The Charlotte Hornets hold the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft and the potential for trades above them means anyone could be on the board. Here’s who they should prioritize.
On paper, the Hornets have a promising young core that’s especially strong in the backcourt. Terry Rozier actually lived up to his big new contract, averaging 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, hitting better than 40 percent of his 3s and playing respectable defense. In addition, Devonte’ Graham broke out in his second season, averaging 18.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, and hitting 37.3 percent of his 3s.
However, as good as they were offensively, the Hornets were still outscored by an average of 5.4 points per 100 possessions when Graham and Rozier were on the court together. At best, the rest of the rotation will need some significant defensive upgrades to make that pairing viable. The other option is looking for a replacement for one that makes for a stronger combination, or a third-guard who complements both.
P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges and Caleb Martin all look like useful pieces, bring some combination of shooting and defensive versatility. But Cody Zeller is likely gone after next season and the roster is currently without a defensive anchor or a star presence to really hold everything else together.
Who should the Charlotte Hornets target in this year’s NBA Draft?
1. Onyeka Okongwu, Big, USC, Big Board Rank: 3
Okongwu is the best defensive big man prospect in this class, an excellent rim protector who has the strength to bang and has also shown the ability to switch out on the perimeter deterring penetration and defending in space. He’s not a post threat and his 25 percent 3-point shooting may give the impression that he’s a limited threat (he was 1-on-4), but he made 72 percent of his free throws and 41.5 percent of his jumpers inside the arc last season. Obviously, he’ll be useful as a screen-setter and rim-runner but he’s also a good passer and could conceivably develop into a pick-and-pop threat all the way out to the 3-point line.
Bam Adebayo comps have been thrown around for Okongwu, which may be a bit much. But he projects to be a strong defensive piece who can add offensive value in a variety of ways. He may not have as high a ceiling as some of the other prospects in this class, but honestly, everyone is pretty high-variance in that regard. Among the top players, Okongwu is, by far, the cleanest fit for the Hornets and arguably has a higher floor and ceiling than James Wiseman.
2. Killian Hayes, Guard, Ulm, Big Board Rank: 2
Selecting Hays is a gamble on finding a third guard to complement Rozier and Graham and bring out the best in both of them. Hayes is ostensibly a point guard but he has the size to defend several positions. And although he doesn’t project to be an elite defender he’s probably stronger in that regard than either of the Hornets’ other point guards. His play-making would allow both Rozier and Graham to spend a little more time off the ball, leveraging Rozier’s attacking instincts and Graham’s spot-up shooting. But Hayes also projects to be a good shooter himself, and he could work interchangeably on and off the ball. He may have less All-Star upside than Ball or Edwards but his floor is certainly higher and if the Hornets try to find a bridge for Rozier and Graham, he’s by far the best option.
3. LaMelo Ball, Wing, Illawarra Hawks, Big Board Rank: 1
Ball offers a little more star potential, especially if you buy that his effort-based defensive issues can be corrected and that his terrible shooting percentages are largely a product of terrible decision-making. He’d be slotted into a role somewhat like Hayes, playing with one or both of Graham and Rozier, taking the bigger defensive matchup in the backcourt and sliding on and off the ball. Ball is, by far, the best passer and playmaker in this class and there’s a good chance the value he adds there could be significant in making Bridges and Washington into much more effective players. So he’d come with a bit more upside and a bit more risk, but based on buzz it seems unlikely Ball is still there at No. 3.
4. Devin Vassell, Wing, Florida State, Big Board Rank: 6
Vassell is probably the best 3-and-D prospect in this class, an incredibly long wing defender who creates steals and blocks, doesn’t turn the ball (like at all), drills open 3s and may even have some upside as a secondary creator. He doesn’t really help break up the Graham-Rozier logjam in the backcourt but his defense would be a huge plus, his shooting will create a lot more space for the guards, and, long-term, he’s an upgrade over Miles Bridges. It’s perhaps a safer and more conventional pick, but there’s very little chance of him completely washing out for Charlotte.
5. Anthony Edwards, Big, Washington, Big Board Rank: 4
Edward is at the top of a lot of big boards because of his physical tools and pure scoring ability. But he’s also a very shaky defender and decision-maker who didn’t exactly convert his production into a lot of wins for Georgia last year. And, like Ball, there’s the question of how much his poor shooting percentages were depressed by shot selection. There’s a good chance Edwards is not there for the Hornets at No. 3 but if he is, they’d have to think long and hard about his All-Star upside. He may give the team the best chance in this class of a star player that helps everyone else slot into a defined role, but he doesn’t really work as a third guard with Rozier and Graham and it probably sets up another trade down the line.