The Charlotte Hornets got off to a hot start this season, clinging to a near-.500 record and the 7th-9th playoff seed for as long as they could. But, after dropping five games in a row just after ending their season-long six-game losing streak and being only 2-8 in their last 10, I think it’s time for us to shift a little bit of our focus as Hornets fans towards the 2020 draft.
DISCLAIMER: this draft class is not good. Anthony Edwards is the consensus #1 prospect and he probably would’ve gone between picks 5 and 10 last year (or next year, 2021 is LOADED). The end of the lottery in 2020 is going to be a desolate place, so nail-biting losses like last night’s to the Trail Blazers should be a welcomed sight. Starting hot, putting up a stinker in the second quarter, and then fighting back and re-gaining the lead before a mistake (or two) costs them the game is exactly what you want from a rebuilding team; competitiveness, effort, flashes of development, and losses.
As of Jan. 14 at 2:47 PM EST, the Hornets are 15-28 and own the eighth spot in the lottery. These mocks were made anywhere from a week ago to three days ago, so they don’t all have the Hornets in the same spot.
SBNation: Onyeka Okongwu, C, USC, 19 years old
SBNation’s own Ricky O’Donnell must know that I love Onyeka Okongwu. I will speak it into existence and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. Here’s what he has to say about him;
Okongwu has been the most productive freshman in the country. At 6’9, 245 pounds, the USC center has been a monster finisher (80 percent shooting at the rim), impressive shot blocker (10.7 percent block rate), and capable offensive rebounder. He’s No. 5 in the country in PER and No. 7 in box score plus-minus. Long, strong, and blessed with great body control, Okongwu feels like a sure thing to be a contributor in the pros in a draft without many safe bets.
The Hornets have zero players worth keeping long-term at the center position. Depending on their draft slot, they could be reaching for the two-way wing they truly need. Okongwu gives them the interior defense that Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller do not. This pick would send me into a trance. Thank you, Ricky.
ESPN: Deni Avdija, F, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 19 years old
With the fifth pick, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has the Hornets selecting Deni Avdija, a pass-first forward with smooth handles out of Israel. Avdija is tall, fast, and athletic with excellent court vision for his size. though he doesn’t shoot particularly well from distance. He’s currently playing 12.4 minutes per game with Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the best teams in the EuroLeague. I won’t bother listing his stats since he doesn’t see the floor much, but don’t let that deter you; he’s very young playing on a professional basketball team. Luka Doncic is one of the only European prospects to actually see big minutes in a pro league prior to reaching the NBA. We all remember how unpopular the Kristaps Porzingis pick was with Knicks’ fans because he wasn’t a known commodity.
Avdija would be a good fit with the Hornets. Every team can use a playmaking forward, something the Hornets do not have. It’s just that the Hornets should be hesitant to surround Devonte’ and Terry with players who aren’t three-point threats; teams can then trap or double-team either of them up high and force the non-shooters to beat them.
ESPN also has the Hornets picking Florida guard/wing Scottie Lewis (#10 in the 2019 recruiting class) with the Cavs’ pick at 31, the first pick of the second round. I can't overstate the value of that pick. It’s basically a late first-rounder with less than a million dollars in committed salary. The Hornets need to keep it.
The Athletic and Sports Illustrated: Obi Toppin, F, Dayton, 22 years old
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo are in agreement on the Hornets’ mock. They have Charlotte taking Dayton stretch-four Obi Toppin (a certain commenter will be thrilled to read this). Toppin fits the mold of Hornets draft picks perfectly; old, power forward, successful in college, low ceiling, and high floor. He can stretch the floor beyond the arc, though he shoots much better from the corners than anywhere else. With adept handles and athleticism for a big man, Toppin can take defenders off the dribble and finish strong through contact.
His only true weaknesses are offensive rebounding and how he projects as a defender at the next level, but I still would not be on board with taking him. Where does he fit with PJ Washington and Miles Bridges? The three of them on the floor together doesn’t work unless they plan to frequently win games with a final score of 152-149. The Hornets also seem to like Jalen McDaniels. None of these guys can play center, and none of them can be a permanent wing. Toppin is also a sophomore that will be 22 on draft day. I will be 23 on draft day and have been graduated from college for over a year, for perspective. He’s a great player, but he doesn’t fit with the Hornets whatsoever.
Tankathon: R.J. Hampton, G, New Zealand Breakers, 19 years old
Last but not least, Tankathon currently has the Hornets picking up R.J. Hampton with the eighth pick. Hampton is from Texas, but chose to play a season of pro ball in the NBL (Australia’s NBA) rather than attend college. Millions of dollars > going to school. Simple.
Hampton is a creative passer and rangy defender that needs to work on his three-point shot before he can take his game to the next level. Turnovers can be a bit of a problem (2.7 per 36 minutes with NZ), but he is good at getting into passing lanes and forcing them himself. Hampton rebounds at a high level for his position, and has an arsenal of moves that he can use when getting to the mid-range or attacking the rim. His movements with the ball in his hands are very quick, and he has the necessary bounce to elevate above rim protectors and finish.
Hampton would be a very “meh” pick for the Hornets. He isn’t the first choice or the best fit, but he isn’t even close to the worst. Let’s be real, though; there’s no chance the Hornets pick an international prospect. They have never done it once in the history of the franchise.
Chase Whitney: Aaron Nesmith, Killian Hayes, or Isaac Okoro
That’s me. Taking their current draft range into account, any of these three would be my pick if they’re available and the Hornets are dead-set on taking a wing. Aaron Nesmith is an absolute flamethrower from Vanderbilt shooting 52.2% from deep with a 68.5 TS%. High-level shooting ability, and not a ball-dominant guy at all. Great fit next to Devonte’ and Terry. The Frenchman Killian Hayes passes, gets to the free-throw line, shoots a high percentage, and defends. He’ll be a good complimentary piece some day. According to Bruce Pearl, Isaac Okoro is the best defensive players he’s ever coached. He doesn’t have a three-point shot right now, but the defensive upside is hard to say no to if he’s available. Plenty of wings have improved their 3PT% after they made the leap to the NBA. Look at Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown as examples.
Let us know what you guys think. I love talking about the draft. I also don’t think we should be talking about the playoffs anymore, so we might as well move on to greener pastures. This is what rebuilds are all about, baby.