Columns & Blogs

Hornets’ decision to pass on Duke’s Justise Winslow for Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky puzzling

The draft was moving along as if the Charlotte Hornets had scripted it. Willie Cauley-Stein went early so somebody else had to go late. You know who was out there with only one team between him and the Hornets?

Justise Winslow of Duke was.

The Hornets drafted ninth, and if Winslow fell to them, he would be a gift. He’s tall, fast and selfless, plays very good defense, can go to the basket and hit from distance. Sure, he’s a small forward, and in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Charlotte has a good one. But the NBA is not about positions. It’s about talent. Winslow, who helped lead Duke to the NCAA championship, has it.

I ripped general manager Rich Cho in a column Thursday. But if Winslow fell to Charlotte, nobody could rip this pick. And he did fall. The Pistons inexplicably decided to take Stanley Johnson.

So go to the bench, Nicolas Batum. The Hornets have their man.

I left the press room at Time Warner Cable Arena to feel the excitement from fans. Oh, were fans excited. They tittered like kids. Commissioner Adam Silver walked to the lectern and announced that with the ninth pick the Hornets selected – Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.

Thus did the excitement end. Fans were shocked and sad and really angry.

Miami took Winslow with the 10th pick. It’s almost as if Miami president Pat Riley knows what he’s doing.

I’m perplexed. No, that’s not true. I’m shocked. I fail to understand Charlotte’s rationale. Nothing against Kaminisky, not really; he’s tall and can shoot from the outside and stuff. He will, they hope, be the player they expected the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft, Cody Zeller, to be.

But Winslow, 6-foot-6 and 222 athletic pounds, is going to be so good. Sure, I watched him more than I did Kaminsky because he played in the neighborhood. I watched him and Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones lead the Blue Devils to the national championship. I watched how selfless they are.

I watched Winslow give up his shot to accommodate teammates, and I watched him hit big shot after big shot during Duke’s championship run. I watched him guard players big and small, never backing down and always embracing the challenge.

Winslow hit 41.6 percent on 3-pointers this season and an amazing 57.1 percent in the tournament. He is relentless. He goes to the basket. He’s not perfect. He doesn’t shoot the conventional pull-up jump shot the way many guards do. But he will.

You imagine him on the floor with point guard Kemba Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist? To win in the NBA a team needs three players around which to build.

The Hornets finally were going to have their triumvirate. It was right there, beautiful to envision and close enough to touch.

And then it wasn’t. Thursday was one more in a continuing series of draft-night failures.

I don’t know who made this pick. But it is evident the Hornets are hung up on tall men from the Big Ten.

Let’s see how that’s gone so far.

In 2013, the Hornets invested the draft’s fourth pick on Indiana 7-footer Cody Zeller. It is fair to say that the pick was terrible.

In 2014, the Hornets invested the ninth pick on Noah Vonleh, 6-10, from Indiana. Charlotte traded Vonleh and Gerald Henderson to Portland on Wednesday for Batum. Can you imagine the outcry if, a year ago, Charlotte announced it had traded the ninth pick and Henderson for Batum? The Vonleh pick failed.

To the Big Ten big man collection the Hornets add Kaminsky, a very good college player who is not a great athlete but is 7-1. Call me a homer, but I predict he will be the best of Charlotte’s tall Big Ten players.

But, man, they could have had Winslow. The decision is as puzzling as any the Hornets have made, and remember that Bob Johnson once owned this team.

Draft night is supposed to be exhilarating and exciting.

Until the Hornets made their pick it was.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments