Since I wanted to find out what was wrong with Lance Stephenson’s shooting this year, I had more questions about the Hornets and Tim Hoskins of Trade Street Post was kind enough to illuminate my head.
Lance Stephenson was a huge addition to the Hornets in the off season, but so far he’s having a bad shooting season. His mid-range game especially just seems to have disappeared. What do you think is the reason he hasn’t gotten that shot down yet?
Tim Hoskins: It’s got to be the new role and slightly higher expectations. He successfully went from being a 2nd round bench player, to a key member of the Pacers last season who garnered All Star votes… but changing teams, locations, and having an opportunity to be THE guy has to be nerve racking at first.
Kemba and Big Al are the leaders of this Hornets squad, but Lance has an opportunity to become an All Star shooting guard, which is a more glamorous position, especially when MJ owns the team. I just the think the makeup of this group, which lacks a player like Paul George, has opened the door for him to reach higher levels, and that opportunity can cause early shooting struggles through the pressure that goes along with it. He also seems to be passing up a lot of open 3s, which makes me wonder if he is over thinking his shot selection and not playing more naturally.
Add to that the loss of Josh McRoberts, who was the connector of the offense (and a better passer than Kemba), and we have created a major hole for Lance to fill. Not only is he being asked to become a star shooting guard, but he is also expected to be a facilitator, and pick up where McBob left off, which requires chemistry that he hasn’t had the time to build yet.
The Hornets have a really young team, but seem to have higher expectations than other young teams like the Bucks or the Sixers. Should their expectations be that high?
TH: We had a top 5 defense last year and a coach of the year candidate, swept Toronto, won the season series against Washington, and were 20-9 after the All Star break, including a season ending victory against the Bulls.
An unlucky playoff seeding against the Miami Heat and devastating injury to All-NBA selection Al Jefferson within minutes of game 1 starting, ended the Bobcats on a sour note, but MKG has finally fixed his jump shot and we lucked out in getting Detroit’s top 10 pick in a loaded draft (as well as lottery talent in PJ Hairston at #26).
All of that, along with a character like Lance, the rebirth of the Hornets, and continuity between the coaching staff and core, built for a monster offseason of expectations. Whether they SHOULD be that high is for someone else to answer though, as I am completely soaked in biased observations (I believed in Tyrus Thomas, DJ Augustin, and Byron Mullens).
Bismack Biyombo did not receive a rookie extension this year, do you think he still fits on the Hornets? Or are they willing to let him go once his contract is up?
TH: His playing time is more of a concern than him not receiving the extension. Biz was as raw as they come when he was drafted, yet because of the Bobcats struggles, he got a lot of PT to start his career. When Al Jefferson showed up, he was regulated to backup center duties, but showed signs of becoming an above average rebounder and a good help defender and shot blocker.
I’m not sure I agree with Clifford’s veteran favoring mentality that has Jason Maxiell getting Biyombo’s minutes (which this is the 1st time I have disagreed with Cliff since he took the job), but my own personal theory is that they are putting him in timeout and letting him realize that he could lose his job if he does not perform well. At the end of the day, Maxiell has played decent at best, and the lack of defense should open up a spot for Bismack soon. Though I will add that Cody Zeller or Noah Vonleh could also take time in that role as well, as they both need minutes and have good size.
Bismack’s future with the team could be a cheap multi-year contract this offseason, with him expected to provide a Nick Collison type presence of solid play off the bench and leadership both in the locker room and in the community. Its about 50/50 though, and Rich Cho could easily admit a mistake and move on. Either way I don’t see Bismack making more than $2-4M per year, which is under his $5M+ qualifying offer and the reason why they didn’t extend his rookie deal.
What is the one piece (or pieces) missing to push the Hornets over the top?
TH: This team misses the ball movement that McRoberts provided, which could be a role that Zeller attempts to pick up soon. When you have a shoot first point guard, you need passing from the other positions on the floor, and while Lance helps that out, he seems to be somewhat of an isolation specialist (which is a nice way of saying ball hog). MKG does not excel at passing but needs to be on the floor for defense and rebounding purposes, and Al lives in the post, so it leaves the power forward as the position that should provide that needed movement at this time.
The biggest addition would be a lights out shooter at the 4, which is something Marvin Williams is trying to provide, and something Zeller, or even Vonleh could develop. If we had Ryan Anderson’s shot and McBob’s passing all in one player, that would put us over the top to fully utilize Big Al’s style that requires a double team from the opposition.
It would also help if we could finally get a backup point guard that compliments Kemba with high assists totals, can consistently hit the 3 ball, and plays decent defense. Ramon Sessions lacked the outside game and passing, Luke Ridnour never got comfortable and is aging, and like Lance, Brian Roberts can’t get his shot to fall to start the season.
Moving Gerald Henderson (which is a major possibility with PJ and Gary Neal playing so well), along with one of Zeller, Bismack, or Vonleh seems like the way to obtain an upgrade, but im not sure there are any obvious candidates out there at this moment, and the missing piece may just be through development of the youth along with chemistry and better offensive game planning.
In an ideal world where everyone stays healthy, what is the most optimistic ceiling for the Hornets this year?
TH: If the team figures out the offense, the young guys continue to progress, and we get back to consistently being a top defensive unit in the league, they could win the East.
Call me crazy, but if Toronto, Chicago, Washington, Miami, Atlanta, New York and Cleveland are the competition, we have the talent and coaching to reach that goal. However, that says more of the weak East, and this is only hypothetically speaking. Point being, the conference is wide open at this point, and anyone in the top 10 could win in a ideal scenario.