3 is part of the power-forward job description. Williams is hitting 36 percent of his attempts from 3 so far this season.
Any chance the Hornets can land (unhappy Phoenix Suns point guard) Eric Bledsoe? If so, what would we have to give up?
The Hornets trading for Bledsoe would be a tough call for multiple reasons. First off, would Bledsoe be cool with playing as Kemba Walker’s backup? I don’t see Bledsoe as an upgrade, and Walker has this season and next season left on a $12 million-per-season salary. Bledsoe makes $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season.
Beyond that, you’d have to ask what the Suns – a young, rebuilding team with good wing players – would want off the Hornets’ roster. I’d guess they’d ask for Walker and Cody Zeller. Is acquiring Bledsoe worth that sort of disruption of the rotation?
Also, the Hornets’ player payroll isn’t far below the NBA’s luxury tax threshold this season of about $119 million per team. For this team to be a taxpayer, owner Michael Jordan would have to be confident a deal made the roster far better than it is right now.
Do you think Clifford will go with Michael Carter-Williams over Monk in the backup point guard spot once Carter-Williams is back?
I think it will be weeks before Carter-Williams is back up to speed, both in game conditioning and becoming fully familiar with his new teammates and the Hornets’ system. If Monk plays great in that span – not just as a scorer, but as a facilitator and a defender – he’ll influence how he’s used and how much he plays.