Charlotte Hornets' 2014 NBA Draft Big Board
The aura around the 2014 Charlotte Hornets is markedly different than it has been in years past, and not just because of the new teal-and-purple ambiance.
The Bobcats were stuck in the cellar for their entire existence by trying to hit a home run with every lottery pick. Now, Steve Clifford and Michael Jordan have finally implemented a plan on this organization that has taken hold, resulting in not only a playoff appearance but a future.
The Hornets can now bring back the buzz by selecting players in the 2014 NBA draft based more on fit and need. The pressure is not there to hit a home run and draft a perennial All-Star because Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have provided the organization with a sense of upside and stability.
Now, Charlotte just needs to add more pieces to the puzzle, and it is well-equipped to do that with the ninth overall pick, the 24th pick and a second-rounder. The salaries coming off the books are those of Ben Gordon, Anthony Tolliver, Luke Ridnour, Jannero Pargo, Josh McRoberts and Chris Douglas-Roberts. All are easily replaceable except McRoberts, which leaves the core of the team intact but also leaves a lot of room to fill in the cracks.
This big board will examine the top three options for each draft pick Charlotte has. Versatile perimeter threats who can shoot from the outside will most assuredly be key targets for the Hornets, but the prospects will have to seamlessly buy into the scheme that Clifford has laid out. Hustle and defensive intensity are now the calling cards of this franchise.
No. 45 Pick
1. Nick Johnson
The Arizona product's upside may be questionable, but his talent and athleticism certainly aren't.
Johnson fits the bill of a dominant NBA shooting guard, but he unfortunately falls into the "tweener" category. However, as a second-round pick he would be a low-risk option that would fit in perfectly with Charlotte's regime.
Johnson and his 40-plus inch vertical would give the Hornets the type of dynamic backcourt option off the bench that Clifford did not have in his first season. His trajectory as a point guard is questionable, but for five to ten minutes a game he could surely hold his own, especially on defense.
His improvement over the course of his career at Arizona was very impressive, culminating in Pac-12 Player of the Year honors this past season. The chances of him being available at 45 are slim, but not impossible at all. His two-way skill set and unselfish mentality would be a perfect fit.
2. Thanasis Antetokounmpo
His younger brother Giannis' jaw-dropping rookie season for the Milwaukee Bucks surely put the Antetokounmpo family's name on the basketball landscape.
Thanasis is actually the older of the two, and is projected to go somewhere in the middle of the second round. He is not as big as the Greek Freak, and does not have the same potential. He has a questionable outlook on the offensive side of the ball and may be limited to a "3-and-D" type of player.
If Charlotte deems him too similar to MKG, then the team likely passes on him, but this team still needs more options on the wing and there are few guys in the second round with his kind of ability. A big knock on Charlotte's bench last season was the lack of athleticism and finishers, which are two things Antetokounmpo could help with right away.
3. Damien Inglis
If management decides to take a bit of a swing on a high-upside prospect, Inglis could be on the radar.
The 6'9" French native is just 19 years old, but has a very mature build and projectable body that is already filled out. He also has a fantastic 7'4" wingspan and is extremely athletic.
The player on the current roster he most compares to is Josh McRoberts, who recently opted out of his deal to cash in on a career year. Inglis has a remarkable ability when it comes to handling the basketball and making plays, which any team would welcome. The area that he struggles with is outside shooting, but that can be fixed. This would be a selection for the future, and it could turn out to be a hidden gem.
No. 24 Pick, Option 3: Tyler Ennis
Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis would be a bit of a surprise given Walker's presence, but the NBA is a league driven by point guards. Having more than one capable point guard is much like having two running backs in the NFL nowadays.
Walker was logging huge minutes down the stretch because Clifford had nowhere else to turn. Ridnour was awful after the trade, and Gary Neal is not a point guard. Ennis possesses a maturity that would rub off on some of his younger teammates, particularly fellow backups like Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.
An extremely unselfish point guard with strong intangibles would be a perfect addition to a bench that lacks direction. He and Walker could even share the court at times, which would allow Walker to play more in attack mode instead of working to get everyone involved.
Ennis should be available at 24, and Clifford should take a strong look at him. He doesn't have the best scoring ability yet but his efficiency is off the charts, as evidenced by his measly 1.7 turnovers per game at Syracuse. He has remarkable poise for a 19-year-old and would be the perfect backup complement to Walker.
No. 24 Pick, Option 2: Glenn Robinson III
GR3 often took a back seat during his time at Michigan this season to guys like Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, and previously to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. That is more of a testament to his style of play than it is to his talent.
This is a player who will not become a star like his father but will be more of a perfect complementary piece to slide right into a lineup. His athleticism would give the Hornets a big spark since the team plays very much below the rim, aside from occasional highlight plays from Gerald Henderson or McRoberts.
Should Tolliver leave, Robinson would be a great replacement due to his defensive instincts and scoring efficiency. You would like to see him shoot the rock better from long range, but he isn't bad at it and will only improve.
An element he could certainly add to the Hornets is his prowess as a lethal fast-break player. Charlotte doesn't have too many guys capable of swiping a defender and finishing with authority on the other end. He speeds up the offense while he is on the court and is also a ferocious offensive rebounder, another welcome sight for Clifford.
Robinson has big upside and would be the perfect piece should he live up to it. It is very conceivable that he will be available at No. 24.
No. 24 Pick, Option 1: James Young
James Young is one of the more difficult prospects to understand in the draft. It wouldn't be surprising to see him go anywhere in Round 1. He would actually be a perfectly reasonable pick at No. 9, but at No. 24 he would be an absolute steal.
It took Young a while to find his footing in John Calipari's installment of the Fab Five at Kentucky this year, but his growth was very noticeable. Young still put up 14.5 points and four rebounds a game and hit some massive shots during the team's surprising run to the national championship game.
Fans are just about tired of Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. He plateaued three years ago and is nothing more than a solid slasher and finisher at this point in his career. He still has value to the team, but the two-guard slot needs more punch on this roster.
NBADraft.net has Young going to the Hornets at No. 24, and if he is available they better be running to the podium. He would have more athleticism and upside than just about any other prospect at that point in the draft. Young is also seasoned enough to be an immediate contributor even at the age of 18.
Young's all-around combination of shooting, finishing ability, creativity and defensive intensity make him a tremendously intriguing prospect. He is full of potential and could be the ideal backcourt mate for years to come in Charlotte.
By gaining experience as a complementary player in his one year at Kentucky, he could ultimately have much more success early on in the NBA. He carved out his space alongside Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, and he could surely do it early on with Jefferson and Walker. Charlotte hits a home run with this pick if Young is available at this juncture.
No. 9 Pick, Option 3: Dario Saric
Saric is probably the most interesting man in this draft. Forget his constant flip-flopping on whether or not to stay eligible for the draft. Disregard his being the 500th European player to be pegged as the next Dirk Nowitzki. He is impossible to understand, and we love him for it.
We are familiar with him from last year's draft, where he pulled his name out at the last minute. Saric is a 6'10", athletically challenged, extraordinarily talented big who should go somewhere in the lottery based on his upside.
The ninth pick is slightly higher than it was assumed he would go, but McRoberts opting out of his contract has Charlotte strongly considering using at least one of the two first-round picks on frontcourt depth, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer.
McRoberts may have played himself out of Charlotte's price range this past season, but Saric would be the perfect guy to replace him. He projects to be a much better player than McRoberts should he pan out—emphasis on the word "should." Saric has uncanny intangibles and is a great distributor for a big man. He can also stretch the court to give Jefferson room to operate.
Saric's outside shooting is strong when he gets his feet set. He is more of a catch-and-shoot threat right now than anything. Another asset he has going for him is his constant hustle, which Clifford would love. His work ethic should keep him in this league because he does not have the frame or athleticism to get by on the defensive end of the floor without it.
He is definitely not the surefire pick at No. 9 but will definitely be considered. This is certainly not going the safe route, and Charlotte may not see frontcourt depth to be as urgent a need as outside shooting. Regardless, Saric would be a surprising pick that could ultimately pay huge dividends.
No. 9 Pick, Option 2: Nik Stauskas
If Charlotte wants to address the perimeter slots as well as its outside-shooting deficiency, Nik Stauskas is about as safe as it gets.
Stauskas had a breakout sophomore season at Michigan to the tune of 17.5 points and 3.3 assists a game. He stepped up and became the go-to guy the Wolverines needed following the departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and his team didn't miss a beat.
At the next level, he should be a knock-down shooter from day one. He shot 44 percent in his two years in college and has a beautiful stroke that will be very easy for him to get off over opposing shooting guards due to his solid size and quick release.
What stuck out in Year 2 was his playmaking ability. His improvement in that aspect has him as a projected lottery pick in this draft because it is a newly added element to his game. Charlotte definitely could use another capable distributor alongside Walker. Those two would look great together in teal and purple, running this team as a prolific young backcourt.
The hope would have to be that Clifford is able to coax more out of Stauskas on the defensive end. He lacks elite foot speed and could struggle covering big athletic 2-guards at the next level. Stauskas did test out to be more of an athlete that people expected at the combine but still does not possess the tools to be an elite defender. Should he develop into simply an average defender, he will be a very good player due to his offensive talent.
Stauskas would not be a swing for the fences and will not have the pressure of saving this franchise. He can be eased into this roster and become the dynamic shooter this squad needs. Charlotte couldn't go wrong with this pick.
No. 9 Pick Option 1: Zach LaVine
What better way to bring back the buzz than by drafting the prospect with the most buzz of them all?
Zach LaVine has been setting the world on fire in his pre-draft workouts. He is so tantalizing that he is making it harder and harder to pass over him in the lottery with each passing day. This is a bit contradictory to what I said on the introductory slide because LaVine is a home run type of a pick, but he should at least have a solid floor that makes him no worse than a solid spark off the bench.
Charlotte's nice 2013-14 season was productive but lacked oomph. The Bobcats were fun to watch but ultimately lacked the firepower needed to become a yearly contender. He is definitely not ready for a featured role, but the 19-year-old LaVine should be a problem worth having from day one due to his athleticism.
His other elements will come along, but for now he can shoot and finish. Those are two things Charlotte needs off the bench. Clifford's use of his bench shrunk down the stretch because there were so few options he could rely on.
LaVine did not wow anyone in his one year at UCLA aside from providing brief glimpses of his inhuman athleticism. He probably could have used another year of seasoning, especially since UCLA lost four of its five starters to the draft. He could have made himself a lock for the top five with one strong campaign, but teams are still salivating over what he can be.
At 6'5", LaVine could easily develop into Walker's backcourt running mate in a year or two. He does have very good handles and would be one of the scariest fast-break players in the league, in addition to being a much-needed second ball-handler.
LaVine has a lot of the same characteristics as fellow UCLA alum Russell Westbrook. He also should have no problem playing shooting guard due to his size and could eventually make his ball-handling the driving force behind his ascension to the elite 2-guard level. This is a guy who could wind up being the best player in this draft, which is something too tempting to pass up for Charlotte this year.
He is not only going to be the most talented prospect at No. 9 but will also be a great fit.