Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak discusses first-round pick PJ Washington
Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak says he strongly considered trading up from the team’s No. 12 spot in Thursday’s NBA draft.
Ultimately, between the trade capital that would require and the alternatives he projected to be available at 12, he stayed put and selected Kentucky forward PJ Washington.
At 6-foot-8, Washington is projected by Kupchak to play both power and small forward for the Hornets. Last season, Washington averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Wildcats.
With their first of two second-round picks, the Hornets selected Nevada small forward Cody Martin, who grew up in Mocksville. Cody and twin brother, Caleb, started their college careers at N.C. State before transferring to Nevada. With the 52nd overall pick the Hornets chose forward Jalen McDaniels from San Diego State.
According to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, McDaniels has twice been sued by women for using his phone to record intimate acts, without their permission, and then sharing those videos with friends. The women were acquaintances of his from high school in the state of Washington.
Kupchak said he’s comfortable with a roster of midsized interchangeable forwards. The Hornets have a player similar to Washington in Miles Bridges, the 12th overall pick a year ago.
Washington entered the 2018 draft, only to pull his name from consideration before the NCAA’s deadline to retain college eligibility. He improved dramatically as a sophomore at Kentucky, particularly his shooting. He went from making just 24 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman to 42 percent last season.
The ability to make 3s is now expected of NBA power forwards, as the game has become more about shooting and spacing than post-ups in the lane.
Washington didn’t come to Charlotte for a workout — he said a workout was scheduled, then canceled — but the Hornets had extensive background conversations on him with Kentucky coach John Calipari. Entering the 2018 draft was illuminating as to how much more he had to improve.
“It definitely woke me up, it definitely put some fuel to my fire,” Washington said in a conference call with Charlotte media. “It pushed me every day in practice, with that in the back of my mind.”
Kupchak, who saw Washington play live multiple times both Kentucky seasons, said the shift was obvious.
“He didn’t play with the same kind of passion last year that he played with this year. His ability and his confidence last year was not what it was this year,” Kupchak said.
“I think the expression (Calipari used) was ‘The light came on, and I’ve got to go back to school and work a lot harder than I’ve ever worked in my life.’
“It’s not just working on your body and your effort and working in drills, it’s also working on the skill part of the game. To his credit, that’s what he did: He worked on his shot.”
The Hornets have an abundance of forwards. Until Marvin Williams went out with a foot injury late last season, the starters since midseason were Williams at power forward and rookie Bridges at small forward. Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dwayne Bacon also played some forward.
Williams is entering his 15th NBA season, the last on his current contract, so the Hornets clearly need options at power forward. Williams has said he’d have no problem being a reserve next season.
Kupchak said Friday he was exploring possibilities to move up from the 12th spot. He said the Hornets were involved in numerous trade discussions in the hours leading up to making the 12th pick.
“Very active. We had a lot of opportunities,” Kupchak said of a top 10 in which several picks were traded around the league. “We just felt, taking in the combination of the price that you’d have to pay to make a move and where we felt we would end up at 12, that it just didn’t make sense to give up that much of your future.
“But, yeah, it was a lot of activity. The last four or five hours before the draft it really picked up.”