Hilton, Melvin, and the Kiwi are no Zo, LJ, and Parish . Or even Elden Campbell, P.J. Brown, or Derrick Coleman. But how well the trio is used will be just as important as the play of most any individual.
At first glance, it seems that Sean Marks will be the odd man out. He's only played 300 minutes once in an eight year career. He's averaged 66 missed games a season. Hilton and Melvin are much more familiar with Byron Scott's system, and the Hornets will surely observe Hilton more closely in potentially his last year. Still, Coach Scott's proclivity for Ryan Bowen makes you reconsider that assumption.
Still, who offers the most in terms of post play and which pair should be on the court together? Offensive Ability One thing all three players have in common is the inability to finish at the rim. Hilton Armstrong's eFG% took a significant plummet (54% to 45%) last season primarily because he didn't take it up strong enough. We saw numerous dunk attempts blocked, and he often couldn't shake off fouls near the rim and finish. Melvin Ely was probably the most egregious lay-up misser on the team. And while I haven't seen Sean Marks play much, his Hot Spots indicate that he took most of his shots from close range, and he's a career 43% eFG% shooter.
Ely does have an advantage offensively in that he draws fouls at a 4.3 FTA/36 min rate, higher than Armstrong (3.6) or the Kiwi (0.9). Throw in his polished back to the basket game, and I think it's clear that Ely is the superlative offensive player.
Defensive Ability When Hilton was first drafted, I was most excited about the defender he could turn into. He was in possession of a 6’11," 240 pounds, and the full complement of Jay Bilas "long," "athletic," and "upside" comments. His rookie year, we saw flashes of that potential. But last year, he took a serious step back. The two biggest negatives: fouls per block attempt rose sharply, and he struggled to keep up his footwork with opposing post players. His fouls per 36 (6.4 last year) is at odds with the rest of the non-fouling Hornet defense, while Ely’s defense (4.3) fits in far more. And yet, I’d still peg Hilton as the better defender. Ely simply doesn’t have the length of Armstrong. Hilton’s slender frame makes him more versatile as a defender.
Sean Marks, surprisingly enough, may also be in this conversation. In 19 games, he registered a 5.0 BLK%. It’s probably worth seeing if he can replicate that.
Rebounding Believe it or not, rebounding was not one of the Hornets’ strong suits last year. Remove Tyson Chandler from the equation, and the rest of his teammates seriously underperformed on the boards.
The one aspect HA didn’t drop off in last year was rebounding. His offensive rates (10.2) and defensive rates (16.4) remained solid, and if nothing else, will assure him playing time. Sean Marks brings less offensive rebounding to the table (6.8), but more defensive (18.4). And Ely is somewhere in between at 8.3 and 15.6. Overall, Hilton is the best rebounder (13.2), with Marks second (12.6) and Ely third (11.8). Still, those three values are pretty close. This comes down to which rebounders work well together as opposed to an individual analysis. Do you want a good offensive/defensive look with Marks and Armstrong together? A more safe approach with Ely paired in there? How does having James Posey on the floor impact things? All good questions, and all difficult ones to answer without actually seeing the trio function on the floor.
The Best Pair?
Defensively, the Armstrong-Marks combination intrigues me. Both have block rates which would allow them to be great help defenders. Obviously, help defense is something the overall defense was predicated on last year. DX and TC did a terrific job covering for the small CP3/Pargo backcourt, and I expect James Posey to slide into a similar role this year.
The best offense-defense combination may still be Armstrong-Ely. Even though Sean Marks is the better defensive rebounder empirically, I have a hard time believing he can man up better than Hilton. Marks really doesn’t cover any of Ely’s or Armstrong’s deficiencies on the offensive end either.
As much as I’d like to see the Ceiling Fan Repair Man backed by The Kiwi, it doesn’t make much sense from any angle. Then you also have the chance of another Brandon Bass scenario with Hilton Armstrong. Not likely, but not rule-out-able.