Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho understandably didn’t reveal many specifics in his pre-draft media availability.
But here’s something he said that I take to the bank: Whether or not a player made himself available for a workout at Time Warner Cable has no bearing on whether the Hornets select that player with the ninth overall pick.
Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Arizona’s Stanley Johnson hadn’t auditioned for the Hornets as of Friday and I don’t know that either will before Thursday’s draft. Doesn’t matter. If the Hornets have either one at the top of their board (and I’m not saying that’s a given), Cho will take that guy.
Media and fans pay a lot of attention to these in-house workouts when teams make them public. That’s understandable; it’s the one time these top-10 prospects are right in front of us for live action. But those visits are just the last step in a scouting process that can last for years.
If a front office doesn’t have enough research on these guys without a visit to make a call on drafting them, that front office should be replaced. Recall from a year ago Indiana forward Noah Vonleh hadn’t worked out for the Hornets and that didn’t stop them from selecting him when he slipped a few spots.
I think Kaminsky and Johnson will be among the Hornets’ considerations when the draft commences (7:30 p.m., ESPN). I also think two Kentucky players -- big man Willie Cauley-Stein and shooting guard Devin Booker -- could play in Charlotte’s options along with Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker.
I’m not saying those are the only players the Hornets would consider. But five is a workable group. So let’s explore how each of these guys might fit in Charlotte (Listed in alphabetical order):
The case for Booker...
The best argument for drafting this guy is the obvious one: He was arguably college basketball’s best spot-up shooter last season and the Hornets were a dreadful 31.8 percent from the 3-point line, last in the NBA last season.
Booker shot 41 percent from the 3-point line last season. Granted he got some wide-open looks thanks to the wealth of talent that surrounded him at Kentucky. But he has range that will make the transition from the college arc to the NBA distance easy.
The knock on Booker, at least heading into the Combine in Chicago, was he was limited athletically and would be exclusively a catch-and-shoot guy. But he excelled at the lane-agility drill the NBA uses to measure lateral quickness and change-of-direction.
The case for Cauley-Stein...
For starters, he strikes me as having the wide-spectrum defensive ability to complement either Al Jefferson or Spencer Hawes. Jefferson is a low-post scorer, Hawes a 3-point shooter, but neither of these big men is known for great defense. Cauley-Stein, at 7-foot and 240 pounds, could be plugged in quickly, I think, as the guy who could contain the opposing team’s best offensive big man.
When Cauley-Stein was in for his workout he said Hornets owner Michael Jordan complimented his jump-shooting, asking why he never displayed that at Kentucky. Cauley-Stein explained Wildcats coach John Calipari asked his players to focus on what they did best on a loaded roster.
If the Hornets did draft Cauley-Stein (and the chances might be slim he lasts to the ninth pick), I would think that reduces, if not eliminates, the chance Charlotte would make the $4 million-plus qualifying offer to Bismack Biyombo to restrict his upcoming free-agency. Cauley-Stein would bring much of what Biyombo does as far as defense and rebounding and would do it more cheaply playing on the rookie pay scale.
The case for Dekker...
At 6-9 Dekker is tall and athletic enough to play either forward position. He demonstrated in the NCAA tournament how well he can attack offensively and the Hornets need all the help they can get scoring.
There is a cockiness about him that comes in handy in the NBA. If you don’t believe in yourself completely you can get eaten up in a league where small forwards have to guard the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Dekker doesn’t seem the sort that will be overwhelmed by the next level.
The question about Dekker is he really wouldn’t be a sure thing to improve the Hornets’ 3-point shooting. While he shot 39 percent from the college 3-point line as a freshman, that percentage fell to 33 percent his second season and 32 percent his third. He’s a very streaky shooter and the Hornets already have plenty of those.
The case for Johnson...
The guy is a winner, having won four state high school championships at Mater Dei in Southern California. He’s also built like an NFL tight end at 6-6 and a muscular 225 pounds. He’s what NFL scouts call “thick” and that’s meant as a compliment. Remember how people used to bounce off former Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson when he set a screen or boxed out?
Like Dekker, Johnson radiates confidence. He said at the Combine he believes he’s not just this draft’s best small forward but its best player. That didn’t sound like hollow bravado regardless of whether it’s true. He was good enough coming out of high school that /Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant invited him to work out with him the summer before he left for Arizona.
Now here’s the potential rub: Is he too much like the Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in body type and abilities that you’re creating redundancy? Johnson’s jump shot might be better (he made 37 percent from the college 3-point line), but I don’t know that Johnson would supplant Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward and I wonder if either one would be comfortable and effective playing shooting guard at the NBA level.
The case for Kaminsky...
The obvious question, the one that might have caused Kaminsky not to come to Charlotte for a workout, is fit: The Hornets seemingly have an over-abundance of power forwards. Add Hawes to Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Vonleh. Is there really room in that group to develop Kaminsky?
The counter-argument is he’s a little different than any of those guys. He has shooting range similar to Hawes, but he might be a better finisher at the rim than any of those other forwards. Granted, Wisconsin ran an awful lot of plays for him, but there’s a reason for that -- he finished. When you average 18.8 points, shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from 3-point range, you’re pretty efficient offensively.
The defensive end is another story. Kaminsky is big at 7-foot and 242 pounds, but he’s not particularly strong and won’t be moving his feet all that well while guarding. It would be a challenge for Hornets coach Steve Clifford to figure out a defensive scheme, but the other day Clifford said (in reference to Hawes) he likes his team defense enough to take a chance to improve the offense.
Some stray thoughts...
If I were the Hornets I’d do just what they are, in not committing yet to a qualifying offer for Biyombo. With 11 guarantees, plus two draft picks and the intent to use the mid-level exception in free-agency this summer, they are running out of roster spots. The Hornets have until June 30, so why not wait until after the draft to make that call?
I found Cho’s comments regarding Jefferson’s off-season conditioning quite direct. The organization is putting the onus on Jefferson to show up in tip-top shape for training camp next fall. Jefferson potentially has one more big contract in his career and wants to stay in Charlotte.
Cho said he’d “love” to move up from the ninth pick. To me the question is what they’d have to give up in trade to move up even two spots. I’d think the players other teams would ask for are Kidd-Gilchrist and Vonleh (who are both still on rookie-scale contracts). Giving up either of those players or a minimally-protected first-round pick would be a tough call.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell