Consider me underwhelmed with what the Charlotte Hornets did in the first round of the 2018 draft Thursday night.
I wanted the Hornets to pick Michael Porter Jr., the 6-foot-11 forward with all-world potential and a problematic back.
Instead, the Hornets ended up with Michigan State small forward Miles Bridges. He’s a nice player, sure, but he may not even be the best player named Bridges in this draft.
With Porter, I thought the Hornets had the chance to hit a home run or to strike out. And that’s what the Hornets need badly — a home run. If they strike out swinging, well, that’s not the worst thing ever — Charlotte may ultimately need to get worse before it gets better.
To me, Bridges will not be a home run. He’s a safer pick than Porter, and you can see why new Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak would want to start his tenure with a player who was a second-team All-American last season rather than one in Porter who only played in three games because of his back injury.
But if you Google Porter’s high school highlights — he only spent a year in college, at Missouri, and barely played — you see a player who seems like he could do great things in the NBA if his back holds up. Obviously, other teams have the same concerns that the Hornets did — Porter, at one time, was considered a possible No. 1 pick in this draft, and instead he dropped all the way to 14 to Denver.
Here was Kupchak's full response when I asked him Thursday night if the team had seriously considered taking Porter.
“Obviously he’s been the topic of discussion for the last 2-3 weeks,” Kupchak said of Porter. “And yes, we did consider it. We went to Chicago two weeks ago for the (Porter) workout. We were planning to go back to Chicago a week ago for the medical testing and the workout. And as you know, the event was canceled — at least the playing portion. And there was a medical portion last weekend. Based on the results and the fact that the workout was canceled, it was in our best interest probably to move in a different direction.”
So it sounds like Charlotte was dead set on not taking Porter because of the medical concerns. But if so, then I wish it had stuck with its original pick — Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
SGA is a 6-6 point guard who has a lot of upside, too, and that’s who the Hornets originally picked at No. 11. SGA and his fashion-forward suit were coming to Charlotte, which made a good bit of sense given that Kemba Walker might be leaving via trade very soon or else in free agency after one more year.
Within minutes, though, it was made public that Charlotte made that No. 11 choice for the L.A. Clippers, who traded up one spot and gave Charlotte a couple of future second-round picks (a very modest price) to do so.
So SGA wore his Charlotte Hornets hat for a couple of minutes and then went to the other coast. Bridges — who will inevitably be confused for awhile with Mikal Bridges, the Villanova player who went No.10 in the same draft — came to Charlotte. The Clippers drafted him at No.12 for Charlotte, even though he didn’t work out for the Hornets.
And Porter? He lasted until No. 14, when the Denver Nuggets took him about 20 minutes after the Hornets passed on him — twice.
Porter was a risk worth taking — even if he can’t play for six months or a full season because of his back. As Jay Bilas said on ESPN Thursday night, Porter is the best offensive player in this draft if he’s healthy.
If he is healthy, and that does happen, we will throw Thursday night on the large pile of draft nights gone astray for the Charlotte NBA franchise.
Last year the Hornets had the chance to draft eventual NBA Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell at No. 11 — and there was a lot of debate in the Hornets’ draft room about it. Instead, Charlotte ended up picking Malik Monk. Mitchell lasted until No.13 and became an absolute star, while Monk was only OK as a rookie.
And while all general managers make mistakes, Hornets fans have been burned so many times before at the draft that the very words “NBA draft” occasionally make them twitch.
There was Adam Morrison. Sean May. And, in the blow that hurt most of all, the 2012 NBA draft lottery that brought a 7-59 Hornets team Michael Kidd-Gilchrist instead of Anthony Davis.
Again, I’m not dissing Bridges here. He’s going to give the Hornets a steady, athletic presence on the second team right away. Kupchak says he can guard “at least three positions” and he will unleash a number of posterizing dunks that will get fans excited. Bridges absolutely should have been a lottery pick after the college career he had. He’s no Adam Morrison.
Bridges will be a credible NBA player.
But I would have taken Porter.
Because he might be an incredible one.