Who will the Hornets take in the 2018 NBA Draft?
Already quite a week for the Charlotte Hornets, huh?
They have agreed to trade away a future Hall of Fame center one season after acquiring Dwight Howard from the Atlanta Hawks. Now they prepare to exercise the No. 11 overall pick in the first round and the No. 55 pick in the second round in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
New Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak was pretty illuminating during his media availability Tuesday: He said it’s unlikely the Hornets will trade out of the 11th spot in the draft order. He said the Hornets’ pick would most likely be a guard or wing player, since he anticipates the five marquee big men in this draft class to be gone.
As the Howard-to-the Brooklyn Nets deal illustrates (it can’t be official until July), draft week fosters trade talk. It’s only natural that point guard Kemba Walker’s name will come up in discussion, whether or not the All-Star guard comes close to being moved.
The 11th pick is far enough down in the order that lots could happen before the Hornets are on the clock Thursday (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. for the picks to start). Exploring some possibilities:
Lose an All-Star, add a lottery pick
Could the remaining season on Walker’s contract be traded for a high pick in Thursday’s draft? Maybe top 10, unlikely top 5. The Cleveland Cavaliers hold the No. 8 pick from a prior trade with the Boston Celtics. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer mentioned Walker as a possible trade target, particularly if the Cavs want to do everything they can at making it attractive for All-Star LeBron James to stay.
The problem with that is the Cavs won’t definitively know James’ intentions until after the draft. Trading for Walker makes little sense, either for him or the Cavs, if James leaves and the Cavs go into rebuilding mode.
Bobby Marks, ESPN’s NBA front-office insider and a former Nets official, put the Cavs’ quandary in great perspective this week when he said, “You’re walking into the wilderness of the unknown.”
If the Cavs offer the Hornets No. 8 for Walker, the question would be what else the Hornets would have to take off Cleveland’s roster to make a deal work. It’d be worth considering to make sure the Hornets get something before Walker becomes a free agent in the summer of 2019.
The choice at point guard
Kupchak said Tuesday the team needs another ball-handling guard (whether that is by the draft, free agency or a trade). There’s a strong chance that at least one of two prominent point guards – Alabama’s Collin Sexton and/or Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – will be available at No. 11.
Sexton and Gilgeous-Alexander form an interesting contrast at the position: Sexton is 6-foot-3 and a brawny, explosive pick-and-roll scorer. Gilgeous-Alexander is 6-foot-6 and skinny with a wingspan of nearly 7 feet. He can be an elite defender in the switching manner that has become so valued of late in the NBA.
Sexton came to Charlotte for a workout. Gilgeous-Alexander did not, and he didn’t divulge much Wednesday at a pre-draft media availability in New York as to why he’s been so low-profile the past month. Gilgeous-Alexander said he’s “not allowed” to say where he worked out (apparently advised that by his agent) but also acknowledged auditioning for the Clippers who pick 12th and 13th.
Kupchak said Tuesday that a player not working out for the Hornets wouldn’t preclude him from drafting that player.
If Porter drifts
For weeks the mystery of this draft has been how Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., playing just three college games because of a back injury, could affect his status. On talent, the 6-foot-10 Porter is considered one of this draft class’s elite players.
He had back surgery to correct an injury dating back to his sophomore season in high school. If healthy, he could be an impact small forward similar to how Celtics rookie sensation Jayson Tatum was.
Kupchak didn’t use Porter’s name, but it was clear he was referring to Porter’s situation when he said teams would be “challenged to some degree” evaluating a prospect who has played only three games in the past year.
Asked specifically about Porter’s medical situation, Kupchak said the Hornets have all the information they’d need to make an informed decision.
A forward option
Some combination of small forwards Porter, Kevin Knox of Kentucky and Miles Bridges of Michigan State could be available at No. 11. Knox was in Charlotte for a workout Sunday. He said he expects to be chosen between sixth and 12th. He has twice auditioned for the Philadelphia 76ers, who pick right in front of the Hornets at No. 10.
The Hornets’ starter at small forward is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a defensive specialist who is offensively limited, particularly as a 3-point shooter. If the Hornets want more of a scorer at that position, options will be there.