Cleveland may have ridden their ridiculous string of lottery luck to their third #1 pick in the last four years, but the other big winners of lottery night were the newly re-minted Hornets. Thanks to a willingness to take on Ben Gordon a few years ago (whose time with the team ended very acrimoniously when he was cut after the waiver deadline this year), they are now the proud owners of a lottery pick. Had Cleveland not jumped past Detroit (and everyone else), Charlotte would be left without a 1st rounder due to their own ill-advised pick-trading endeavors (everyone remembers the Tyrus Thomas trade, right?).
Fresh off a successful first season for new coach Steve Clifford and major free agent signing Al Jefferson, the Hornets will look to add to a group of talented, but one-dimensional, players.
When Jefferson joined the club last offseason it signalled a switch in organizational philosophy. Since taking majority ownership of the club, Michael Jordan had embraced a strategy of tanking to gain top draft picks. The Oklahoma City strategy of sucking as much as possible to get high picks didn’t yield a Kevin Durant or a Russell Westbrook though; the then-Bobcats were forced to settle for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. So Charlotte, desperate to re-establish themselves as a legitimate NBA team after years of unwatchable play, set out to make a bit of a splash in free agency. They overpaid Jefferson, but that’s what bad teams in middling markets have to do to lure decent players.
They got more than they bargained for in year one, as Jefferson’s post play was the engine that kept the offense scoring just enough, while Clifford’s defensive schemes managed to paper over Big Al’s shortcomings and helped the team rank 6th overall in defensive efficiency. Thanks to a little latent lottery luck, they now have an unexpected chance to add to their stable of young talent supporting Jefferson.
The option to trade the pick for a veteran is an interesting one, but in a loaded draft the #9 selection could be more valuable than anything the Hornets could reasonably get in return. They aren’t flush with assets by any stretch, so adding another young player to develop is the best course of action unless a surprisingly good deal presents itself. Doubling down on the veteran route may appeal to the front office, who want to make the playoffs in the first year of their new rebrand, but they need to resist the temptation to trade the future for another win or two in the present.
On the court the major need is shooting. Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot is cringeworthy, and Kemba Walker is a mediocre deep shooter. This all led to Josh McRoberts being used as a stretch 4. He performed admirably, but the offense needs more room to breath with Jefferson and MKG sharing the floor than McBobs can provide. The prudent course of action picking at this point in the draft is to take the best player on the board and worry about the fit later. Luckily for Charlotte, shooting is always going to be a relevant skill.
Noah Vonleh would be an excellent pick up if he is still available (he probably won’t be). He provides shooting and rebounding from the power forward spot, making him a good fit next to Jefferson. There are also a variety of solid wings projected to be available in the late lottery, from Nik Stauskas to Dario Saric. None is a sure thing, but they’re all interesting prospects that could develop alongside Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, and Walker.
At the end of the day this is still just a team in need of more talent. One year’s playoff team can be the next year’s pushover. The Hornets know that as well as anyone. The Eastern Conference was a laughingstock that is bound to improve next season, and another playoff berth is anything but guaranteed. This pick is as much about building up assets as it is about winning games in the upcoming season, and that means being patient and letting the board come to them. Here’s hoping Jordan learned something from the Kwame Brown fiasco and uses this bit of good fortune to bolster his team’s long-term prospects.