What the Charlotte Hornets decide to do with their lottery pick is the main topic of discussion when it comes to the team’s draft strategy, as it should be — lottery picks are important. But, the Hornets’ second-round picks, 32 and 56, are interesting to think about, too.
The 32nd pick is a de facto late-first-round pick; players available will likely have first-round grades from many teams, but will be inked to a more team-friendly contract for the same number of years as a first-rounder. The Hornets received the 56th pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kemba Walker sign-and-trade (pretty even deal), and though 56 is the tail-end of the draft, there are still gems to be found. Jalen McDaniels went 52nd in the 2019 draft and Caleb Martin was undrafted, and both look to be rotation pieces for next season.
Who the Hornets look at when they’re on the clock in the second round is dependent on what happens with their lottery pick; if they select a guard in the lottery, I doubt they pick another one at 32 or 56, and the same goes for any other position. Listed below are a few prospects at each position that I think the Hornets could/should be looking at for their second-rounders.
Grant Riller, G, Charleston - Riller has the highest upside of any non-lottery guard with his insanely good finishing, primary initiator ability and off-the-dribble scoring. He’s an efficient scorer, NBA-level athlete and, potentially, a switchable perimeter defender with some added strength. Riller is one of my favorite guards in the draft and I’d comfortably take him in the top-25 — if he’s available at 32, Mitch Kupchak should sprint to the podium.
Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State - The Hornets’ “biggest need” this offseason is to acquire a center other than Cody Zeller, preferably a low-cost prospect. Tillman does everything required of a big in James Borrego’s system; sets solid screens and makes great decisions with the ball out of pick-and-roll action, rebounds on both ends, and protects the rim while being able to switch onto smaller ball-handlers. He’s short at 6’ 8” but he’s 245 pounds and still blocked 2.6 shots per 40 minutes last season.
Desmond Bane, G/W, Texas Christian - Bane’s stock has risen to the point where there is a slim chance he’s available at 32, but if so, he’s a tremendous fit. He has gravity as an off-the-dribble scorer, projects as a great shooter, is a solid athlete with prototypical size at 6’ 6” and 215 pounds and can defend multiple positions on the perimeter. Bane is a pretty safe bet to be a contributor on an NBA team down the road.
Elijah Hughes, W, Syracuse - Syracuse’s system is far from ideal for NBA prospects, but Hughes has risen up draft boards in spite of that. He has prototypical size for a wing at 6’ 8” and is a beast scoring in isolation at all three levels. He shot 36.9 percent on 8.5 3PA per 40 minutes as a sophomore in 2018-2019 and has a solid mid-range pull-up game. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense is hard to scout, but Hughes has the length, strength and mobility to be a multi-positional wing defender.
Tyrell Terry, PG, Stanford - The Hornets already have prospects at the guard spot in Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk, but that can’t stop them from taking good players when given the opportunity. Tyrell Terry is a fantastic spot-up and movement shooter, hitting 40.8 percent of his 6.0 3PA per 40 minutes as a freshman at Stanford. He’s a playmaker in transition and has open-court speed. His footwork and awareness on defense are not good and he’s not a great athlete, but Terry’s shooting will outweigh everything when he’s locked in.
Zeke Nnaji, C, Arizona - Nnaji has become one of my favorite second-round center prospects. He just seems like one of those guys whose game is going to translate. He shoots well from mid-range and the free-throw line and projects to be a good 3-point shooter that can also take defenders off-the-dribble. He’s a switchable defender with length and a solid frame. Also an efficient finisher (63.0 TS percentage) and offensive glass-cleaner (3.1 OREB in 30.7 minutes per game), Nnaji would add a new dynamic to the Hornets’ center rotation.
Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas - Azubuike has, by far, the lowest ceiling of any center prospect in the second round. Though he made substantial improvements with his body at Kansas, he’s still not mobile and has no ability to play defense outside of the paint. His only skills at this point revolve around his size, but my lord, is he a big dude. Azubuike is worth the late-second-round investment simply because he’s a large body that won’t be moved around easily and Borrego can just plant him underneath the rim. Plus, he’s a four-year senior at a blue-blood. MJ will fall in love.
Ashton Hagans, PG, Kentucky - Strictly looking at his defense, Hagans is worth the late-draft investment. There aren't many prospects in this class that defend the point of attack and navigate opponents’ pick-and-rolls like he does. He’s nearly 200 pounds and stands at 6’ 3” with a 6’ 6” wingspan and the quickness to generate steals both on-ball and in passing lanes. He simply cannot shoot, but he won’t ever be asked to do that — just defend.
Ayo Dosunmu, PG, Illinois - Dosunmu is a defensive-minded point guard like Hagans, but his shooting is further along. He has solid court-vision, but doesn’t always make the best decision based off of what he sees. The “guard defense doesn’t matter” trope is becoming more true each season, which contributes to prospects like Hagans and Dosunmu, who don’t offer high-level skills outside of that, falling in the draft.
Borisa Simanic, C, Crvena zvezda (Serbia) - Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about Simanic, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t make sense for him to go undrafted. He’s skinny for a 7-footer but he has legit NBA-level ball skills, and should be a good shooter from 3-point range, especially off the catch. He has some vertical pop, too. Simanic seems like a classic case of NBA scouts overlooking him because he plays for a lesser-known Euroleague team.
Killian Tillie, F, Gonzaga - Tillie is another four-year senior that played at a (semi) blue-blood, so I’m sure the Hornets’ brass will be enamored from the start. Stretching the floor is Tillie’s calling card and may end up being his only positive skill, but he’s really good at it. I think the Greensboro Swarm staff could help develop Tillie into something more helpful on the defensive end a la Jalen McDaniels in 2019-2020.
Skylar Mays, G, Lousiana State - Mays is way too good to be a late-second-round prospect. He was a career 34.5 percent 3-point shooter during four seasons at LSU and plays solid perimeter defense, and most of all, he’s just a good, steady player. Drawing fouls at the rim is a strong-suit for him. I use the “four-year senior” thing with the Hornets mostly as a bit, but the bit does not apply to Mays.
Reminder: this is who I like for the Hornets at 32 or 56, not who I think they’re going to look at or have been rumored to be scouting. It’s simply a gathering of my favorite second-round prospects that will be available when Mitch Kupchak is on the clock. If you guys have any lesser-known prospects you like too much, post them in the comments. I have had many a draft crush.