The Charlotte Hornets have no long term answer at their center spot. Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez are likely on their way out, and Cody Zeller isn’t the center of the future. The Hornets own the second pick in the second round, which is a prime spot to grab a young center, especially in this draft, where there a number of interesting center prospects projected to go in that range. One of those players is Arizona freshman Zeke Nnaji.
Weight: 240 pounds
Strengths: Motor, touch around the basket, shooting potential
Nnaji’s motor immediately stands out on both ends. He’s raw defensively and misses reads, but it’s not for lack of effort. He’s a menace on both the offensive and defensive boards and plays really hard. There’s not much more to say here.
Nnaji has an impressive post game. It probably won’t be used much in the NBA outside of punishing switches, but it’s a good illustration of his touch around the basket. He can finish through traffic and has a very acrobatic layup package for a player his size. That touch should serve Nnaji well as a diver in pick and rolls and off dump off passes in the dump off spot. He doesn’t need a clear lane to the basket to finish.
Nnaji has also shown some potential as a jump shooter. He only hit 5-of-17 3-pointers at Arizona, but there’s a foundation in place. He was a confident shooter from deep mid-range with a quick, clean, repeatable release. He also hit 76% of his free throws. He probably won’t be a major 3-point threat right away, but he should be able to get there in time.
Question marks: Feel for the game, rim protection
Nnaji’s feel for the game has a lot of room for growth on both ends of the floor. He’s not the most disciplined defender and struggles making the right read against complex actions. There were a lot of breakdowns in Arizona’s defense when Nnaji was tasked with containing ball handlers in pick and roll and handoff situations. Offensively, Nnaji only averaged 1.1 assist to 2.9 turnovers per game. He was often planted in the middle of floor against zone defenses, which should’ve given him the opportunity to rack up a lot of easy assists, but it didn’t happen. He’ll probably be limited to a catch and finish player early on.
Nnaji’s lack of awareness shows up as a rim protector. He averaged 1.1 blocks per 40 minutes, which is way to low for a player of his stature. Too often he becomes preoccupied with keeping his man off the glass and provides no help against slashing ball handlers. He looks like he lacks pop as a leaper, which combined with his average length, limits the amount of vertical space he can occupy.
Nnaji overachieved in his freshman season at Arizona, becoming the team’s best young player over five star recruits Nico Mannion and Josh Green. He has traits you can’t really teach—namely his touch around the basket and his motor, but he has some growing to do in other areas. He’d fit well with the mental makeup of this Hornets team and would quickly play a key role if the Hornets were to select him.