Tom Sorensen

There’s an easy way to sum up Rich Cho’s drafts with Hornets

The Charlotte Hornets have drafted 11th or higher seven times since 2011, when Rich Cho was hired as general manager. The roster should be full of talent. It isn’t.
The Charlotte Hornets have drafted 11th or higher seven times since 2011, when Rich Cho was hired as general manager. The roster should be full of talent. It isn’t. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Since 2011, the Charlotte Hornets have drafted 11th or higher seven times. In 2012, they selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second. In 2013, they drafted Cody Zeller fourth. In 2011, they selected Bismack Biyombo seventh.

In 2011, ’12 and ’15 they drafted ninth. They took Kemba Walker in ’11, Noah Vonleh in ’14 and Frank Kaminsky in 2015. In 2017, they selected Malik Monk 11th.

Charlotte has had seven opportunities to draft a player in the top 11, six opportunities to draft a player in the top 10, and two opportunities to draft in the top four.

If the Hornets draft successfully, their roster is full of talent. Yet, Charlotte’s roster is not.

This is the reason Rich Cho no longer will be the team’s general manager or decision-maker. He has been part of the front office for, including this one, seven seasons.

Cho, 52, was an early proponent of analytics. When owner Michael Jordan hired him, the two had no relationship. To add a sharp intellect from outside the FOM (Friend of Michael) group was a healthy move.

Cho, who has degrees in law and engineering, is a bright guy. But he also gets hung up on numbers. He was thrilled to take Indiana big man Cody Zeller with the fourth pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

He spent a lot of time watching the Hoosiers practice. Zeller had qualities an engineer could measure. He could run and he could leap. He was a superior athlete.

But he is not a superior basketball player. If he calls for the ball, nobody needs to double-team him. He lacks a post-up game as well as the confidence to shoot from the outside.

Zeller is role player. Bismack Biyombo, no longer with the team, is a role player. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a role player. MKG would enhance a good team. He doesn’t score enough or shoot well enough to start. But he provides intensity and energy that would be infectious among reserves.

Vonleh was traded. Kaminsky has a nice little offensive game. When he goes to the hoop, his outside game becomes more effective. But he’s not a starter, either.

Malik Monk has been a professional for less than a full season, so let’s wait.

The sum of Cho’s drafts is this: He has yet to find a steal. Kemba Walker, who went ninth in 2011, is a fine player. Walker improves every season. If the draft were reordered, he’d go higher than nine. But which other Hornets would go higher than where they were drafted? There’s not one.

Talent is out there. It lurks. The best general managers find it. Cho, however has been unable to parlay superior picks into superior players. He has yet to find a late first-round steal.

Cho’s had opportunities, and failed to take advantage of them. It’s time for something new.

Maybe something new is Mitch Kupchak, formerly of North Carolina and the Los Angeles Lakers.

If I own the franchise, I tell Kupchak and the other candidates this: You make the pick. You. I will talk to you about it, ask you to defend it, learn your reasoning. But I trust your instincts. What we have doesn’t work. This front office is yours.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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