Heading into the offseason, it became clear that the Hornets needed to add another big man to the roster. Montrezl Harrell provided a nice spark midway through the year, but it never felt like they viewed him as a long-term answer at the center position.
The Hornets originally drafted Jalen Duren in the first round but came away with Duke product Mark Williams. The 7'1" big man was highly regarded as the best interior defender in college basketball a year ago averaging 2.8 blocks per game.
It's easy to look at Williams' natural ability to block shots and rebound the ball and assume he will make an immediate impact for this Charlotte Hornets team. However, it doesn't appear that the Hornets are all that interested in rushing his development, meaning he could spend some time in Greensboro to polish up his game before taking on serious NBA minutes.
Head coach Steve Clifford talked about the depth at the center position and how each guy fits into the rotation at the present moment.
“I think that we can be good. I think that we need physicality for sure within our play, within our group play. The areas where we have struggled, a lot of it would be physicality, screening, rebounding. I think those are things that we can work on here, and I love our schedule and the teams we are playing for that. Boston is big, strong, physical. Philadelphia, Indiana, Washington, those are good teams for us to gauge ourselves on. I think that those guys, when you put them all together, there are a lot of strengths there, and again I think it is going to play out in the next two or three weeks.
"Mason will start. If we had to play tonight, Nick Richards would be the backup. He has had a great summer and from Summer League to now he has made more improvements than anybody. Mark Williams is going to have the chance to be a terrific player and I think Summer League was great for him. I think that he got a glimpse of woah, this is a lot harder. So, I think all of those guys are going to get their chances. Kai to me right now is more of a center, he can play some 4. Even for our league he is an exceptional athlete, and physical. How quickly he puts himself in a place where he can legitimately play night in and night out in NBA games is just purpose of play, and for all young players, especially his size, that’s the hardest thing. Playing to your strengths and helping your teammates play to their strengths. All I know about him is he is a phenomenal worker, so we will see.”
Fans voiced their displeasure in regards to Clifford's comments about where Williams fits in, but he cleared some things up in a radio interview with WFNZ on Wednesday stating that the rookie is certainly in the picture.
"Obviously, there's plenty of competition here for playing time. It was brought to my attention that I said he wasn't going to play. That couldn't be farther from the truth. We started practice yesterday, so either I misinterpreted the question or my answer was misinterpreted. It's not that he's not going to have a chance to play or not have a chance be in the rotation. He's a talented player. He's got a bright future. I think he fits well into what the NBA has become and he also fits one of the needs that we have on our team which is defensive rebounding."
Considering the team had not gone through a single practice at the time of his comment, it makes sense that he would view Plumlee and Richards as the top two guys. They're veterans. By the end of preseason play, the outlook of the center position could look drastically different depending on how well everyone plays.
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