Charlotte Hornets Player Power Rankings Part II

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Tier IV: We may trade one of these guys plus a lesser player for big-name starter who fills a need, but only if we are making a run…

Apr 2, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Charlotte Bobcats center Cody Zeller (40) is defended by Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young (21) during the first quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

8. Cody Zeller

Zeller was unimpressive during the first half of last season. He looked lost on offense, got pushed around on defense, and exhibited a bizarre propensity for falling over when driving to the hoop. Things started turning around for Zeller following the All-Star break when he averaged 7.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and shot over 50% from the floor. He looked much more comfortable within the offense and started to show his elite athleticism.

The issue with Zeller is that we can’t clearly see his ceiling. Is Cody capable of playing like he did at the end of last season for an entire year and possibly even take another step forward? Or is Zeller nothing more than a super-athletic forward who works best as a reserve? The Hornets ostensibly drafted Zeller to be the power forward of the future when they chose him 4th overall in 2013. And while Rich Cho wisely chose Vonleh when he dropped to 9th in the 2014 draft, the fact that Zeller now has major competition for minutes indicates some concern that he is a major player in the team’s future.

7. 2015 First Round Pick

See the explanation for the 2016 first round pick, but increase the pressure to win this year. If the Hornets are good, and are able to re-sign the likes of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson (thus stabilizing the team’s future), there is not much downside to trading the pick if it means the Hornets get an asset for a deep playoff run. If the Hornets are somewhere in the middle, trading this pick becomes very dangerous.

There are tons of other provisos that would influence the value of the 2015 first round pick. At the end of the day, if the Hornets are going to make a big trade, it is probably easier to move the pick than a player. To me, there are some young players (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Vonleh) who I would much rather see develop into core players in Charlotte than the unknown commodity the pick would render.

6. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

I wrote extensively about Kidd-Gilchrist earlier this summer (you can find that article here), and continue to believe that MKG could, and probably should, play a major role in the Hornets’ future. MKG is already an elite defender – he has been the best defensive player on the Hornets since he joined the team. But, through two years, he has demonstrated very little else. My hunch is that MKG takes a step forward this season and turns his offensive game into something that more closely resembles a league-average player. He may never be a star, but his upside is tremendous.

Apr 23, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (14) dribbles against the Miami Heat in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I also love MKG’s fit on the team. A backcourt combination of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, and Kidd-Gilchrist will terrorize opposing guards. MKG may even be able to slide over to the four if Clifford decides to play small ball.

At the end of the day, MKG’s trade value is based on two things: his defense and his youth. Kidd-Gilchrist is not yet 21 and oozes potential. If he takes another step forward offensively, the Hornets are set on the perimeter for years to come. If not, the Hornets should easily be able to find a suitor interested in Kidd-Gilchrist.

5. Noah Vonleh

The Hornets were lucky when the Detroit Pistons fell backwards in the lottery this past June. The fortune continued when Vonleh, a consensus top-5 pick pre-draft, fell in their laps with the ninth pick. If you watched Summer League games this past July, you probably saw Vonleh’s potential. In his best moments, Vonleh was an absolute beast on the boards, showed pro-level post moves, a nice outside shot and the ability to alter shots. The kid has a lot to learn though. He frequently had trouble finishing around the basket and fouled at an unsustainable rate. He got lost on offense and missed a ton of free throws. To say Vonleh is raw would be accurate.

With rookies you have to take the good with the bad, and the “good” of Vonleh represents the most valuable young asset on this Hornets squad. His upside is comparable to LaMarcus Aldridge, and if he develops his outside game, it could be even higher. Any major trade the Hornets could pursue this season would almost surely involve Vonleh. Unfortunately, Vonleh had to undergo a sports hernia surgery a couple of weeks ago and will have to miss the training camp. It’s unlikely we will see him play a significant role until midway through the season.