Charlotte Hornets

Here are four roads the Hornets might take in draft to address team’s major flaw

Kentucky's Malik Monk, left, was a prolific scorer in his one college season.
Kentucky's Malik Monk, left, was a prolific scorer in his one college season. AP

The biggest thing for the Charlotte Hornets this week has probably already occurred.

Whether you like or dislike the decision to acquire center Dwight Howard from the Atlanta Hawks, that trade was major news for a team hurting for off-season options to improve the roster. Howard is the most recognizable name on this roster since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004 (the year Howard was drafted No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic).

If the player falling out of the top 10 is a point guard, the No. 11 pick would seem a simple decision. But what if ...

Now, the Hornets turn to draft night. They have the 11th overall pick in the first round and the 31st overall pick in the second round. An exchange of seconds with the Hawks as part of the Howard deal moves the Hornets to the top of the second of two rounds.

No. 11 is obviously key. Hornets general manager Rich Cho has said he expects to draft a player good enough to crack the playing rotation as a rookie (though playing time is ultimately coach Steve Clifford’s call).

How might No. 11 play out? Four possible paths, as the Hornets go searching to address a major flaw – depth – based on last season’s disappointing 36-46 record.

Zach_Collins
Gonzaga's Zach Collins has lots of long-term potential, but might not contribute quickly as an NBA rookie. Mark Humphrey AP

The unexpected slip

There’s a perception, right or wrong, that the first 10 picks are fairly set in some order. Take it for granted Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson can’t drop out of the top 10 for anything short of a bizarre circumstance. The next five is projected to be some combination of Malik Monk, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith, Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac.

Duke’s Luke Kennard is familiar to the fan base and entertaining offensively. ... Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is a sound, safe way to add depth.

But what if one slips? For instance, what if Gonzaga’s Zach Collins jumps in ahead of the Hornets’ pick?

If the player falling out of the top 10 is a point guard (Smith or Ntilikina), it would seem a simple decision. The Hornets need an upgrade behind Kemba Walker. But what if Monk, a prolific scorer at shooting guard for Kentucky, is available?

The Hornets would probably take Monk, on his considerable talent. But that would create challenges. At 6-3, Monk is small for an NBA wing player and he wasn’t a strong defender for the Wildcats. Playing him with Walker would make for a particularly small backcourt.

They likely grab Monk, but not without crossing their fingers.

The big guy

Collins, a 7-footer who turned pro after one season off the bench for Gonzaga’s Final Four team, is quite an athlete for his size. Somewhere down the road, he projects as both a power forward and a center.

But he might have the longest horizon, as far as being ready to play as a rookie. Also, where would Collins fit in amongst big men Howard, Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky? Would he get lost at the end of the bench, similar to how Noah Vonleh was before being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers?

Collins chose not to do a pre-draft workout with the Hornets, so his representatives seemingly feel he’d be gone before they select. The lack of a workout wouldn’t keep the Hornets from drafting him. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be their guy.

Luke_Kennard
Duke’s Luke Kennard auditioned for the Charlotte Hornets in the team’s last pre-draft workout Sunday. Diedra Laird AP

The Tobacco Road candidate

Duke’s Luke Kennard is familiar to the fan base and entertaining offensively. He’s a fine shooter (44 percent from the college 3-point line last season) and creative off the dribble to facilitate both himself and teammates.

The Blue Devil connection brought him into plenty of fan conversations about his candidacy to help the Hornets. So did his averaging 19.5 points and 5.1 rebounds as a sophomore before turning pro.

However, his defense is shaky and figures to be tested severely by the spectrum of great scorers he’d be matched against as an NBA shooting guard.

Does his offense so trump his questionable defense that the Hornets grab him? Possible, but far from a lock.

Donovan_Mitchell
Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell (45) has a particularly long wingspan for a 6-3 guard. Fred Vuich AP

The two-way player

Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell auditioned for the Hornets June 12. When media were admitted to the Spectrum Center practice gym, you couldn’t help but note Mitchell’s striking wingspan. A 6-3 guard is not supposed to have a 7-foot wingspan.

Another Louisville player, Mangok Mathiang, also worked out for the Hornets. He said Mitchell’s defense is so good in part because if he’s beaten off the dribble, his arm length gives him a second chance to cut off a drive to the basket.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino is a stickler for defense and Mitchell excels at it. One NBA scout saw some similarities to Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley. Mitchell needs some refining offensively, but he’d be a sound, safe way to add depth to this team.

Hornets reporter Rick Bonnell breaks down what the Charotte Hornets need, and who they might take in the 2017 NBA draft.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell

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