The Missing Piece: Searching for the Next Ryan Anderson
There is an argument made by Hornets fans and some national analysts that gets stated as fact despite a growing amount of evidence to the contrary that I just can’t let slide any longer. The argument is that cap space is somewhat meaningless to a small market team such as ours because we can not attract quality players and/or we have to overpay for quality players to come here. How can we accept this argument as fact coming off the summer that we just had?
Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez were both free agents that saw an opportunity in New Orleans to be a part of a franchise on the rise, signing four and three year deals respectively. They both mentioned Monty Williams in their press conferences and the respect he has around the league, while citing an opportunity to showcase their talents as a primary reason for joining the Hornets. The two signed modest contracts that will cost the Hornets right around $13.5 million annually combined, and in return the Hornets have received just over 29 points and 14 rebounds per game from the duo. Ryan Anderson has perhaps the best contract of any player not on a rookie deal in the NBA when you take production into consideration, and Robin Lopez has a PER higher than several highly paid centers including Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Marcin Gortat, and DeAndre Jordan.
Dell Demps has shown what he can do with cap space and he is getting more of it this summer. The dead money that this team is paying Rashard Lewis and Matt Carroll comes off the books, as does the salaries of Al-Farouq Aminu, Roger Mason, and Xavier Henry. The Hornets figure to have between 16 and 21 million dollars in cap space this summer depending on some decisions that they make on other players on the roster, and that is far more money than it cost for them to land the two guys who lead the team in production this year. Demps needs to identify the next Ryan Anderson- an undervalued player who is capable of producing at an elite level. Even a couple of Lopez-type signings wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. With that in mind, here are a couple of guys to watch out for:
Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Most people think that Ryan Anderson really made a leap last season, but in reality he was pretty much the same player as he was in the season prior, he just got more minutes and shots. The same might be said for Teague, who is posting career highs in points and assists this year because of his increased role in the Hawks offense. But the reality is that Teague has actually been quite good for a couple of years, as his per-36 numbers have been nearly identical over the last three seasons. In fact, Teague has actually seen a drop in his true shooting percentage this season, partly because he doesn’t have another playmaker on the court that can allow him to play off the ball from time to time. Eric Gordon could do a lot of the things that Joe Johnson did with the Hawks, handling the ball in the half court, and that is when Teague was at his most efficient offensively.
The Hawks are said to be in the market for CP3 this summer and if they chase him, one could see a scenario where they take for granted the 24 year-old blossoming point guard that they have right under their nose. In that case, a sign-and-trade could be in the works or perhaps the Hornets could just put a deal in front of him that the Hawks refuse to match. When you look at the deals signed by other point guards in his class this summer, a deal that is similar to Anderson’s could be all it takes to bring in a starting point guard that would drastically improve this team on both ends of the court.
Chase Budinger, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Before he got hurt this season, many felt that Budinger was looking like a guy poised for a breakout season. He hadn’t found his three-point stroke yet in Rick Adelmen’s offense but he was shooting nearly 70% on two-pointers, attacking the rim and hitting a newly developed mid-range shot with consistency. A career 37% three-point shooter coming into this season, that part of his game was likely to take off as well, seeing that the Timberwolves acquired him partly because he shot 52% on his corner three’s the year before. Budinger has a lot of aspects of his game that fit into what the Hornets are trying to do at the SF position offensively and this coud be a place where he finally gets consistent minutes. He has never gotten more than 24 minutes per night in his career and was in a timeshare for all three years in Houston. Budinger is an unrestricted free agent this summer and a modest contract could bring him in; a contract that could very easily be greatly exceeded by his production.
Gerald Henderson, SG, Charlotte Bobcats
If you want to find a young vet who has been quietly improving every year, Gerald Henderson is your guy. Henderson has been on a horrible team the past couple of seasons, and because of that most people haven’t noticed that he has turned himself into a nice player who might be able to really blossom if surrounded by some complimentary talent. His PER has risen dramatically every year he has been in the league, and is up to a very respectable 16.7 this season. His true shooting percentage is in the top ten amongst starting shooting guards mostly because he has significantly improved his three-point shooting this year. The problem with Henderson has been injuries, and he was banged up again this year but has returned from a foot injury and is playing wonderfully. Again, a modest contract could take him away from a Bobcats team that is suddenly loaded at the guard position and the Hornets could land a guy who is at the point in his career where he is primed for takeoff.
Other Possibilities: Andray Blatche (2nd amongst PF’s in PER), Brandan Wright (6th amongst centers in PER), Rodrigue Beaubois *(high assist rate/low turnover rate)
All Eyes on Eric Bledsoe
It is nice to fantasize about the players that Dell can land next summer, but if he wants to make a move this year that can set the franchise up for the foreseeable future, the target in his sights has to be Eric Bledsoe. The Bucks are sticking with Jennings this year as they make a playoff push, so he is off the table, but Bledsoe is very much on it because of the position that the LA Clippers find themselves in at this moment. The Clippers are all about winning big this year, as well they should be, because a first-round exit could also mean an exit by Chris Paul. Bledsoe has been fantastic in his limited minutes, but he is stuck behind both Paul and Chauncey Billups at the point and can’t find minutes at the two because Jamal Crawford is having his best season as a pro. Bledsoe is the Clippers most valuable trade asset that they can afford to part with and they need size on their front line to compete with Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Tim Duncan once they reach the playoffs. A trade built around Bledsoe and Robin Lopez as the key components just seems to make sense for both teams, with perhaps Vasquez thrown in as an insurance policy for the Clippers.
The beautiful part is that if Dell can make this trade work, he will actually find himself with extra money this offseason to fill in the three position and find a replacement for Lopez. Meanwhile, Bledsoe and Gordon would take the Hornets perimeter defense from horrid to elite overnight. For so many reasons, this is the ideal move for the Hornets to make between now and the trade deadline, and Dell will have added another chapter to his legacy if he can pull it off.
Game to Watch
It sounds odd, but check out tonight’s Canisus vs. Syracuse game tonight at 6:00 CST on ESPN3/ESPN Full Court. Canisus is actually good this year, but the guy you will actually be watching for is Syracuse super sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, a 6 foot 6 point guard who is leading the nation in assists. Carter is still somewhat raw offensively, but the potential is almost limitless with this guy. I grew up watching a lot of college basketball in the 90′s and it is hard not to see a lot of Fab Five Jalen Rose in his game. Fun kid to watch, even if it is against Canisus.
The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on Hornets247.com. For previous issues in the series, click here.
The Missing Piece: Searching for the Next Ryan Anderson
I like Brandon wright as a replacement for Lopez if we end up not re-signing him