Hornets’ Borrego on center depth, and why Carey and Richards are still on Swarm roster

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Rick Bonnell
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Charlotte Hornets’ shallow situation at center came to a head this weekend, with starter Cody Zeller missing back-to-back games with a hip contusion.

As the Hornets scramble for options, are rookies Vernon Carey and Nick Richards under consideration for the rotation?

Not immediately, with them slated to finish out the G-League schedule at least through the All-Star break. But coach James Borrego is monitoring what Carey and Richards are doing with the Greensboro Swarm, and that could influence rotation decisions the second half of the Hornets’ season.

“I think you could see them down the road” this season, Borrego said in response to an Observer question before Sunday’s road game against the Sacramento Kings.

“If we need one or both of them, we’ll know what we have, and maybe they’re a little bit more prepared” for meaningful minutes.

Carey, from Duke, and Richards, from Kentucky, were big men chosen in the second round. Combined, they have played only 29 minutes for the Hornets this season, and only after games were decided.

A major gap in Hornets center depth

Sunday was the 14th game Zeller has missed this season, among 33. Borrego chose not to elevate Bismack Biyombo, the only other true center on the active roster, to the starters against the Golden State Warriors Friday. Instead, Borrego moved P.J. Washington from power forward to center, and Biyombo played only 12 minutes.

Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (8) blocks a shot by Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) during the first half of Saturday’s game in Tampa, Fla.
Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo (8) blocks a shot by Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) during the first half of Saturday’s game in Tampa, Fla.

Rim protection was a disaster against the Warriors: The Hornets gave up nine first-quarter dunks and a season-high 72 points in the lane. Biyombo was a starter Sunday against the Kings.

Is Borrego concerned about center depth going forward?

“When Cody and Biz are healthy, together they’re a good tandem for us,” Borrego replied. “Having only one of them there at our disposal is difficult for us. It makes it difficult at the rim, and it changes our defense quite a bit.”

The Hornets have an open roster spot and about $4 million in space under the salary cap, if general manager Mitch Kupchak chooses to use it to add an experienced center.

Carey, Richards get heavy Swarm minutes

Since Kupchak and Borrego arrived in Charlotte, they have had a firm policy that if young guys aren’t in the rotation, they belong with the Swarm getting experience. That system has helped develop Devonte Graham, Jalen McDaniels and Cody and Caleb Martin into rotation options.

Charlotte Hornets rookie Nick Richards is going to the G-League bubble to play for the Greensboro Swarm.
Charlotte Hornets rookie Nick Richards is going to the G-League bubble to play for the Greensboro Swarm.

On-boarding and developing this rookie class has been greatly complicated by the pandemic. There were only about two weeks between the draft and training camp for rookies to become acclimated, and there was no summer league. As Kupchak told the Observer, most rookies look understandably “overwhelmed.”

Carey and Richards are getting heavy minutes in the Swarm’s 15-game schedule in the G-League bubble on Disney’s campus outside Orlando, Fla. Carey is averaging 18 points and 9.1 rebounds. Richards is averaging 17.3 points and 11 rebounds.

“They both have pop, they both have more than I had seen” prior to being assigned to the Swarm, Borrego said.

“Vern has played extremely well down there. There is something to that kid. There is something there. I don’t know where we’ll go with that one just yet. I want to see him marinate and develop a little bit more.

“Obviously, Nick has had an impact down there in a number of games I’ve watched -- in the paint and rebounding.”

Borrego said the Hornets considered moving Carey or Richards back to the Hornets roster as injuries piled up, but NBA protocols would cost days of inactivity. The Hornets have two games left before All-Star break following the Kings game, and the Swarm’s season will likely conclude next weekend.

The pandemic has robbed the Hornets of easy mobility to and from the Swarm’s roster.

“Last year, they could practice in Greensboro and then be at a (Hornets) game that evening,” Borrego said. “That’s why I love the proximity of Greensboro to us.”