After signing Gordon Hayward, how does the future look for the Charlotte Hornets in comparison to the New York Knicks?
With a healthy Gordon Hayward, the Hornets will battle the Magic, Wizards and Bulls for the eighth spot in the East. How does Charlotte’s sudden plunge into spending impact the New York Knick fans? In which direction are these franchises headed?
The Charlotte Hornets committed a huge amount of cap space over the next three years in order to sign Gordon Hayward, an average of over $38 million, and a fourth year at $31.5MM. Unless simply making the playoffs is the goal, this deal makes no sense.
After riding Kobe Bryant’s coattails, Mitch Kupchak was fired by the Lakers in 2017 and was then hired by Charlotte. The Hornets surprised by finishing 9th last season, with a +/- that was worse than four of the teams that finished below them.
A baffling aspect of Kupchak’s decision to go all in on Gordon Hayward is that the backbone of his team is young players. Devonte Graham (25), Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington, both 22, all averaged more than 30 mpg. Still on their rookie deals, the Hornets were able to afford Hayward, but he will be 34 when his contract is up.
Cody Zeller’s deal, at $15.4 million is reasonable and expires this season. The Knicks only encumbrance is Julius Randle’s $19MM, with a $4MM guarantee in 21-22.
How the Hornets roster stacks up against the Knicks
Each team had one Tier 5 player in The Athletic’s top 125 players: Devonte Graham and Mitchell Robinson. Since what they bring to the game is so radically different, the comparison will begin and end with each being a top 125 player. The stats of the remaining young players are compared head-to-head. It turns out that they are similar in draft year, contract and position.
Terry Rozier is the incumbent PG and is the better shooter and scorer. With 7.2 assists and only 2.1 TOs, Elfrid Payton is the better distributor. Payton also defends and has the intangibles that make a good teammate and team player. However, Rozier’s 41% shooting percentage from three may give him the edge.
Both teams drafted young point guards in the highly-touted LeMelo Ball and the SEC Player of the Year Immanuel Quickly. We know for sure that Ball is taller and Quickly played against tougher opposition.
P.J. Washington made second team on the NBA All Rookie team and several others as well. RJ Barrett made the ROY list because he received one vote. He had a disappointing year and made very few All-Rookie second teams. Washington and Barrett’s stats are more similar than their efficiency, with RJ’s usage being 5% higher than PJ’s, 23.4% to 18.4%. For now, the edge goes to P.J. Washington and the Hornets.
Malik Monk’s reputation rested on his ability to shoot the ball. However, his efficiency was way down this year, especially from three. Ntilikina’s elite D gives him and the Knicks the edge here.
Jalen McDaniels and Ignas Brazdeikis are second round picks this year who were essentially G-League players. McDaniels played in 16 games compared to Iggy’s nine and his minutes were triple that of Brazdeikis.
2020 NBA Rookie Class
With the opportunity to take Onyeka Okongwu, Charlotte decided to take LeMelo Ball instead, opting for the possibly higher ceiling down the road. The Knicks chose Obi Toppin, the NCAA Player of the Year. Toppin’s impact will be greater this year.
The Hornets are still weak in the middle, with Cody Zeller and Vernon Carey. Mitchell Robinson gives New York the clear edge here, with Noel and Randle as backups. If Obi Toppin starts as Mitch’s running mate, the Knicks will dominate the glass.
In addition to Ball, the Hornets had a solid draft, taking good players in the right spots. Vernon Carey is a capable all-around big, but will be a liability when asked to switch out onto the perimeter. Grant Riller is a 6′ 3″ SG who can score at all three levels. Riller’s age, 24, probably allowed him to slide to 56th. He is an impact player.
New York rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickly are solid additions. Toppin should be in the running for ROY, and Quickley, if given the opportunity, will prove to be a steal. His defense alone will earn him double digit minutes.
The prospect of the Knicks eventually passing the Hornets in the standings is uncertain, based on the evaluation of the young players. Are the additions of LeMelo Ball and and Vernon Carey a more promising duo than Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley? Washington, Bridges and Graham are certainly the stronger group right now. It will be very interesting to see how the young guys on both these teams develop.
The elephant in the room is Gordon Hayward. He is a real pro, and if he can remain healthy, will lead the Charlotte Hornets into playoff contention. Without the help they needed in the middle, they will fall short. Figure the Hornets to finish ahead of the Knicks again.
But is being saddled with the Hayward contract worth a trip to the playoffs as a bottom seed? Devonte Graham is on an expiring contract, Bridges is signed through next year, and Washington is signed through 22-23. The cap room lost due to the Hayward contract is in the $37MM range for these three years. There is a $9 million cap hit due to the release of Nicolas Batum added to Gordon Hayward’s salary. The stretch-and-release provision was necessary to enable the Hornets to sign him. The Charlotte Hornets may not be able to sign all these young players within the next tree years.
With all the draft capital Leon Rose is accumulating, and the probability of a bottom four finish in the East this year, the future of the New York Knicks looks brighter than that of the Charlotte Hornets.