The Charlotte Hornets’ greatest need is shooting. Thursday night’s NBA draft should be rich with shooters when the Hornets pick ninth overall.
There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Actually things are never that simple in predicting what the Hornets or the eight teams picking before them will do. There always are variables, such as how Kansas center Joel Embiid’s broken foot will affect where he’s chosen.
Also, this is the first draft in which general manager Rich Cho will be singularly in charge of the Hornets’ basketball operation. President of basketball operations Rod Higgins resigned two weeks ago, after owner Michael Jordan proposed a restructuring of Cho’s and Higgins’ duties.
Cho refuses to comment on any individual players in this draft, saying he doesn’t want to potentially tip off other GMs as to his preferences. But Cho confirmed during a media briefing last week that the team’s greatest needs are shooting, a backup point guard and frontcourt depth.
The Hornets will have three picks in this draft: No. 9 (completing a trade with the Detroit Pistons), No. 24 (completing a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers) and their own No. 45. They lost their own first-round pick, 16th overall, to the Chicago Bulls, completing the Tyrus Thomas trade.
Cho doesn’t have to fill all of the needs through the draft; the Hornets also have about $13 million available under the salary cap when free agency starts July 1. It might make more sense to find a veteran to back up point guard Kemba Walker than to throw that responsibility on a rookie.
It’s indisputable the Hornets need shooting. They were among the bottom third of a 30-team league last season in field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and 3-point percentage. There’s a high correlation in the NBA between the teams that shoot well and the teams that qualify for the playoffs.
“I think shooting is hard to find – especially mid-range shooting,” Cho said. “You don’t see a lot of kids practicing that. You don’t see the Rip Hamiltons or Ricky Pierces, where guys have a great mid-range game.
“A lot of teams want to shoot 3s instead of long twos, just from an efficiency standpoint.”
Fortunately, the ninth pick appears to be a sweet spot in this deep draft to find a shooter. Assuming the first eight selections go roughly as most mock drafts predict, the Hornets could have their pick among Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Duke’s Rodney Hood and Michigan State’s Gary Harris.
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 senior, shot 45 percent from the 3-point line for his college career. He also can post up and has some of that mid-range scoring ability Cho mentioned as a lost art.
McDermott predicted to ESPN’s Andy Katz on Wednesday that the Hornets would select him with the ninth pick.
McDermott’s relative weakness is defense, but the Hornets have plenty of that at small forward between Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Coach Steve Clifford has said Taylor also is suited to play shooting guard.
Stauskas, a 6-6 sophomore shooting guard, shot 44 percent from 3-point range last season. He’s tall for his projected NBA position, and Clifford repeatedly said during the past few weeks one of his desires is getting the roster bigger position-by-position.
Cho appreciates Clifford’s desire for more size but not at the expense of everything else you want in a basketball player.
“Size definitely matters in this league. But versatility also matters,” Cho said. “There are a lot of ways to skin a cat.”
This is considered one of the deeper and more talented NBA drafts in recent memory. But like any draft, there are questions that could pull the order in one direction or another. Some possible questions:
• How much will Embiid’s stress fracture affect where he’s chosen? Embiid is the best big man in this draft and, if healthy, probably would have been the top pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now the Cavs reportedly are deciding between small forwards Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke.
Parker said Wednesday at a media availability that the Milwaukee Bucks assured him he’d be chosen no lower than No. 2. So it’s likely Embiid slips to at best the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 3.
Could he get to the Hornets at No. 9? Highly unlikely. The Boston Celtics (sixth pick) and Los Angeles Lakers (seventh) have veteran GMs in Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchak who have the juice with their owners to assume the risk involved in choosing Embiid.
• What becomes of European forward Dario Saric? A 6-10 Croatian with point-forward skills, Saric reportedly has contractual obligations that could keep him in Europe one or more seasons after he’s drafted Thursday night.
Could that slip him in the first round enough to get to the Hornets at No. 24? Unlikely. Teams with multiple first-round picks, such as the Bulls, could select him with the intent of waiting a season or two for him. That could benefit the Bulls, who are conserving cap space for a run at free-agent Carmelo Anthony.
• Is Michigan center Mitch McGary really ticketed to the Hornets at No. 24? ESPN has linked the Hornets to McGary, who sat out most of last season following back surgery, then entered the draft because he faced a possible season-long suspension for a failed drug test (marijuana).
Cho said Wednesday on WFNZ, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” He was speaking generically about draft-time rumors, but the principle might apply to McGary at No. 24.