Charlotte Hornets: Analyzing The Vital Backup Center Role

The Charlotte Hornets have washed their hands of Dwight Howard and will now turn back to Cody Zeller at the center spot to help recreate the 48 win magic of 2015-16. There’s a significant issue with that: Zeller has missed 69 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. After playing all 82 games during his rookie season, Zeller has averaged only 57.5 games per season since.

When Zeller is healthy, he and Kemba Walker have been one of the more lethal point guard-center duos in the league. Per Basketball Reference, in ’15-16, Walker and Zeller posted a +4.4 net rating in 72 games played together. A season later, it was twice as good, as the two were +8.2 in 59 games. It just works for Charlotte when Walker and Zeller share the floor.

Enter Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo. One of these players will almost assuredly have to play starter minutes for a stretch this coming season if we assume Zeller misses at least 15 games. Both of these players have clear strengths, but their games are opposite in nature.

The Hornets will hold their training camp from September 25-27 in Chapel Hill, NC and it’s safe to assume that the battle between Hernangomez and Biyombo will be entertaining. It’s an important question for Charlotte to get answered: who can the team depend on coming off the bench?

Second-unit struggles have been a first language in Charlotte over the past two seasons and that will have to end if the Hornets want to return to the playoffs. This is the exact reason the team traded for Hernangomez, whose role had diminished in New York, at the trade deadline last season. Acquiring Biyombo this summer in an exchange of bad salary was the same concept, although in a much different style transaction. Charlotte took on an extra year of Biyombo’s salary, so it’s clear they viewed him as bad money, where they perceived Mozgov as dead money.

Hernangomez has only two seasons of NBA experience, whereas Biyombo has seven years under his belt in the league. Amazingly, Biyombo is not even two years older than Hernangomez, so experience and age probably don’t play as big of a factor in this competition as one might believe. Hernangomez earned NBA All-Rookie honors in 2016-17. The summer prior to that, Biyombo inexplicably earned a $72-million contract from the Orlando Magic for displaying his athletic rim protection against Lebron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Let’s dive into the strengths and weaknesses of both players and attempt to ascertain who the better fit is as the backup center for the Charlotte Hornets.

Next Up: Willy Hernangomez

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