Charlotte Hornets

NBA Draft: Kentucky’s Devin Booker out to show he’s not just a jump-shooter

Devin Booker smiles as he responds to a reporter's question following a pre-draft workout for the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Booker played for Kentucky in college.
Devin Booker smiles as he responds to a reporter's question following a pre-draft workout for the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Booker played for Kentucky in college. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Some NBA team is going to pay millions for Devin Booker’s jump shot. That team wants to make sure Booker’s shooting form and range aren’t the only reason to draft him.

Booker, the youngest player in this draft at 18, ran the agility drill at the NBA Combine last month when many other lottery-pick candidates passed on physical testing. Booker was looking to change the perception he’s a deficient athlete.

He made his point, running a strong 10.22-second time in the lane agility drill. But that doesn’t stop teams from asking him to repeat that performance in individual workouts.

“Definitely I have,” Booker replied when asked if he’s quelled concerns about his athleticism. “When I get to other teams, they still want to check my agility drills, take the score again. So I end up having to do it again. But then they see it. That’s why I come to these workouts, and it’s always a good time.”

Booker, arguably the best shooter in the 2015 draft, auditioned for the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday along with five other players, most notably Wisconsin small forward Sam Dekker.

Booker didn’t plan to be a one-and-done college player. But he shot so well at Kentucky – 41 percent from the 3-point line, 47 percent from the field and 83 percent from the foul line – that he turned pro along with six other Wildcats underclassmen.

Booker interviewed with the Hornets during the Combine and he seems an obvious candidate for Charlotte’s No. 9 overall pick. The Hornets were the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting team last season (31.8 percent). They were 29th among 30 teams in field-goal percentage (44 percent) and 28th in scoring (94.2 points per game).

The Hornets thought they addressed their shooting last summer, adding Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts in free agency and trading for rookie P.J. Hairston on draft night. But the 3-point shooting instead declined. With limited room under the salary cap to sign free agents this summer, drafting a shooter seems like a priority.

Booker has good height for a shooting guard at 6-foot-6, but at 206 pounds he needs to get stronger. At 18 (he’ll turn 19 in October) he is far from a finished product.

Booker says the perception he’s exclusively a catch-and-shoot player is partially a function of the wealth of talent he played with at Kentucky. Fellow Wildcats Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein look like locks to be top-10 picks.

“I feel like I can show more,” Booker said. “At Kentucky I didn’t have to – I had a talented team around me, and we all helped out each other. We all found our niches on that team.

“In the NBA you’re going to have to do a lot more things. That’s why I’ve been training very hard this summer. I always know I have to work on some things, and so I do.”

Booker is friends with Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who also played for Kentucky. Kidd-Gilchrist and Booker would have contrasting skill sets should the Hornets draft Booker – Kidd-Gilchrist is a top athlete-defender, still developing shooting range. Booker and Hairston would figure to be the Hornets’ top 3-point threats next season.

Wednesday was Booker’s fifth pre-draft workout, and the pattern of teams he’s auditioned for confirm he’s likely in the Hornets’ zone of this draft. He’s also worked out for the Denver Nuggets (picking seventh), Miami Heat (10th), Phoenix Suns (13th) and Oklahoma City Thunder (14th).

Dekker could also provide some of the shooting the Hornets lack, although his 3-point percentage last season at Wisconsin (33.1 percent) wasn’t close to Booker’s.

“We did some drills and then we started competing – you’ve got to love that,” Dekker said. “These workouts become a bit of a grind. But you’ve got to remember in two weeks (on draft night) it will all be worth it. So just fight through it and play your hardest.”

This was Dekker’s fifth pre-draft workout.

“Obviously I want to show off my athleticism, my ability to play inside and out,” said the 6-foot-9 Dekker. “There have been some questions about my jump shot – can I shoot it from the perimeter consistently? – and that’s something I’ve really worked on. Also defending – guarding both smalls and bigs, that I can be versatile at both ends” of the court.

Dekker said he’s most comfortable playing small forward but believes he could play some power forward or shooting guard as well at the NBA level. He started out as a guard in high school before hitting a growth spurt that moved him into the front court.

“The NBA is kind of becoming position-less,” Dekker said, “which is good for me.”

Thursday workout: The Hornets are holding a solo workout Thursday for Kansas guard Kelly Oubre Jr. In his one college season, Oubre averaged 9.3 points and five rebounds and shot 36 percent from 3-point range.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

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