Charlotte Hornets

Hornets make trade, avoid risk, get 'guy that was left' in NBA draft's first round

Hornets land Miles Bridges in NBA Draft after trade with Clippers

The Charlotte Hornets selected Michigan State guard/forward Miles Bridges with the 12th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 21, 2018.
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The Charlotte Hornets selected Michigan State guard/forward Miles Bridges with the 12th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 21, 2018.

In a snap of the fingers, Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went from Charlotte Hornets point guard of the future to of the past.

Thursday the Hornets selected the Canadian with the 11th overall pick, then immediately traded Gilgeous-Alexander’s rights to the Los Angeles Clippers. In return, the Hornets received the rights to Michigan State forward Miles Bridges and two future second-round picks.

“He was clearly in front of anybody else” in the Hornets’ player rankings, new general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He was the guy that was left.”

Along with Gilgeous-Alexander, the Hornets could have had Missouri forward Michael Porter, who is exceptionally talented but has a major medical question following back surgery last fall.

Kupchak said the Hornets considered Porter, who entered his only college season as one of the top two players in that recruiting class. But the risk that Porter’s back problem, which date back to his sophomore season in high school, would hinder his NBA career was apparently too great.

Bridges played two college seasons at Michigan State, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds. He’s a good jump-shooter, averaging 37.5 percent from the college 3-point line. At Michigan State he played both small and power forward. Kupchak said Bridges has the versatility to play both spots at the NBA level as well.

Bridges’ weakness offensively is getting to the rim off the dribble. He averaged only three free-throw attempts per game, or once every 10 minutes, below what you’d expect from an efficient scorer, particularly a frontcourt player.

“I need to get better with my ballhandling to create my own shot,” Bridges said in a conference call with Charlotte media. “I feel like in my college career I could have been more aggressive getting to the basket.”

Kupchak said Bridges’ most immediate value will be on defense.

“He can guard at least three, maybe four positions. I think he’s ready to help us immediately in that area,” Kupchak said. “He plays hard, he’s a great kid. He’s very athletic, comes from a good program and I think he’s going to get better and better.

“Offensively, I think he’s going to have to work on parts of his game that would be conducive to playing in the NBA.”

Kupchak said the second-round picks the Hornets will receive are in 2020 and 2021. The 2020 pick originally belonged to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 2021 pick originates from the Clippers.

Bridges was one of the players in the vicinity of the 11thpick who did not work out for the Hornets (neither did Gilgeous-Alexander or Porter). Bridges said he wasn’t avoiding the Hornets, indicating there was a scheduling conflict.

When Bridges met with media in Chicago last month during the draft combine, he mentioned losing about 20 pounds since the season. That came at the advice of some NBA executives, via Bridges’ agent.

“I feel great at 220 (pounds). I can move quicker and be more explosive,” Bridges said in May. “It was tough; I stayed away from fried foods and drank a lot of water. My agent recommended it.”

Porter lasted to the No. 14 pick, where he was selected by the Denver Nuggets. Asked specifically about Porter as an option, Kupchak indicated the risk was too high.

“Obviously, he’s been a topic of discussion for the last two or three weeks. Yes, we did consider it,” Kupchak said. “We went to Chicago two weeks ago for (Porter’s) workout. We were planning to go back to Chicago a week ago for the medical testing and (a second) workout. As you know, the event was canceled, at least the playing portion.

“Based on the results, and the workout (being) canceled, it was not in our best interest.”

Gilgeous-Alexander would have addressed what might be the Hornets’ most obvious need, a backup to starting point guard Kemba Walker. Last season’s primary backup, Michael Carter-Williams, is an unrestricted free agent and ended the season needing shoulder surgery. Rookie Malik Monk played some point guard late last season, and with some success, but that’s a small sample size.

Kupchak said at his pre-draft media availability Tuesday that he intends to add another ballhandling guard before the start of training camp, whether that be by the draft, free-agency or trade.

This was the second trade the Hornets agreed to this week. On Wednesday they worked out a deal with the Brooklyn Nets that will send center Dwight Howard to New York in return for center Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks and cash considerations. That trade can’t be official until the NBA’s new salary-cap year begins July 6.

Via that trade, the Hornets will receive the player the Nets chose for them with the 45th pick Thursday. The Hornets also had the 55th pick Thursday from a previous trade with the Cavaliers.