Charlotte Hornets

2 starters from 7 lottery picks since 2011: Why Hornets' poor draft history must change

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday it's unlikely the No. 11 pick will be traded. Kupchak said there's a good chance the Hornets will select a guard or wing player at that spot.
Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday it's unlikely the No. 11 pick will be traded. Kupchak said there's a good chance the Hornets will select a guard or wing player at that spot. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Hornets have been good traders. I’d say that’s been this franchise’s strength in roster building. Free agency has been limited, but what the Hornets have done hasn’t hurt them.

Drafting? That’s been a weakness, certainly so on the watch of recently-departed general manager Rich Cho, who was replaced by Mitch Kupchak. Cho arrived shortly before the 2011 draft, sharing front-office authority with Rod Higgins until Higgins left in June of 2014.

Since 2011, the Hornets have made seven picks in the top 11 (the selection of Bismack Biyombo was technically by the Sacramento Kings, but that was in a deal arranged before the draft). The results are less than scintillating:

There's one All-Star in Kemba Walker. One other starter in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Three other players on the roster (Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Malik Monk). Two players long gone (Biyombo and Noah Vonleh).

This is not how the NBA draft is meant to work. Kupchak said last month that he hoped never to have to participate in a lottery again. Cool, but that means hitting more when you do have a high pick than this team has.

The good news, if you’re a Hornets fan, is Kupchak had a solid record as a drafter in his 20 seasons overseeing the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office - particularly so when picking late in the first round or in the second (Marc Gasol, Ronny Turiaf and Luke Walton among his picks).

Kupchak didn’t pick often in the lottery (top 14), but he had a particularly astute one when he chose high school center Andrew Bynum 10th overall in 2005.

The Hornets pick 11th on June 21, and the pattern of the past few years must be broken. It’s no given that top-10 picks will work out (Anthony Bennett, the first pick in the 2013 draft, was a bust almost immediately with Cleveland), but if a team has a handful of them, fans should expect more than what the Hornets have delivered.

What was out there that was missed? The “what might have been” list:

2011: Hornets selected Biyombo seventh overall. Still on the board: Klay Thompson,11th to the Golden State Warriors.

2012: Hornets selected Kidd-Gilchrist second overall. Still on the board: Bradley Beal, third to the Washington Wizards.

2013: Hornets selected Zeller fourth overall. Still on the board: Steven Adams, 12th to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Giannis Antetokounmpo, 15th to the Milwaukee Bucks.

2014: Hornets selected Vonleh ninth overall. Still on the board: Dario Saric, 12th to the Orlando Magic, and Zach LaVine, 13th to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

2015: Hornet selected Kaminsky ninth overall. Still on the board: Devin Booker, 13th to the Phoenix Suns, and Myles Turner, 11th to the Indiana Pacers.

2017: Hornets selected Monk 11th overall. Still on the board: Donovan Mitchell, 13th to the Utah Jazz.

Agent power

Projected lottery picks Michael Porter, Jr., and Kevin Knox were each scheduled by their agents for workouts attended by multiple teams. The apparent intent: Get a better read on the range each player could go in the draft before arranging which teams might get individual workouts.

Over the past several years, agents have become more proactive in trying to manage the pre-draft process. It’s a balancing act: You don’t want to waste the player’s time by sending him to teams with picks well beyond where he’ll be chosen. But you also don’t want to overestimate your client’s value and not audition for teams that could have the option to pick him.

General managers sometimes get frustrated when their projection of where a player might be drafted differs significantly with the agent’s perception. But here’s some wisdom from Bob Bass, general manager of the Hornets in the 1990s and into the original team’s move to New Orleans.

Bass used to tell me pre-draft workouts are fine as a final check-off, but if you need that to validate your opinion, you weren’t doing your job all winter. Bass lived by that philosophy, drafting Baron Davis third overall in 1999 without a workout in Charlotte.

Position analysis: Shooting guard/small forward

Shooting guards and small forwards don’t quite reach the label “interchangeable,” but those two positions are more alike than any other two positions in basketball. Often, the only difference between one and the other is who is better suited to guard a bigger opponent.

In the Hornets’ case, shooting guard Nic Batum has played a lot of small forward, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a better fit for a bigger, more physical opponent. And even then, Kidd-Gilchrist often guarded the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer regardless of position.

The Hornets have an abundance of so-called “wing players” in Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, Monk and Dwayne Bacon. Finding minutes for them all last season was a challenge for then-coach Steve Clifford. Rookie Bacon, chosen in the second round, was anything from a fill-in starter when Batum was injured to out of the rotation.

The Hornets don’t “need” a shooting guard or small forward in this draft, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t take one with the 11th pick. Particularly so if a player like Villanova’s Mikal Bridges - who can both make 3-pointers and play the switching defense so in vogue in the NBA - was available.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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