Allow me to set the stage for this situation through the 140-characters-or-less of others:
This is important because:
Which has typically meant:
Ouch. In what was supposed to be a bounce-back season for Charlotte, there is doom and gloom before the first opening tip-off (which they appear to have already lost, at least if Cody Zeller is at midcourt).
Sure, MKG isn’t known for his shooting prowess. Despite a slow-but-steady rise in his True Shooting percentage each season, his Hunting Grounds are scattered across the midrange; in 195 professional games, MKG has attempted eighteen three-pointers. Eighteen. More than half of his shot attempts are coming at the rim, which is good. However, more than a quarter of his shots are coming from the dreaded 16ft-3pt arc range. But no no, I’m not here to decry his shooting; rather, I’d argue his offensive game was set to be a nice compliment to the rest of the core Hornets lineup:
Sure it’s not perfect, but we are talking about an Eastern Conference team fighting for a playoff berth, not last season’s Warriors. The midrange would have still been a bit too chaotic, but it would have been organized chaos: Al on the right, MKG on the left, Kemba around the elbows. Regardless, it won’t become a reality this season. And here’s my point: the MKG injury actually opens up two spots in Charlotte’s most used lineup. The lost wing defense means Charlotte needs to choose both Forward spots carefully. They’ll need to balance shooting that fills in the core’s blanks, while trying to make up for some of the ball-stopper defense. If Kemba Walker-Nic Batum-Al Jefferson are the constants, which pair of remaining Hornets fit best?
Realistically, there’s roughly eight players for these two spots.
First, let’s examine a couple of key stats for some of the likely Hornets forwards:
Sure, these are aren’t all the stats – but they are a quick snapshot at some of the most MKG-relevant ones. The goal here is to have as much green (and as little red) as possible. For the Wing spot, it’s really a question of mitigating loss rather than maximizing gain. From this reductionist perspective, the safest of the bunch is probably Jeremy Lamb; he’s neither first or last in any category. Among Bigs, an initial glance puts Pyscho T on top…but that 132 ORtg is just a bit unsustainable. It’s pretty much a wash between Zeller and Williams – a point here, a percentage there, they are pretty equal.
Result: Jeremy Lamb and Cody Zeller/Marvin Williams
Let’s take a look at how these eight players use the court, TeamSPACE-style:
Since this isn’t a real lineup, overlap doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the diverse spatial locations each player occupies – especially compared to Kemba, Nic, and Big Al. Thus, Brian Roberts is out; he’s too redundant with Walker and Batum. Ditto for Lin, albeit on a smaller scale. Hairston and Daniels are very similar. While Hairston has a bit more 3pt area and Daniels a bit more midrange, either would be a welcome addition from deep, with Daniels being a slightly better compliment to Batum’s activity. Then there’s Jeremy Lamb – the other Jeremy from Charlotte’s offseason. Lamb is an interesting dose of both – not too much midrange and, given Charlotte’s midrange tendencies, not too much from deep. Daniels and Lamb, followed by Hairston, are probably the front-runners here.
Welp. Despite being statistically similar, these three could not possibly have more distinct Hunting Grounds. Hansbrough scores more like a Center – at the rim with a dash near the elbows, which is highly redundant with Al Jefferson. Cody Zeller shoots like a Poor Man’s Blake Griffin – mostly foul-line extended action, and not much else. Williams is the traditional Stretch 4, akin to a Poor Man’s Ryan Anderson. Thus, the right choice here depends on the pairing at Small Forward.
Result: Jeremy Lamb and Marvin Williams (primary), Troy Daniels and Cody Zeller (secondary)
Both statistically and spatially, Lamb and Williams seemingly work well as a tandem. They cover a lot of the 3-point line and enough midrange to keep defenses honest (while also giving Al room to work). On paper there is just enough defense and shooting to seemingly be successful. Although not as statistically impressive, Daniels and Zeller represent a riskier (and potentially better) alternative. It’s tempting to just take Lamb and Zeller, based on their stats; however, when considering Kemba and Jefferson enjoy patrolling the midrange, there would be just a bit too much activity there.
Further, while Roberts, Lin, Hairstron, and Hansbrough don’t fit well with the Charlotte core, they could actually fit well together. As a second unit, they make a good combination of scoring diversity. This seems counter-intuitive, regarding Lin. But given his high usage, a second team scoring catalyst (a la Jamal Crawford) may be his best fit with the Hornets.
But before we go – there’s one glaring omission in all of this:
Oh yeah, their #1 draft pick. Not only do we not have college shot data readily available, the jump to the pros can be a bit tricky to model. However, given Layne Vashro’s fantastic work, Kaminsky closest comp projects similar as Nick Collison, circa 2003. In his rookie season, Collison had a .570 True Shooting percentage on 15.5 usage. If Frank the Tank demonstrates some of that 3-point range from college, along with Collison-style efficiency, he may actually be the perfect blend of Zeller and Williams. On offense, at least.
Inevitably, MKG is damn-near impossible to replace. The pessimist treats this as a lost season. The optimist treats this as a opportunity to identify the other pieces to build around when MKG returns. Giving the opportunity to Jeremy Lamb or even Troy Daniels – depending on the Big Man pairing! – may be Charlotte’s most calculated move.