The draft has come and gone and the Charlotte Hornets added five new rookies to the roster (including one on a two-way deal). LaMelo Ball, Vernon Carey Jr, Nick Richards, Grant Riller, and Nate Darling are all now a part of the Hornets franchise. You may know the names, you may know their stats, but what could their NBA career shape up to be? Who exactly do these rookies resemble?
*These comparisons are strictly based on style of play and the type of player these rookies could turn into eventually.
Nate Darling = Jordan Clarkson
Darling’s final year in college: 21.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG 44.6% FG, 39.9% 3PT
Clarkson’s final year in college: 17.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG 44.8% FG, 28.1% 3PT
Nate Darling shoots such an easy ball off the dribble — seamless gather, rhythm up, doesn't need much airspace. Deep range with touch, going left or right. Moves well without the ball, strong driver with some craft. Really like this UDFA/two-way deal for the Hornets/Swarm. pic.twitter.com/62jKehUw6N— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) November 20, 2020
While the numbers alone look pretty similar, this comparison gets even better when you closely examine each player’s college career. Both guys spent two years at a CUSA school (Darling at Alabama-Birmingham and Clarkson at Tulsa), took a year off to transfer, and then played one more season at a larger school before entering the draft.
Darling is coming into the league labeled as a solid shooter that knows how to score the ball. The one glaring difference in the stats comparison is 3PT%, but when you consider how well Clarkson can shoot the three in the NBA (36.6% last season), and the fact that he shot 37.4% from deep his final year at Tulsa, the resemblance is clearly there. Darling has a long way to go before becoming the type of player Clarkson is today, but the skillset is definitely there to be developed.
Nick Richards = Jarrett Allen
Richards’ final year in college: 14.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.1 SPG, 2.1 BPG, 64.2% FG 0.0% 3PT
Allen’s final year in college: 13.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 56.6% FG, 0.0% 3PT
Nick Richards was a block machine last night, but this was another little thing that Sestina did. He makes the tough save off the block to get Kentucky the ball. Effort can take you a long way if you make it. pic.twitter.com/4OjXtjCl8l— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) February 19, 2020
This was an easy comparison to make, as both guys are lengthy, athletic, defensive-minded centers who block a lot of shots. Both played in a Power Five NCAA conference (Richards at Kentucky (SEC) and Allen at Texas (Big 12)), and found lots of success, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
Both centers led their respective conferences in field goal percentage their final year in college, highlighting their ability to finish at the rim. Neither player has a super developed offensive game, as they’re each known for their defense, but in terms of athleticism this is the perfect comparison. Allen is one of the NBA’s best shot-blockers because of his elite athleticism, and coming into the league Richards’ has that same athletic ability. Whether or not the second round pick can develop into the type of player Allen has become is left to be seen, but all the tools are there.
Grant Riller = Eric Gordon
Riller’s final year in college: 21.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 49.9% FG, 36.2% 3PT
Gordon’s final year in college: 20.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 43.3% FG, 33.7% 3PT
With the 28th pick, the Raptors select Grant Riller from Charleston.pic.twitter.com/XRM7IK3zKu— Tampa Bay Tussin (@robeltussin) May 11, 2020
It was tough to find a comparison for Riller since he played in such a small conference, but the playstyle of both of these guys matches up well. Both are undersized two-guards that can score the ball. Riller is coming into the league much older than Gordon did after his one year at Indiana, but his reputation after his four years at Charleston is as an absolute bucket.
Neither of them are particularly great from deep, but both can shoot the ball well. One of Riller’s best attributes is his ability to drive and score, and while Gordon may have adapted to Houston’s style of play in his most recent years, he’s been a crafty scorer for his entire career. Aside from just their scoring, both guys struggle in the same areas, too. Neither Riller, nor Gordon are the best playmakers, and are also just plain average on the defensive side of the ball (with the main issue being because of their size). Riller may be a second round pick, but expect him to be a menace with the Greensboro Swarm at the very least.
Vernon Carey Jr. = LaMarcus Aldridge
Carey Jr.’s final year in college: 17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 57.7% FG, 38.1% 3PT
Aldridge’s final year in college: 15.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 56.9% FG, 0.0% 3PT
Prospect Play of the Day: A left-hand dominant post scorer, Vernon Carey Jr. does a great job of feeling his defender and spinning back to his left shoulder with excellent footwork. The Duke C was one of the most efficient/prolific post scorers in the NCAA. Simple, effective game pic.twitter.com/0aWsECIPXC— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 29, 2020
Just like with Richards and Allen, Carey Jr. and Aldridge played in Power Five conferences. Both were able to use their size in the post to bully opponents. At Duke, Carey Jr. owned the paint, working the post just like Aldridge did at Texas. They had similar rebound numbers, block numbers, and their field goal percentages were nearly identical.
One category Carey Jr. does have on his resume that Aldridge didn’t is the three-point shot. However, as Aldridge developed his game in the NBA we’ve seen him slowly stretch the floor more and more each year. It has gotten to the point where he was able to shoot 38.9% from three this past season on 3.0 attempts a game. Both big men are also very average rebounders for their size, averaging under 10 boards a night at the collegiate level. Aldridge is definitely a better post-scorer than Carey Jr. is at this point, but with the right work-ethic and his natural size/strength, who knows how dominant Carey Jr. could be.
LaMelo Ball = Trae Young
Ball’s one year with the Illawarra Hawks: 17.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 37.5% FG, 25.0% 3PT
Young’s final year in college: 27.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 49.3% FG, 36.0% 3PT
Starting a thread I'm calling 'LaMelo Ball plays I liked'— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) November 18, 2020
Of course he's not a perfect prospect, but his natural talent level is off the charts. You do not see 6'8ish players handle + pass the ball this confidently and creatively. What do I know, but I've had him No. 1 all year. pic.twitter.com/Q4OhkQFRy0
This was by far the hardest player to find a comparison for, and a large part of that is because of how unique Ball is. I almost went with Ben Simmons because of the height and rebounding, but Ball’s defense and overall athleticism doesn’t match up with Simmons at all. Instead, imagine if Trae Young grew about six inches.
While Ball’s scoring looks seemingly much worse than Young’s, one must consider the fact that Ball played in a professional league with grown men while Young played in college. That’s not a shot at Young’s performance at all, it’s just something to take into account. As for their passing ability, this was the perfect fit. Young’s court vision is elite, and he showed that in his first year two years in the league. Ball looks to come in and do the same exact thing. While Young may be heralded as one of the top shooters in the league, one of the main concerns with him coming out of college was his shot selection, and the same thing can be said for Ball going into this upcoming season. Ball may not come out of the gates playing as well as Young did in his first couple years, but the similarities in their playstyles are very evident.
All the guys I was comparing the Hornets rookies to are established NBA players who have worked super hard to get to the point they’re at. These rookies have a long way to go before they get there, but who knows, maybe we could see something special.