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Examining Three Options to Backup LaMelo Ball

Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas or Elfrid Payton to backup Lamelo Ball?

When the Hornets tip off the season on October 12th at Wells Fargo Center we know that Lamelo Ball is going to be the engine that makes the Hornets' offense run. 

While it would be nice if the Hornets could turn off fatigue like it was a game of 2K, that is unfortunately not the case. The Hornets need someone that can come in while LaMelo rests and keep that proverbial engine running smoothly. There have been three rumored players that could fill that role for the Hornets; Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, and Elfrid Payton. Each player is capable of playing this role for the Hornets but they all bring something a little different to the organization. Let's dive into the pros and cons of what each guy would bring to the table.

1.) Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker is a Charlotte Hornets legend. 

Currently, on the Detroit Pistons, Kemba is expected to be bought out before the season begins. If that comes to fruition the Hornets could bring Kemba back to the city where he spent the first eight years of his career. Kemba has dealt with nagging injuries since he left Charlotte, perhaps his explosive and quick twitch style of play combined with his small frame was never going to be a recipe to age like a fine wine.

However, the Charlotte Hornets would only need him to come in to play 10-20 minutes a game while LaMelo gets a few quick breathers. I think it's safe to say the fan base would embrace a Kemba return as he poured everything he had into this city and franchise for close to a decade. Kemba would provide another veteran voice to the locker room as well as be an extension of Steve Clifford on the floor as it's well documented that Cliff and Kemba formed a special player-coach relationship during their first stint in Buzz City.

The worry I have with Kemba is even though the Hornets wouldn't be asking him to play a ton of minutes, he has continually been injured since he left Charlotte. Would he be able to make it through the 82-game season? Signing him to be the backup just for him to miss time would put the Hornets in the same situation they currently find themselves in; in need of a backup PG. Another concern one may have is the possibility for there to be an odd locker room dynamic between the former face of the franchise and the current star they are building around. When considering the easygoing personality Kemba has displayed over the years and LaMelo's happy-go-lucky demeanor it likely would not be a big deal. However, at this stage, the Hornets must do everything they can to support LaMelo Ball and if there is any risk that things get awkward it may not be worth it. Lastly, Kemba has never been a net-positive defender and as he approaches his mid 30's, I wouldn't expect that to get any better at this point.

2.) Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas was brought in at the end of the 2021-2022 season for the Hornets and did a great job serving as the backup point guard to end the season. The young guys in the locker room seem to gravitate towards him based off their interactions even after the season was over. Lamelo Ball responded to Isaiah Thomas's tweet on July 25th saying "I need to be back with my young killas!!!" with a "mannn my mf brudda." Based off these tweets and other posts that have popped up on social media during the season it seems that LaMelo and IT have a great relationship. Veteran leader for the young team? Check. On the court, Isaiah shot a shade under 40% from 3 on 3.4 attempts a game. Thomas provided spacing to the 2nd unit that they were not getting when Ish Smith was serving in that role earlier in the season.

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The cons here are similar to Kemba's in that he is a small guard that is going to be a liability on defense. He will give you a nice scoring punch, but anytime he is on the floor opposing teams will attack him on the defensive end. No backup PG is going to be perfect, especially not any that are on the market as the calendar turns to September. Considering the options available and IT's current relationship with the young guys, he would be a viable player to give spot minutes night in and night out. Whereas bringing Kemba back would align more with head coach Steve Clifford, bringing Isaiah Thomas back would seem to align more with what LaMelo Ball wants.

3.) Elfrid Payton

Elfrid Payton is a former lottery pick with good size for the point guard position standing at 6'3" and just under 200 pounds. He is not as tall as LaMelo Ball but he is known for his defensive prowess, especially in comparison to the guys we discussed above. Payton also has some nice playmaking chops, at one point in his career averaging 7.6 assists a game for the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018-2019 season. He would add a solid defender to the roster and can create plays for his teammates. Unfortunately, this is where the pros section ends for Elfrid.

Payton has played for five different teams throughout his 10 year career. While there are multiple factors that go into why he hasn't been able to stick with one franchise it can mostly be drawn up to the fact that he isn't very good at the most important skill in the NBA today, three-point shooting. According to basketball-reference.com Payton is a career 28.2% 3-point shooter which is well below the league average. And while Payton is a 10-year vet, he does not carry the same accolades as former all-stars Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas. In turn, his voice would not carry the same weight in the locker room as 33-year-old Isaiah Thomas or 32-year-old Kemba Walker.

After examining the three players that have been most linked to the Hornets backup PG position, I would choose Isaiah Thomas. He will be serviceable in his minutes on the floor while also bringing a steady veteran presence to the locker room. For me, it was close, but Kemba's injury concerns were enough to sway me in favor of bringing Isaiah Thomas back. Payton's defense would be nice but for a backup point guard in this situation, I would prefer to have a veteran presence in the locker room after considering what the Hornets organization has gone through this offseason.

What do you think? Let me know on Twitter @_E_Barnes 

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