I touched on this a little bit yesterday, but the Hornets are in a strange position going into Thursday’s draft. Their needs, according to the GM, include shooting from the perimeter, a strong backup at point guard, and depth in the frontcourt.
That’s literally every position.
Meanwhile, they already have a roster that functions terrifically as a unit. Their starters formed one of the best heavy-minute lineups in the league, played top-six defense, and generated enough offense to make their second playoff appearance since the Bobcats were born — but the sum is probably greater than the parts. Individually, I like all of the pieces they’ve put together, but each is flawed enough that you couldn’t blame Charlotte for safeguarding their future with a lottery pick:
Kemba Walker’s a gamer, a great shot creator, and a developing passer (but he’s never hit over 42 percent from the field and can be limited by his height). Gerald Henderson brings athleticism, versatile defense, and a solid mid-range game (but he’s frustratingly streaky and can’t hit a three unless he’s wide open). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an outstanding role player, and still has plenty of room to grow (but he really, really needs to grow something that resembles a jump shot). Josh McRoberts was a perfect fit for last year’s team (but he played an ultra-specific role, and he may be gone); Cody Zeller is athletic for his size and has potential as a stretch four (but can’t actually stretch the floor until his jumper starts falling). Al Jefferson is a beast in the low post, and legitimized the franchise (but he’s entering his 11th season, is recovering from a busted foot, and only has one more year locked in on this deal).
Combine all that uncertainty with an unusually deep draft, then add the unhealthy optimism that comes with watching too many DraftExpress highlight videos, and I’m struggling to think of a pick at No. 9 I’d be truly unhappy with. Here’s why the top 20 or so prospects are the perfect fit for Charlotte this year:
To drop this far, Wiggins would have to do something extremely unsavory in the next 48 hours. His incredible potential trumps the awkward fit with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and the city of Charlotte collectively forgives him for whatever awful thing he did. Grade: 10/10
Parker has grown to love North Carolina, and tells the first eight teams in the draft he won’t sign with them. A tweener forward, he immediately replaces McRoberts in the starting lineup while MKG takes the tougher defensive assignment. Parker mostly hangs out on the perimeter and gives the team the spacing and scoring they needed last year. Grade: 10/10
Between his cool name and hunky Australian accent, other GMs are too shy to ask Exum to join their team. What if he says no? They just don’t think they could take that type of rejection. Exum comes off the bench for the first 40 games until they figure out what he is, but eventually replaces Henderson in the starting lineup and plays some backup point when Kemba sits. Grade: 10/10
If you squint a little bit, Embiid’s the first somewhat plausible option at No. 9. His back and foot injuries are just troubling enough to scare off other teams, and Charlotte takes advantage. In Year 1, Bismack Biyombo continues to back up Al Jefferson; in Year 2, Embiid returns and has a slow but promising season off the bench; in Year 3, he is literally ’93-’94 Hakeem Olajuwon. Grade: 10/10
Questions about Vonleh’s limited experience cause him to drop, and the Hornets get a steal. The team re-signs McRoberts, shifts Zeller to center, and gives Vonleh backup minutes at power forward until he harnesses his potential. He’s already shown talent as a three-point shooter (though on limited attempts), so he could easily end up a better stretch big than Zeller. Biyombo fulfills his destiny and becomes the shotblocking deep-bench garbageman that everyone loves. Grade: 10/10
They pick up a talented, big point guard, which would be a great complement to Walker from Day 1. If he grows into a star, perfect. Worst-case scenario, he’s a good combo guard and sixth man that helps build out the creaky bench. Grade: 10/10
Randle becomes the heir apparent to Al Jefferson as a premier interior scorer, giving the team a very different look at power forward. He and Zeller combine to form an interesting inside-outside duo in the frontcourt in the years ahead. Grade: 10/10
Charlotte completely abandons a traditional offense, letting Kemba/Henderson/Kidd-Gilchrist/Gordon fly up the court and dunk whenever Jefferson isn’t slowly backing down opponents. The Hornets score 40 points a game, but hold opponents to an average of 39. Gordon’s obviously not a perfect fit, but he could easily be the player with the highest upside remaining. Taking him lets the team swing for the fences and figure out the details later. Grade: 10/10
Punting can be the smart play, especially since Charlotte already has a relatively solid core. Taking Saric and waiting two-three years would be the ultimate “draft for talent, trade for need” pick, especially when the next three players would help fix the team’s biggest problem. Rich Cho flexes his muscles and plays the long game after piledriving Rod Higgins out of the front office. Saric grows into a star-level player overseas, then parachutes in once the young players are hitting their prime. Grade: 10/10
The domestic “Tier 2” players are off the board, and the team doesn’t feel like waiting for Saric. Stauskas is a nice consolation prize: he’s a shooting guard with great size, a versatile offensive game, and terrific shooting. His offensive spark and polish make him an instant fit with the starting lineup, he’s not as terrible on defense as advertised, and Henderson single-handedly fixes the bench as a sixth man getting starter’s minutes. Grade: 10/10
Similar to Stauskas, except Harris is shorter, isn’t as good of a shooter, and plays defense. All the hypothetical stuff listed above happens, though. Grade: 10/10
McDermott is basically bizarro Kidd-Gilchrist, and the two Voltron into a perfect small forward rotation. Grade: 10/10
Payton’s been rocketing up draft boards, so this isn’t as weird as it would have been a few weeks ago. In the short term, he gives the Hornets a tall insane person to run full-speed at opposing benches. In the long term, he’s got the size, speed and passing ability to grow into a very good point guard. Taking a backup PG this high would be a luxury, but he’d be a natural fit with this team: He’s a strong and willing defender, he’s extremely competitive, and he can’t shoot. Grade: 10/10
Cho doesn’t seem afraid to make unpopular moves, and I’m sure plenty of people would hate this pick. He’d be more of a gamble than some of the other SG prospects, but he has size, athleticism, point-guardish skills and he’s already a solid shooter as a freshman. Marginal improvements aren’t going to make this team a contender, and this could be their last shot at adding a star to the team’s young core. Grade: 10/10
Foreign and tall, which works half the time. In a draft that’s short on true centers, Nurkic is the only viable option at the position around No. 9. Finding a solid five somewhere is a good idea this offseason: Big Al started and ended the season with an injury, and Biyombo’s growth has been slow even by “project big man” standards. It’d be nice to have an actual alternative if anything happens to Al or the team decides to move on from Biz. Still, it’s a bit of a reach and not a great fit, so this gets our lowest grade yet. Grade: 9.7/10
Clifford is looking for size and skill, which describes Hood. He has similar strengths (shooting) and weaknesses (defense) as McDermott, but Hood played in a major conference and seems like a more natural small forward. There are better options out there, but anyone that can described as a “shooter” is welcome in Charlotte! It’s also been a while since they drafted an ACC player, and I’m sure some parts of the fanbase are getting restless. He’s been in for two pre-draft workouts, so this does actually feel like a dark-horse possibility. Grade: 10/10
Can’t shoot, but he can score every other way. If the team’s happy with their starters, Warren could instead just be a one-man Band-Aid for the bench. That’d be especially handy, since it’s unclear how Jeff Taylor will bounce back from his Achilles tear and no one’s heard a peep about Chris Douglas-Roberts re-signing. If he eventually develops a long-range shot, he could be a very complete player on the offensive end. Still, for right now, NOT A SHOOTER. Grade: 9.8/10