There are three ways an NBA team improves its roster – trades, free-agency and the draft.
By and large, the then-Bobcats/now-Hornets have made some good trades. Of late they’ve utilized free agency well (Al Jefferson, Ramon Sessions). The draft – particularly first-round picks – has been more a mixed bag.
But one thing is clear: Despite having eight lottery picks in the past eight years, including three in the top five, they have yet to draft a player good enough to build a team around or to become an NBA All-Star.
This franchise’s current era started in June 2006, when now-majority owner Michael Jordan bought a piece of the team from Bob Johnson. As part of that arrangement, Jordan was named head of basketball operations. Though the draft was just weeks away, Jordan said he “made a lot of phone calls and watched a lot of tape” before the selection of Morrison, who he viewed as having an innate “desire to win.”
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In March 2010, Jordan bought majority control from Johnson. Along the way he hired now-president of basketball operations Rod Higgins in May 2007 and Rich Cho as general manager in June 2011.
In that span the Bobcats made 10 first-round picks. Some worked out (Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson). Some are still works-in-progress (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller). Some were just plain misses (Morrison, Alexis Ajinca).
To appraise the Bobcats’ draft history, the Observer studied each of their past 10 first-round picks and the five players chosen directly after each pick. The rationale: those players logically would have been considered in the same draft range and thus fair game.
Of the 10 decisions, choosing starting point guard Walker ninth in 2011 looks like the best call. Taking Morrison third in 2006, with Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay available, seems clearly the worst.
Inbetween they chose Brandan Wright (on the Golden State Warriors’ behalf) rather than future All-Star Joakim Noah. They also picked D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez and Ajinca over Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka.
The past 10 first-round picks have resulted in one possible top-100 player (Walker), two other starters (Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and two reserves in the rotation (Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo) so far. This is an important draft on June 26, with the Hornets selecting ninth and 24th in the first round and 45th in the second round. A look back at how draft nights have gone:
Bobcats’ pick: Adam Morrison, third overall.
Next five selections: 4. Tyrus Thomas, 5. Shelden Williams, 6. Brandon Roy, 7. Randy Foye, 8. Rudy Gay.
Analysis: This happened shortly after Jordan was appointed head of basketball operations. There were arguments made within the organization for Roy and Gay, both of whom had much longer and more successful NBA careers.
Morrison missed the 2007-08 season with a knee injury and was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers the next season. He ended up out of the NBA after the 2009-10 season, once his contract expired.
Bobcats’ pick: Brandan Wright, eighth overall (whose rights were traded to the Golden State Warriors, primarily for veteran shooting guard Jason Richardson).
Next five selections: 9. Joakim Noah, 10. Spencer Hawes, 11. Acie Law, 12. Thaddeus Young, 13. Julian Wright.
Analysis: The fair comparison here was Richardson versus the players the Bobcats could have selected. Richardson played the 2007-08 season and the first 14 games of the following season in Charlotte, averaging 21.4 points. He was included in the trade that acquired Boris Diaw and Raja Bell from Phoenix.
Noah, chosen one spot after Wright, is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year and is expected to get votes for league Most Valuable Player. Hawes and Young have both had solid NBA careers.
Bobcats’ pick: Jared Dudley, 22nd overall.
Next five selections: 23. Wilson Chandler, 24. Rudy Fernandez, 25. Morris Almond, 26. Aaron Brooks, 27. Arron Afflalo
Analysis: Dudley was a solid, versatile player in his 111 games in Charlotte. He ended up in the trade package to Phoenix that acquired Diaw and Bell.
This was a pretty deep first round. Chandler is still playing productively and Afflalo has a knack for scoring that the Hornets could certainly use now.
Bobcats’ pick: D.J. Augustin, ninth overall.
Next five selections: 10. Brook Lopez, 11. Jerryd Bayless, 12. Jason Thompson, 12. Brandon Rush, 14. Anthony Randolph.
Analysis: The Bobcats were pointed toward drafting Lopez, but made a last-minute decision, at then-coach Larry Brown’s urging, to take point guard Augustin instead.
This proved to be a big mistake. Lopez has been a borderline All-Star level center. Augustin left in the summer of 2012 after the Bobcats chose to pull his qualifying offer (restricting his free-agency). Augustin rehabilitated his career in Chicago this season, but only after being waived off the Toronto Raptors.
Bobcats’ pick: Alexis Ajinca, 20th overall
Next five selections: 21. Ryan Anderson, 22. Courtney Lee, 23. Kosta Koufos, 24. Serge Ibaka, 25. Nicolas Batum.
Analysis: Brown said of Ajinca that if he’d waited until the 2009 draft, he’d have been a top-five pick. That proved to be quite an exaggeration.
Big man Ajinca played 37 unproductive games for the Bobcats before being thrown into a trade package to Dallas, primarily for Erick Dampier’s unguaranteed contract. He resurfaced in the NBA last season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Ibaka is a star for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Anderson and Batum are above-average NBA players.
Bobcats’ pick: Gerald Henderson, 12th overall.
Next five selections: 13. Tyler Hansbrough, 14. Earl Clark, 15. Austin Daye, 16. James Johnson, 17. Jrue Holiday.
Analysis: The Bobcats’ obvious need that draft was a shooting guard, Henderson’s natural position in the NBA. He’s been a starter in Charlotte, so this wasn’t a bad pick, but he needs greater shooting range than he has demonstrated.
The only player in the next five who could have been more productive was point guard Holiday, and the Bobcats had drafted Augustin one year earlier.
Bobcats didn’t have a first-round pick
Bobcats’ pick: Bismack Biyombo (by way of Sacramento), seventh overall.
Next five selections: 8. Brandon Knight, 9. Kemba Walker, 10. Jimmer Fredette, 11. Klay Thompson, 12. Alec Burks.
Analysis: The Bobcats knew they were drafting a project, but felt Biyombo’s potential as a rim-protector and rebounder was worth the risk. It hasn’t really worked out. Biyombo is a non-factor offensively and Al Jefferson figures to be this team’s starting center for years to come if he chooses to stay.
Thompson – a good outside shooter and one of the NBA’s better perimeter defenders – would have been more useful than Biyombo has been.
Bobcats’ pick: Kemba Walker, ninth overall.
Next five selections: 10. Fredette, 11. Thompson, 12. Burks, 13. Markieff Morris, 14. Marcus Morris.
Analysis: They got a starting point guard out of this pick, so it was good use of an asset. Again, Thompson was the other player in this area of the draft that has proven to be a long-term keeper for the Warriors.
Bobcats’ pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, second overall.
Next five selections: 3. Bradley Beal, 4. Dion Waiters, 5. Thomas Robinson, 6. Damian Lillard, 7. Harrison Barnes.
Analysis: Kidd-Gilchrist starts at small forward and is a well above-average defender, but his limitations offensively are a concern.
Portland point guard Lillard already belongs in any All-Star discussion and Beal is emerging as a star shooting guard in Washington.
Bobcats’ pick: Cody Zeller, fourth overall.
Next five selections: 5. Alex Len, 6. Nerlens Noel, 7 Ben McLemore, 8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 9. Trey Burke.
Analysis: Zeller started slowly, but by the end of the season he had earned All-Rookie second team. They acquired a big man with athleticism, shooting range and ball handling skills. He might never be a star, but in a draft which teams knew wasn’t rich, he has value.
Noel didn’t even play last season due to injury and Len got a slow start, also due to injury. Burke was solid as Utah’s point guard.