For years now, the Hornets have drafted with a “win now” mentality; spurning the allure of tantalizingly volatile high risk/reward types in favor of safe, ostensibly NBA-Ready players. The Hornets approach the draft like your dad approaches buying pants: “What kinda moron spends a hundred bucks on some razzle-dazzle blue jeans when you can get a sensible pair of Kirkland slacks for a fraction of the cost?”
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a sturdy pair of Dockers. They’re safe, and reliable. Your dad needs them khaki slacks, bro. They’re not just pants, those are Business Britches. They’re no nonsense. They get the job done, they put food on the table, and above all else, they are NOT fun to watch play professional basketball. Luke Kennard is a pair of Khakis. Justin Jackson? Pleated trousers. Dennis Smith Jr. is a David Bowie spaceman suit.
For me, Dennis Smith Jr is the most realistic, “best case scenario” for the Hornets at the 11th pick. This team needs to start taking some swings at landing a potential superstar, and while Smith is far from a sure thing, his ceiling is potentially as high as anybody in this draft class not named Markelle Fultz.
Smith is a 6’2”, elite-scoring point guard with alligator arms and poor defensive effort. If you’re thinking the Hornets already have a diminutive, high-volume shooting point guard, you’re right. But the thing is, Dennis Smith Jr isn’t a point guard-- he’s a damn rocket ship.
Smith has a Russell-Westbrook-Stinkface™ approved burst to the rim, and a decent starter bag-of-tricks with ball handling in penetration. Despite suffering a torn ACL that caused him to miss his senior year of High School ball, Smith entered N.C. State as a top five recruit in the 2016 class, and is by most accounts considered the most explosive athlete in the draft.
Watching Smith highlight reels actually reminds me a lot of a young, Hornets-era Baron Davis: A stocky-ish, slightly unpolished explosion in basketball sneakers capable of blowing the roof off the Hive with a jaw dropping, rim rattling highlight dunk out of nowhere.
Highlights ≠ wins of course, and no team should realistically take that into consideration while constructing a roster. Unless that team is the Hornets. If you are the Hornets you should absolutely take that into consideration. Because slam dunks are fucking awesome.
The organization’s short term goals are clear: win a playoff series. That’s a reasonably attainable, modest goal. Its a logical next step towards relevancy and gaining a modicum of respect. But in today’s NBA, being an above average Eastern conference playoff team isn’t enough for relevancy.
Bring up the Hornets to a fan of another NBA team and watch their eyes glaze over. We’re boring, ya’ll. That’s what happens when Marvin Williams is your team’s most exciting above the rim player. Winning cures all, but at this moment in time I honestly think that the franchise would benefit almost as much from being a little, you know, exciting?
N.C. State isn’t exactly known for producing NBA stars. With apologies to Todd Fuller and Tom Gugliotta (tha god), Smith is the most high profile player to come out of Raleigh since David Thompson. In his lone college season he averaged 18.1 points (second highest school history), 4.1 rebounds (first among guards) and 6.2 assists (also first).
He’s one of the best basketball prospects in North Carolina state history, literally. Smith was born and raised in Godwin, NC and played his high school ball in Fayetteville. As a five star, blue chip prospect, he could have gone to any school in the country. His decision to stay local for college would seem to support the idea that at the very least, living in the Old North State doesn’t physically upset him. If you think that isn’t a big deal, I’d be quick to remind you that that is literally the entire plan for luring Stephen Curry to Charlotte.
Of all the players the Hornets realistically have a shot at grabbing with the 11th pick, Smith is probably the biggest longshot. But if we don’t get a shot at him, we can at least start the “Come Home, Dennis!” stuff up in four years or so.