Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ leap to top-3 pick in lottery seems unlikely, but it’s happened before. Twice!

Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton is the presumptive No. 1 pick, to the Phoenix Suns.
Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton is the presumptive No. 1 pick, to the Phoenix Suns. AP

After the 2012 draft lottery, the basketball gods owe the Charlotte Hornets one, right?

That was the spring that followed the worst season, by winning percentage, in NBA history. The then-Bobcats went an unprecedented 7-59 in the lockout-shortened season, 13 losses worse than any other team that season.

The NBA has a tradition of putting the non-playoff teams in a weighted lottery to determine the top 14 spots in the resulting draft. The Bobcats had a 25 percent chance of the top pick in that lottery, but instead slipped to No. 2, with New Orleans (now the Pelicans) jumping into the top spot.

So Charlotte got a solid defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a budding superstar, Anthony Davis, went to New Orleans. Davis is good as anticipated: If every player in the league was available to start an expansion franchise, it’s conceivable Davis (based on talent, size and age) might be the first player selected.

So cosmically, when the draft lottery is held Tuesday night in Chicago, it would be appropriate if the Hornets somehow jumped into the top 3 picks. Yet, highly unlikely.

By finishing 36-46 – 11th-worst record in the NBA – the Hornets will have just an eight-tenths of one percent chance at the top pick. Their shot at the second pick: 0.95 percent. The third pick: 1.15 percent.

Baron Davis
The Charlotte Hornets chose UCLA point guard Baron Davis with the third pick of the 1999 NBA draft. ERIK PEREL

Long shots certainly, but it’s happened before in the 30 years of NBA history in Charlotte. Back in 1999, the original Hornets had the best record among then-13 non-playoff teams. They jumped into the top 3 to draft UCLA point guard Baron Davis.

Davis didn’t even work out for the Hornets before that draft, but that didn’t dissuade then-general manager Bob Bass from selecting him. While Davis started out slowly, playing as a rookie behind David Wesley, he ended up a star, with two All-Star appearances and third-team All-NBA once.

The Hornets sure could use a repeat of that luck. The roster new general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach James Borrego inherits is aging and expensive. There likely won’t be much room below the luxury-tax line this summer to sign free agents and trades will be challenging in a league where just a handful of teams will start the new fiscal year below the salary cap.

So, there’d be no easier, better infusion of talent than from the draft. The top of this draft has at least two potential franchise players in Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton and European pro Luka Doncic.

This year’s draft lottery is in Chicago, after many years in the greater New York City area. That better coincides with the draft combine held in Chicago the rest of the week.

Some particulars on the lottery, the 2018 draft and the Hornets’ situation

Who will be there for Hornets?

Kupchak and assistant general manager Buzz Peterson are scheduled to represent the Hornets at the lottery. Every team sends two representatives: One (presumably Peterson) will witness the actual ping-pong ball process that determines the top three picks, then is sequestered until the picks are revealed on ESPN. Kupchak is expected to be on the TV set when the picks are revealed.

Hornets’ possibilities

Under the current weighting, the Hornets have a 90.74 percent chance of ending up with the 11th pick. If one or two teams with a better record than the Hornets moves into the top 3, the Hornets could slip to 12th (a 6.28 percent chance) or 13th (a 0.08 percent change).

If they end up 11th

The Hornets’ lottery pick from 2017, Kentucky guard Malik Monk, was the 11th pick. The best player chosen 11th overall in the past decade is Golden State guard Klay Thompson in the 2011 draft. Thompson is a four-time All-Star and twice third-team All-NBA.

Other 11th picks of note: Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner, Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williams (a former rookie of the year) and former Duke star J.J. Redick.

Their options could be...

Players who could be available at the 11th pick who could interest the Hornets: Point guards Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky) or small forwards Mikal Bridges (Villanova), Miles Bridges (Michigan State) or Kevin Knox (Kentucky).

"Fairy tales can come true"

Hey, Davis wasn’t the only huge lottery jump in Charlotte NBA history. The original Hornets finished tied with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1991-92 for the seventh-worst record at 31-51. But they sprung to second in the lottery.

That was good for Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning, who ended up a Hall of Famer. Mourning might have had his best seasons after the trade to the Miami Heat, but he’s arguably the best player ever to put on a Hornets uniform.

Bonnell: 704-358=5129: @rick_bonnell

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