Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte Hornets history: How NBA draft week is often trade week, too

The Charlotte Hornets traded for center Dwight Howard before the 2017 NBA draft.
The Charlotte Hornets traded for center Dwight Howard before the 2017 NBA draft. AP

There is a side effect to the days leading up to the NBA draft that probably doesn’t get enough attention:

It’s a prime breeding ground for trade talk. Days before the 2015 draft, the Hornets traded for Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb. Days before the 2017 draft, the Hornets traded for Dwight Howard.

This is a whole new administration overseeing the Hornets’ basketball operation, but new general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear in his first public remarks in April that he’s receptive to the prospect of deals. He made some huge ones when he ran the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office, including the acquisition of center Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies.

Mitch Kupchak
Mitch Kupchak, the Charlotte Hornets’ new general manager and president of basketball operations, made some big trades when he ran the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office. Chuck Burton AP

Now, San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard wants a new start. Reportedly, his preferred destination is Los Angeles. But the Hornets and every other franchise figure to inquire what it would take to acquire Leonard (and just as importantly, what it will take to retain him beyond his current contract).

The NBA calendar is particularly packed this time of year for front offices. It starts with the draft combine in mid-May, runs through the draft (June 21 this year, earlier than usual) and pushes into free agency and summer league in early July.

Every significant team executive is in Chicago for the combine and now all 30 franchises participate in summer league in Las Vegas. General managers obviously don’t have to be in person to talk trade, but the combine and summer league are as useful for networking as they are for observing young players.

This franchise has been active on the trade market since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004. I don’t think Kupchak replacing Rich Cho as general manager will change that mode of operation. Hornets owner Michael Jordan said a few years ago he likes trading as a team-building tool because you’re acquiring a veteran with an NBA track record who generally is already under contract.

That doesn’t mean the Hornets don’t place emphasis on the draft and free agency. But trades have been a big part of this franchise’s past and I’m sure a big part of its future, too.

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What’s No. 11 worth

The Hornets select 11th in Thursday’s draft and I get a lot of feedback from Hornets fans that they expect a starter out of that pick. I certainly understand the frustration after seven picks in the top 11 since 2011 resulted in two starters, three reserves and two players no longer on the roster.

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But recent history says it’s no given the 11th pick produces a rotation player, much less a starter. The best player chosen 11th in recent memory is Klay Thompson (2011), who has reached All-NBA status with the Golden State Warriors. Myles Turner with the Indiana Pacers and J.J. Redick, now with the Philadelphia 76ers, have also been 11th picks who went on to success.

But Doug McDermott, Michael Carter-Williams and Meyers Leonard haven’t wowed anyone as 11th picks made between 2012 and 2014. That isn’t all that surprising, based on some database research I did a few years ago with Observer colleague Gavin Off.

We did a projection of the top 100 players in the NBA, then researched their backgrounds, as far as what picks were used to draft them and when they had breakout seasons. That research demonstrated that after about the seventh or eighth pick in the typical NBA draft, there isn’t a high correlation between when a player is chosen in a draft and whether that player ends up a star.

That doesn’t mean the 11th pick is no better than the 30th or 40th player. But it does reinforce that the circle defined as elite is small in a sport where only five players start on each team and typically only eight or nine players play.

New Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak discusses point guard Kemba Walker in April 2018.

Positional analysis: Point guard

The Hornets’ best player, their two-time All-Star, is the starting point guard. So at a glance Kemba Walker sure makes point guard this team’s strength.

Except Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone, the two veterans signed a summer ago to be this team’s reserve point guards, didn’t work out so well.

The Hornets used rookie Malik Monk part time at the point last season. He played well in the last handful of games when he got more extended minutes, particularly in the pick-and-roll. But it would be a stretch to say Monk has established himself so far as an NBA point guard. Also, a bigger point guard with the flexibility to defend opposing shooting guards would make sense.

There’s nothing so lacking about the Hornets’ point guard situation that using the 11th pick to acquire one is imperative. But there’s also nothing about the current roster that would dissuade Kupchak from drafting a point guard 11th overall.

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker became the team's all-time leader in points scored on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Walker finished with 21 points.

Rick Bonnell: , 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell