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2020-2021 Hornets season preview: Vernon Carey Jr.

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The 32nd overall selection got the most guaranteed money of any second-round pick, a sign that Charlotte has confidence in him already

Charlotte Hornets Draft Picks Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Before you read Vernon Carey Jr.’s season preview, read Daran’s introductory article on him because it’s very good and it describes Vernon’s background in great detail.

On Monday morning, the Charlotte Hornets inked Vernon to a four-year, $6.58M deal that has the most guaranteed money ($4.65M) ever of any second-round rookie, topping the $4.6M that the Memphis Grizzlies guaranteed to the 35th pick in the 2020 Draft, Xavier Tillman Sr.

Please disregard ESPN’s Bobby Marks referring to Vernon as a “power forward,” implying that position even exists in the modern NBA. That man is a center; developing his skills on the perimeter is going to be a main focus for Vernon as a young player. The Hornets front office must already have some confidence in his ability to contribute if they felt comfortable giving him a sizable rookie deal, which could be a sign that recently shedding 30-plus pounds has improved his mobility.

Cody Zeller is all but penciled-in as the starter at center — as he should be — but Vernon is likely to start out either as Zeller’s backup, or competing for backup minutes with Nick Richards. Both young centers will play a fair amount while Bismack Biyombo gets spot minutes and serves a Udonis Haslem-like role on the bench, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them deployed as matchup-dependent players in their first season. It’ll be harder than usual for rookies to get up to speed with such a short, hands-off pre-season, and Vernon hasn’t shown the switch and pick-and-roll abilities needed to defend at an NBA level yet. Again, losing weight helps, but it could take him more time to adjust to the NBA than normal rookie bigs because this season is so weird.

Vernon took 71.3 percent of his field goal attempts at the rim as a Blue Devil and converted on 65 percent of them, per Hoop-Math. He shot 39.7 percent on 2-point jumpers and made eight of his 21 total 3-point attempts during the season with a 61.5 true shooting percentage. As a Hornet, his shot profile will probably be similar. He spent the draft process working on his body and transforming his game from a back-to-the-basket interior center to a more modern NBA big, but it would be a bit unfair to expect him to come in and be a completely different player from what we saw at Duke early-on. Bigs typically take the longest to adjust to the NBA and develop, especially a 19-year-old that is reinventing his style of play during a global pandemic in which he cannot easily access team facilities.

Vernon will contribute as a rookie, but as is the case with most young players, it probably won’t be right away. Clearly, this dude has a work ethic, and having a father who played eight seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins will help with his transition into the lifestyle of a professional athlete. Bismack Biyombo could be the “backup center” on opening night, but come seasons end, Vernon could be receiving a significant chunk of the minutes at the five spot.