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2020-2021 Hornets season preview: Nick Richards

Charlotte’s front office had to to snag a Kentucky player, they just couldn’t help themselves

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

The Charlotte Hornets went into the off-season with Cody Zeller as the lone center on the roster, and after they selected Vernon Carey Jr. with the 32nd pick, the front office went out and traded a 2024 second-round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to select Nick Richards with the 42nd pick in the 2020 Draft.

Richards was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and grew up as soccer player, volleyball player and track and field runner before a New York City-based scout discovered him at a basketball camp during the summer of 2013. Richards began his American high school basketball career at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, N.Y. before deciding to commute two hours daily each way to The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J., where former Hornet Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kyrie Irving also went to school. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, he committed to Kentucky over Syracuse and Arizona and steadily improved each year he spent in Lexington. After a 2019-2020 season in which he was named to the All-SEC and SEC All-Defense teams, Richards left for the draft, and now we’re here.

Often times, voters get the post-season conference awards wrong for a multitude of reasons. The SEC All-Defense voters got this one right, though; Richards is a very good defender and was easily one of the best in his conference. His block and rebounding percentages last season were 8.0 and 15.3, respectively, and he recorded 66 total blocks in 31 games played. At 6’ 11” and 247 pounds with a 7’ 4” wingspan and the abilities to slide his feet and hold his ground underneath the rim, his defensive production is likely to translate to the NBA.

To start his career, Richards’ style of play will be similar to Bismack Biyombo’s. Both are centers that rely entirely on their teammates to create offense for them, don’t see the floor at all, and a lot of their points come on dunks or put-back layups. Each of them have long arms, can jump and run the floor (Biz used to, at least), but neither of them can shoot it at all, though Richards is a career-72.8 percent free-throw shooter and shot 42 percent on 2-point jumpers last season as a Wildcat, so there is a sliver of hope that he could space the floor a bit someday. There will be games where Richards can’t play due to his lack of dribbling, passing, or shooting ability, but there will also be games where he plays a lot as a rim-protecting energy big that eats boards. Investing two draft picks in centers is not the most conventional way to build a team in the NBA in 2020, but Richards and Vernon are such a direct compliment to each other with their respective defensive-minded and offensive-minded skillsets, while also still having room to grow the rest of their games, that it’s easy to see the Hornets front office’s vision.

Richards got a guaranteed contract similar but slightly smaller in value than Vernon’s, so it’s clear that the front office believes in Richards’ ability to get on the floor this season, too. Defense is the more-difficult side of the ball for bigs to develop on, and he’s is already good enough at that to play in the NBA. The minutes Richards gets on a nightly basis may not be consistent, especially early in the season, but there’s no doubt that he’ll see the floor plenty.