Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho said Friday he believes the player chosen with the No. 11 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft will crack the team’s playing rotation as a rookie.
That speaks to two things: Cho’s faith in the depth of this draft class, and the Hornets’ severe need to upgrade their second unit.
Lacking depth was a big factor in the Hornets’ disappointing 36-46 season. That was in part because of injuries, with the Hornets losing big men Roy Hibbert and Miles Plumlee for long stretches of last season. (Hibbert was part of the package the Hornets traded to Milwaukee for Plumlee.)
The Hornets took a hit last summer when Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and particularly Jeremy Lin left in free-agency. The Hornets prioritized re-signing Nic Batum and Marvin Williams. After that, they filled in the second unit by signing veterans Hibbert and Ramon Sessions and trading for Marco Belinelli.
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Frank Kaminsky, Belinelli and Jeremy Lamb each had some strong games, but in general the Hornets’ bench was their greatest flaw last season.
“One thing we feel like we were really lacking last year, where we took a step back, was the bench,” Cho said at his pre-draft media availability. “We need a backup point guard, we need another big, we could use another wing to do some more shooting.”
The first of those areas – a backup to point guard Kemba Walker – appears to be a pressing need. The Hornets’ signing of Sessions wasn’t particularly fruitful. He had one of his weaker seasons before needing knee surgery in February to repair a torn meniscus. The Hornets have a team option on Sessions’ $6 million salary for next season, and it’s far from a given that option will be exercised.
Sessions didn’t provide nearly the versatility Lin did the previous season before signing with the Brooklyn Nets.
“One thing we missed was the ability to play with or without Kemba, and Jeremy’s size” to play point or shooting guard, Cho said. “That’s something we’re definitely looking for, whether it’s the draft or free agency.”
This draft – and particularly the top 10 picks – is rich with guards. While it’s questionable whether any of the top five point guards is still available with the 11th pick, other options, such as defensively adept combo guard Donovan Mitchell of Louisville, figure to be available.
“(Playing time) is going to be up to Coach (Steve) Clifford, but we’ll get a good player there,” Cho said of the 11th pick.
The Hornets also have the 41st overall pick in the second round of a 60-player draft. The Hornets haven’t retained a player chosen in the second round since selecting Jeff Taylor in 2012. Three other second-round picks – Juan Vaulet, Dwight Powell and Semaj Christon – were dealt away before they ever played for the Hornets.
Cho sounded like it’s more likely the Hornets will retain the two rookies to be chosen Thursday, though he didn’t discount the possibility of a trade. Cho said there is little difference between a player chosen late in the first round or in the middle of the second round this time around.
“A lot of things can happen; I just got offered something for it today,” Cho said of the 41st pick. “But as of right now, I think we’ll keep it.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell