The Hornets face many questions about their roster this offseason, and the draft will indicate the direction of this franchise.
Team: Charlotte Hornets
Draft Picks: #22
Team Needs: Shooting Guard, Power Forward, Center
Key Players: Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson (UFA), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nicolas Batum (UFA)
The Charlotte Hornets are at a real crossroads this offseason when it comes of the future of their franchise. The Hornets have eight players set to hit free agency this summer, and it is likely that a few will garner a lot of attention from other teams once Jul. 1 roles around.
Starters Courtney Lee, Batum, and Jefferson are all unrestricted free agents. Additionally, vital role players Tyler Hansbrough, Marvin Williams, and Jeremy Lin are going to hit free agency as well. Resigning Batum should be the Hornets’ initial priority this summer; it looks like he wishes to return to Charlotte, but it might not be possible to keep him with Jefferson, Lee, and Lin all on the roster. It is very likely that the top eight players on this roster look very different by opening day this fall.
With only the face of the franchise in Walker and former second overall pick Kidd-Gilchrist guaranteed to return as featured players, the draft is a way for the Hornets to show which direction they are headed this summer and in the future.
While picking in the early 20s doesn’t guarantee a starter, there is certainly potential to find a diamond in the rough. Over the last five drafts, Rodney Hood (2014), Mason Plumlee (2013), and Kenneth Faried (2011) all went either 22nd or 23rd overall and grew into solid starters for their teams. For a team with as many question marks as the Hornets, finding the right player is crucial to add to their young core. I’ve come up with five potential players that would each help the Hornets improve in different ways.
1. Domantas Sabonis: Sophomore - Gonzaga University
Sabonis is a name that a lot of older fans will recognize from his father Arvydas who also played in the NBA. Domantas brings a lot of the same passing, rebounding, and toughness to his game that his father did along with his extremely high basketball IQ. He flashed his potential this season by dominating two probable lottery picks in Washington’s Marquese Chriss during the regular season and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl in the NCAA Tournament.
Sabonis’ biggest weakness is his short wingspan and that he can struggle to score at times. However, the biggest question is whether or not he will still be available at 22. Most mock drafts have him going in the mid to late teens, but if he is still available at pick No. 22, the Hornets should absolutely take him. He would be a great replacement for Jefferson in the future and be a fantastic building block for years to come.
2. Brice Johnson: Senior - University of North Carolina
Johnson is an extremely athletic forward whose bounce and athletic ability make for a very exciting pick. His biggest question in his transition to the NBA is his size. At 6’9” and only 208 lbs. he weighs less than many small forwards. If he were able to put on 15-20 more pounds, he would be the perfect hybrid 4 and a new dimension on offense.
The biggest hole in his game as an undersized big man is his poor outside shooting. He shot 71.9% inside the paint last season, but only 31.7% from outside the paint. While he might never become a good or even average three-point shooter, developing a mid-range shot would bring his potential up to another level.
His fantastic paint scoring means that a pick-and-roll with him and Kemba Walker can be an effective weapon that the Hornets don’t currently have on their roster.
Steve Mitchell - USA TODAY Sports
Johnson and Sabonis are solid picks if the Hornets feel they need to replace Jefferson or add frontline depth. But, finding a guard would fill a need as well and might be a better use of the pick if there isn’t a big man left that they are enamored with.
3. Denzel Valentine: Senior - Michigan State University
Valentine was the best player in college basketball last season, but will possibly fall in the draft because of his size, athleticism, and injury questions.
At 6’6” Valentine played more like a point guard at times for Michigan State during his career, but will likely have to move to more of a wing in the NBA. Adjusting to the ball being in Kemba’s hands might take time. But Valentine is extremely versatile, with averages of 19.3 points, 7.8 assists, and 7.5 rebounds this past season, and will adapt.
The Hornets will likely have a hole in the shooting department with three of their four best outside shooters (Williams, Lee, and Batum) possibly leaving through free agency. Their absence would mean a severe drop in shooting, but Valentine’s 45% shooting from three last season is a good way to address that problem.
4. Malik Beasley: Freshman - Florida State University
Beasley isn’t the polished product or all-around player that Valentine is yet, but he brings athleticism and potential that Valentine lacks. Beasley’s transition explosion and overall scoring ability are hard to deny after averaging 15.6 points per game and shooting over 47% from the field last season. The reasons he likely falls to the late first or early second round are because of his unknown defensive ability, and because he didn’t workout at the NBA combine.
When he was on the court for FSU, however, he showed explosion and athleticism that is hard to find at this stage of the draft. He wasn’t asked to do much on the defensive end for a below-average ACC squad last season, but his athleticism and solid rebounding rate for a guard indicate that he may be able to grow into success on that side of the ball. He is not polished enough defensively to start right away, but his promise and fit alongside Kemba might make the patience worth it.
5. Caris LeVert: Senior - University of Michigan
LeVert, on the other hand, is falling in mock drafts because of concerns about his injury history. Both of his last two seasons were cut short due to left leg injuries, and that has scared some teams away from him in the first round. When healthy, he was a player with potential lottery talent. His height at 6’7”, 7’ wingspan, athleticism, and shooting ability make him an extremely intriguing prospect.
LeVert is the prototypical “high risk, high reward” selection. His talent alone would make him a top-15 prospect, but his growth may be limited by his injuries. Picking LeVert at 22 is much more of a risk than Beasley or Valentine, but his ceiling is potentially higher than either. If the Hornet’s medical staff is confident that he will recover and not have lasting effects from his injuries, then he could be a great pick in the second half of the first round.
Whether the Hornets go guard or big man, they should aim high. Their young core is only going to get better over the next two to three seasons, and taking another player with extremely high potential could be the piece they need to compete for the East in a few seasons.
The Draft Order and Team Needs
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets (From New York)
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (From Denver)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks (From Utah)
13. Phoenix Suns (From Washington) - Second 1st Round Pick
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (From Houston) - Second 1st Round Pick
16. Boston Celtics (From Dallas) - Second 1st Round Pick
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (From Portland) - Third 1st Round Pick
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks - Second First Round Pick
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics - Third First Round Pick
24. Philadelphia 76ers (From Miami) - Second First Round Pick
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (From Oklahoma City) - Third First Round Pick
27. Toronto Raptors - Second First Round Pick
28. Phoenix Suns (From Cleveland) - Third First Round Pick
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors
No Picks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards
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