The Charlotte Hornets finished last season 10 games below .500, at 36-46, ending on a five-game losing streak. So they have plenty of flaws to address this off-season.
They don’t have many options to address those flaws. Spending big to re-sign Nic Batum and Marvin Williams last July, and making the in-season trade for big man Miles Plumlee’s contract ($12.4 million each of the next three seasons), the Hornets have about $100 million in salary obligations for the 2017-18 season, approximating next season’s salary cap.
That means the Hornets are unlikely to be significant players in free agency. They will have a mid-level exception (allowing them to sign a player making a first-season salary of around $8.4 million), but any other roster fixes would likely come through the June 22 draft or through trades.
The Hornets hold the 11th pick (plus the 41st overall pick in the second round) in a draft rich in guards. They have numerous needs. Where should they turn?
Here are five players worth considering for the 11th pick. One or more might not be available at 11, and 11 could be too high for one or two, as well. But this can serve as some food for thought as the Hornets begin auditioning draft prospects at Spectrum Center in the coming weeks.
Dennis Smith, N.C. State point guard
Smith was touted as a lottery pick before he arrived in Raleigh. While the Wolfpack didn’t have a successful season, Smith’s freshman statistics (18.1 points, 6.2 assists) confirm he’s a pro.
The Hornets are hurting for point-guard depth. Ramon Sessions, signed last summer, missed much of last season with knee surgery. His $6.2 million salary next season is a team option, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Hornets chose not to bring him back.
Smith’s height at 6-foot-3 would be a nice complement to a somewhat smaller starter in Kemba Walker. Coach Steve Clifford used Walker and his then-backup, Jeremy Lin, together successfully two seasons ago in late-game situations. Smith might serve the same purpose.
Zach Collins, Gonzaga forward-center
Granted, this franchise previously drafting a Gonzaga player in the lottery (Adam Morrison in 2006) was a disaster. Also, the Hornets already have a developmental big guy in Frank Kaminsky.
But Collins’ athleticism for a 7-footer grabs your attention. In his only college season, he averaged 10 points and nearly six rebounds and two blocks, and he wasn’t the featured big man at Gonzaga (that was senior Przemek Karnowski).
Collins might be perceived as a luxury, if the Hornets chose him with the 11th pick. However, Plumlee has yet to prove himself as a Hornet, and an over-abundance of big men is seldom a bad thing in the NBA.
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville guard
Mitchell, at 6-3, is a combo guard. You could play him a little at point guard, but offensively he’s more of a scorer than a facilitator.
It’s his defense that should intrigue the Hornets. This team regressed on defense last season. The 3-point percentage allowed (36.9 percent) was one of the worst in the NBA. Mitchell was one of the better perimeter defenders in college basketball last season, and his 6-10 wingspan sure would be attractive on close-outs at the NBA 3-point line.
The Hornets need bench reinforcements. Marco Belinelli played well, following the trade from the Sacramento Kings, but he’s 31. An injection of youth, defense and versatility would be valuable, and Mitchell could provide some of that.
Justin Jackson, North Carolina forward
The 11th pick might be a little early for Jackson, but the Hornets should certainly give him a look, as a guy with length (6-11 wingspan), experience (two runs to the national championship game) and a knack for scoring.
Jackson, who is 6-8 and 210 pounds, consistently improved his 3-point shooting in college, to 37 percent last season. Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a fine defender, but he’s still figuring out how to consistently score after five seasons in the NBA.
The Hornets have a financial commitment to Jeremy Lamb, but options off the bench are a clear area of need for this team.
Harry Giles, Duke forward-center
It would be a considerable risk for the Hornets to use the 11th pick on Giles, considering his past knee injuries, including a torn ACL. However, the upside could be major.
Giles is huge at 6-10, 240, with a 7-3 wingspan. He didn’t play much in his one season at Duke, but he showed flashes as he continues to recover from past injuries.
Giles impressed at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month. He demonstrated hand skills that weren’t necessarily apparent off his games with the Blue Devils. A big man’s ability to dribble and pass effectively in traffic is all the more valuable at the NBA level.
Giles might define the high risk/high reward player in this draft.