2014 NBA Draft Targets Charlotte Hornets Must Keep an Eye on

Justin Hussong@@HeatChecksHussContributor IIIJune 10, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Targets Charlotte Hornets Must Keep an Eye on

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    The Charlotte Hornets caught a break when the Cleveland Cavaliers jumped up to obtain the top pick in the draft once again. It netted the Hornets an unlikely first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons at ninth overall to go along with their 24th pick.

    Charlotte had just an 18 percent chance of grabbing Detroit's pick, but defied the odds after all. The pick went to them due to a past trade with Detroit where the Pistons doled out a future first-rounder to ease the blow of absorbing Ben Gordon's albatross of a contract.

    The draft pick is by far the most promising thing Gordon ever did for Charlotte. The team landed a top-8 protected pick that fell to ninth, which means that in a few weeks of existence the Hornets have already been luckier than the Bobcats were at any point of their existence.

    Following the most promising season in franchise history, the Bobcats will be converting back to the Hornets with a sense of positivity this franchise has never seen. The surprising Al Jefferson addition was a home run, Kemba Walker continues to develop as a dynamite point guard, and the team jelled around Steve Clifford perfectly.

    Instead of limping into the offseason dreading the next draft bust that this front office brings to town, the Hornets have a nucleus to build around as well as two great picks in a very deep draft class. The pressure of drafting a superstar is gone, and Charlotte can finally just look for some high-upside talents who will fit in with Clifford's regime.

    Sounds simple enough.

    Charlotte was rarely the most talented team on the court in 2013-14, but you would be challenged to find a team that competed and overachieved quite like the Bobcats did. Fans can now take solace in the fact that there is finally a system in place to get the most out of its players. Past draft duds like Adam Morrison and Sean May were asked to be saviors, whereas the new rookies on the Hornets will simply have to fit in and be who they are.

    This was a great year to land an unexpected top-10 pick. Early reports are that it will be mayhem after the top three picks, so Charlotte should have a bevy of options. Here are the rundowns of five guys who would fit magnificently with the Hornets.

James Young

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    Dipping a bit into the speculative pool, the Hornets' relationship with Gerald Henderson may have run its course.

    He has not improved as a player quite like the franchise expected, and regardless of whether he is traded, it would be wise of the Hornets to look at adding some firepower to the backcourt. James Young may surprise some folks at No. 9, but his upside is undeniable.

    While Henderson has already hit his peak, Young is still just 18 years old and offers a much more dynamic approach as a scoring threat. He took awhile to hit his stride amongst his fellow freshmen at Kentucky, but down the stretch he quickly blossomed and showed just how potent he can be.

    Young's athletic ability and versatility would give Steve Clifford the type of swingman he did not have at his disposal last year. No one on the roster was as capable of playing both sides of the ball at both shooting guard and small forward quite like Young can be.

    While he has certainly not reached his peak, he has a ton of room to grow and is generally regarded as a safe pick. It is beneficial to him that he already has a year of experience at Kentucky in a system that did not require him to be the focal point. Fans who watched the NCAA tournament knew him because he did not fade on the big stage or allow his phenomenal teammates to overshadow him.

    This is a name to keep an eye on with the ninth pick. He is projected to be off the board right around that time along with similar players like Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas. Of those three, Young is the best fit because of his advanced maturity, high upside and familiarity with playing as a secondary threat.

Zach LaVine

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    Zach LaVine may have solidified himself as a lottery pick in his recent workout with the Lakers, which was highlighted by throwing down a 46-inch vertical.

    This pick would come with a lot of risk, but LaVine is a jaw-dropping athlete who could make every team in front of Charlotte deeply regret passing on him five years down the road. The kid is that talented.

    It is hard to believe he averaged only 9.4 points in his one year at UCLA because the Bruins weren't all that loaded. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams were the main threats, but there was definitely room for more production out of LaVine. Better numbers could have landed him in the top five.

    Despite the production, he is a projected lottery pick based on his athleticism and potential, which is never a comforting feeling. Charlotte's recent lottery picks in Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bismack Biyombo were all big risks, and to this point none has panned out as planned. All three are still extremely young, but they could deter the team from taking LaVine if it determines this roster is better suited for a more proven prospect.

    What make him a good fit are his star potential and the wow factor. As improved as Charlotte was this past season, no one on the roster blew anybody away. Walker, Henderson and the rest of the bunch could provide some highlight plays on occasion, but a true shot in the arm would benefit this roster. LaVine's outrageous physical gifts could be just what the doctor ordered.

Aaron Gordon

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    This is a pick that may be getting increasingly more unlikely due to rumors of the Celtics being enamored with Gordon at the sixth pick, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports, but if he falls to No. 9, it would be fantastic for Charlotte.

    Gordon may have some similarities to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and his long-term projection as a power forward may coincide with last year's No. 4 pick in Cody Zeller, but Gordon would be too talented to pass up if he falls to ninth.

    Charlotte is not good enough to select a player strictly based on fit. If Gordon is available, the Hornets should run to the podium immediately to wrap him up. He may not pack the type of offensive punch that the team needs, but he is going to be an elite defender across multiple positions. His fit is based on his tenacious defense and team-first mentality. The fact that he is arguably the best athlete in the draft is the cherry on top.

    The skepticism may come with his broken jumper. He will have no problems in not being the bona fide star from Day 1, but Charlotte cannot afford to draft another offensive liability. He showed enough offensive prowess at Arizona to prove that he will at least be able to score a good amount of points on fast breaks and offensive putbacks.

    The Hornets might have to wait for his offense to develop, but he will hit the ground running. Clifford ran a slow-paced offense last year because he did not have anyone like Gordon to get out and slam people into next week on the break. He is a very intriguing prospect who would bring the buzz back to Charlotte.

    Gordon's all-around game would fit well anywhere, but Charlotte could use his unique combination of versatility and athleticism. He would also give Clifford another capable ball-handler, something else this franchise desperately needs. Walker and Josh McRoberts are the only players on the roster who consistently look to set up teammates, and Gordon's ball-handling and court vision indicate he could help out in that department as well.

    Speaking of court vision...

Tyler Ennis

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    This pick may be a bit of a surprise, but the overwhelming amount of talent at the point guard position in the NBA could easily push Tyler Ennis all the way down to the Hornets' second pick.

    They should take care of their versatility and scoring deficiencies with the ninth pick, freeing up Michael Jordan to make a more unique selection with his other first-round pick.

    This NBA era is unlike any other, with teams going small and often running out lineups with two point guards. Charlotte employs a variation of that at times, except Gary Neal, Kemba Walker and Luke Ridnour are all shoot-first guards. The only guy on the roster who could be labeled unselfish is McRoberts.

    That is why Ennis could be a fantastic fit off the bench. His unselfishness alone could speed up the development of the other young players on the roster. He sees the court as well as anyone in the draft, and the Hornets could see a big uptick in production from the bench if Ennis were setting everyone up.

    Clifford would be able to utilize deeper lineups because he wouldn't have to constantly worry about having Walker on the floor. Ennis and Walker could also play together for stretches, because Walker's scoring ability is so lethal that it would be a big asset off the ball.

    As recent prospects go, Ennis is likely somewhere in between Kendall Marshall and Michael Carter-Williams. He can pack a punch offensively when his number is called but is the best distributor in this draft, which is exactly what a young team needs. Biyombo, Zeller, Kidd-Gilchrist and whatever raw swingman the Hornets take with the ninth pick desperately need a change-of-pace guard to set the table.

    As improved as Walker has been, he is never going to be the type of point guard that Ennis is. Walker shares too many similarities with Neal, so adding a legitimate distributor off the bench would plug a hole in the current roster. Keep an eye on this one as an under-the-radar yet sneaky good pick in the back of the first round.

Doug McDermott

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    It just so happens that Doug McDermott's biggest strength is Charlotte's one resounding weakness. Why wouldn't the league's eighth-lowest scoring team not want NCAA's highest-scoring player?

    Over the past three seasons, he has been third, second and first, respectively, in the nation in scoring. He topped out at 26.9 points per game this past season for the Creighton Blue Jays and further proved why he was the most dangerous and versatile scorer in the nation.

    Only five teams in the NBA made fewer threes than Charlotte last season. In fact, McDermott made 13 less threes than anyone on the Hornets roster last season despite playing in 35 games. It doesn't take any deep analysis to realize how perfect this pairing would be.

    Yahoo Sports has McDermott landing in Charlotte in its most recent mock draft. The only problem could be if the Lakers or Kings become too enamored with the sharpshooter and select him first.

    Charlotte's main issue last year was the lack of production it got offensively from the forward spots. McRoberts was the team's highest-scoring forward at 8.5 points per game.

    Another facet to this perfect match is McDermott's versatility. Per NBA.com, he tested out to be much more athletic at the NBA Draft Combine than most thought he would, posting a surprising 36.5-inch vertical leap—higher than prospects like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and James Young. He posted very good times in the lane agility test and three-quarter court sprint as well, all implying that he just might be able to play small forward at the next level.

    McDermott at small forward would go along perfectly with Kidd-Gilchrist's skill set. MKG and McDermott may be polar opposites, which could work in Clifford's favor if he can use them correctly. MKG could slide to shooting guard with no hesitation and allow McDermott big minutes at the three when Clifford wants to go with a big lineup, and the two could slide to the two forward slots when the team wants to play fast.

    Even if he comes off the bench, McDermott would provide the instant offense that Clifford did not have last season. When Jefferson or Walker struggled, this offense went stagnant, which was never more noticeable than in the playoffs against the Miami Heat when Jefferson was injured. There was no number to call to save the day with a barrage of scoring.