There are few certainties in the draft process. Stars, role players and busts are awaiting at every pick in the annual June spectacle. It is up to each individual team to sift through all the tape, all the scouting reports and all the pieces of information they can gain on each of these prospects in order to make the best decision for the franchise.
One certainty was that Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho would meet with the media ahead of June 25's NBA Draft. The media event was simply a formality for Cho, guiding answers through his head before they left his mouth. He gave us the mantra he's given us before, ‘We're going to take the best player available', but he also detailed that all options are on the table. "We've been talking to a lot of teams about moving up, moving backward, moving the pick altogether," Cho said. "A lot of things are in play." He went on to say it all depends on what the organization would have to give up but he also noted, "I'd love to move up."
At the beginning of June, Charlotte began bringing in prospects for pre-draft workouts. The list of first-rounders the Hornets have brought in thus far illustrate what Cho said late last week. Their lineup shows versatility and adaptability, revealing that they have done their homework if they were to move up, move back, or keep the ninth overall pick.
Early on in the workout process, they brought in diminutive Louisville guard Terry Rozier. His name and his game hadn't caught steam at that point, floating in the early second round of most mock drafts, but as the draft approaches, Rozier seems likely to hear his name called late in the first round. The dynamic guard explodes with the ball in his hands and while he wasn't the primary ball-handler for the Cardinals, he believes in his ability to carry that burden. His relentless play likely attracts head coach Steve Clifford and although he's a streaky shooter, he could one day become a consistent one from range.
The very next day the Hornets brought in two guys college basketball fans will be familiar with. Notre Dame's Jerian Grant and Georgia State's R.J. Hunter. Both guys project to go in the late teens to early 20s, with Hunter falling to the mid-20s in some mock drafts. Grant has really good size for the guard position and was one of the most productive and enjoyable college players to watch this past season. The kid can seemingly do everything on offense but shoot 3s consistently, a desperate need for Charlotte. Across from him that day was the coach's son. Hunter was the focal point of every defense his Panthers faced this season and his efficiency showed it. It reminded me of when Gordon Hayward's efficiency dipped two season ago, he simply didn't trust any of his teammates (for good reason) and it left him in sticky situations. Hunter can be a solid spot-up shooter and has great footwork when flinging around screens. According to ESPN's Chad Ford, Hunter impressed the Hornets during the workout.
On June 9, the day after the two guards worked out, Charlotte brought in another Louisville Cardinal: Montrez Harrell. The 6-8 bruiser has a wingspan out of Jurassic World and a motor that conjures up comps of Kenneth Faried (although those are wrong). His energy and toughness is endearing but he's limited on the offensive end, hence his mid-20s projection. He's been promoting his retooled jump shot, saying he's gotten to spend more time on it due to the absence of class and school work in his life.
In perhaps the most intriguing match-up workout, the Hornets brought in Wisconsin wing Sam Dekker and Kentucky shooter Devin Booker after Harrell. Booker is the youngest player in the draft and the most popular player to mock to Charlotte due to his shooting ability. He also adds good size and is a better ball-handler and athlete than people give him credit for. I am a big fan of Booker and the Hornets could do worse than choosing him with the ninth pick. His counterpart that day has been slowly creeping up boards this draft season. While Booker has been constantly mocked to Charlotte, Dekker's range seems to be just outside the ninth pick and in the early teens. He's a streaky player overall but when he's on, like during this past NCAA Tournament, he's a fun one to watch. He's got great bounce to his movements and his athleticism shows as he quickly gets to spots on the floor faster than anybody else. He's got an inconsistent jumper from all over the floor so he'll have to tune that up in the league but Dekker is intriguing if the Hornets make a deal to move back just a few slots. I'm curious to know if this match-up was put together to gauge how big, or small, the gap is between a guy like Booker and a guy like Dekker in this draft.
24 hours later, the Hornets scheduled their first solo workout, bringing in Kansas wing Kelly Oubre. The one-and-doner told the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell that he did not request a solo workout, it simply worked out that way. Oubre is as raw as they come and he could be Thursday night's biggest gamble. What's intriguing is his incredible length (a 7-foot-2 wingspan) and his unteachable athleticism. His versatility defensively is unique and he showed marked improvement from the Jayhawks' first game to their last. He seemed to have top-10 consideration early on in the draft process but has since dropped to the early and late teens. He seemingly never gets past Boston at 16 though. His rawness likely caused his drop as Oubre may need to spend a majority of his time in the D-League during his rookie year.
After a few days with no workouts, the Hornets ramped the process up again as they brought in a trio of big men last week. UCLA freshman Kevon Looney was the first to arrive, working out for the team last Monday. The young Bruin was underwhelming during his lone season in Westwood but his physical make-up intrigues teams around the league. His incredible length and instincts could make him a beast on the boards and the rim-protector every NBA team can't have enough of. He has his limitations however and they can be daunting when you watch him play. He's a big man with a seemingly absent low-post game. He likes to stretch the floor and hangout around the perimeter but his jumper is inconsistent. It looks like he'll go in the late teens or early-20s but teams will be banking on the young buck's defensive potential and that his offensive flashes grow substance.
The most prized prospect the Hornets have worked out occurred two days after Looney. The team brought in Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein for a solo workout last Wednesday and his Airness came down from high above to watch the workout. Cauley-Stein's defensive potential is as captivating as his outfits. His ability to guard any player in the floor will be a treasure in today's NBA. Whether it's defending on the wing, in the post, or in front of the rim, Larry Bird's $100-million player can do it all. We often hear about a guard's ability to make his teammates better but we don't hear it often enough about anchors on defense. Whatever team he goes to, Cauley-Stein will make his teammates better on the defensive end. He's worked out as high as No. 4 for New York and was mocked in the top-8 until recently when reports about a lingering foot injury surfaced, sending him outside of the top-10. I get the feeling that the Hornets really like Cauley-Stein and if he does indeed fall, he will very much be in play at No. 9.
In what appears to be the last draft workout for Charlotte, the team brought in Texas freshman Myles Turner for a solo workout with six days until draft night. Turner came off the bench during his lone season in Austin but flashed serious rim-protecting ability and the signs of the modern post-player. The 7-footer has range that extends out to the arc and his jumper appears to be mechanically sound. While he'll need to become more consistent with his jumper's success and add strength (every rookie does), his potential puts Turner just outside the top-10.
Before draft workouts began, teams and players gathered in Chicago for the NBA Combine. To our knowledge, the Hornets met with two players there that they later brought in for workouts: Booker and Cauley-Stein. During that week they also met with Duke's Justice Winslow, Arizona's Stanley Johnson, and UNLV's Rashad Vaughn. They likely met with more players than that but those were the only ones reported on.
Johnson, as well as Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky's Trey Lyles and Murray State's Cameron Payne, are all in play at nine and in the ensuing picks. Lyles and Payne were not brought in for workouts but early on in the draft season, Ford reported the Hornets were interested in Payne. This week it was reported that Johnson refused to work out for Charlotte, although his camp denies that. According to the Indianapolis Star, Kaminsky and his team are picky about who they workout for, pursuing teams they think are the best fit for him. It looks like the Hornets are not one of them.
While mock drafts and workouts don't necessarily lead to direct knowledge of a player's true stock or a team's intentions, they do give a good indication into what is going on within the draft season, and above all, they're interesting. After last week's trade, Ford reported two other tidbits about Charlotte's future draft night: one they are now more likely to take a shooting guard like Booker or Oubre and two their most logical trade partner is Boston. New York, Sacramento, Denver, Orlando, Detroit, Phoenix and the Celtics have all been mentioned in potential trades but there's no way for us to know what is hearsay and what it is not. Speculation leads us to believe it'll be a busy draft night. Will the Hornets be involved?