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How the Hornets just missed drafting franchise-changing players from 2015 through 2018

Let’s hope 2020 is the year they get it right.

2020 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Charlotte Hornets not being invited to the NBA’s year-end bubble event we as fans can now start mentally transitioning to the draft. When it comes to the draft looking forward is always fun because we can fantasize about the potential and upside of the talent that should be available for lottery-bound teams like the Hornets. While looking forward is usually enjoyable, sometimes looking back on past drafts can be equally painful.

No team is perfect in the draft and looking back at past drafts makes this perfectly clear. The Golden State Warriors had as good of a stretch a team can hope for between 2009 and 2012 when they landed franchise cornerstones in Stephen Curry (No. 7, 2009), Klay Thompson (No. 11, 2011), and Draymond Green (No. 35, 2012). But even the Warriors front office if fallible. During this stretch they also selected Ekpe Udoh at No. 6 in 2010 while passing on Gordon Hayward (No. 9) and Paul George (No. 10). In 2012, the year they selected Draymond at No. 35, they also took Harrison Barnes at No. 7. Barnes never thrived in his four years with the Warriors, averaging just 10.1 points in 28.1 minutes per game, before leaving as a free agent.

As we look forward to the Hornets 2020 draft let’s also look back at their draft day decisions starting with the pivotal year of 2015-16 when the team went 48-34 and nearly pulled off a first round upset. In this exercise I’m just looking at the five players selected after the Hornets drafted because they generally represent how NBA talent evaluators viewed those available players.

My friends, get ready to play the What If? game

2015 - Frank Kaminsky, No. 9 overall

Next five picks: Justise Winslow, Myles Turner, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker, Cameron Payne

This draft hurts. Both Myles Turner (No. 11) and Devin Booker (No. 13) were drafted shortly after the Hornets selected Kaminsky at No. 9 overall. Kaminsky is definitely an NBA-caliber player but he lasted four ho-hum seasons in Charlotte before signing with the Phoenix Suns as a free agent prior to this season.

Should’ve drafted: Myles Turner. While Devin Booker is an elite scorer, the Hornets already had Kemba Walker dominating the ball. Turner has averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and an impressive 2.1 blocks per game in his career, making him one of the better rim protectors in the league. The center position has vexed the Hornets for years and selecting Turner over Kaminsky would’ve likely prevented the eventual Dwight Howard experiment.

Could’ve been worse: Cameron Payne. In four NBA seasons he’s appeared in 153 games (28 starts) with three different teams, averaging 6.0 points and 2.5 assists in 16.0 minutes per game. He was out of the NBA at the beginning of the 2019-20 season and played two games in China before joining the Texas Legends of the NBA G-League in January 2020.

2016 - Malachi Richardson, No. 22 overall (traded for Marco Belinelli)

Next five picks: Ante Zizic, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Brice Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz, Pascal Siakam

Instead of rolling the dice on a rookie with a team-friendly contract, Charlotte instead drafted Malachi Richardson and immediately traded him to the Sacrament Kings for 30-year-old Marco Belinelli. The Hornets got one unspectacular season from Marco (10.5 points in 24 MPG) before shipping him out in the Dwight Howard trade.

Should’ve drafted: Pascal Siakam. It’s hard to fault the Hornets front office here because none of the guys drafted from No. 22 through No. 26 have amounted to much, but Pascal Siakam, taken at No. 27, has blossomed into a franchise-changing All-Star. No team in the league anticipated Siakam making the leap he has, but he was there for the Hornets taking.

Could’ve been worse: Brice Johnson. Even one uninspiring Belinelli season was better than drafting Johnson whose NBA career lasted just two seasons, 21 games, and 47 points.

2017 - Malik Monk, No. 11 overall

Next five picks: Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Justin Jackson, Justin Patton

Once again, this hurts. Monk is still a major question mark even before his suspension while Donovan Mitchell has established himself as one of the league’s best shooting guards (24.2 PPG this year). Bam Adebayo is one of the most versatile big men in the league and is averaging 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists this year. Both Mitchell and Adebayo are All-Stars.

Should’ve drafted: Donovan Mitchell. Remember, in this totally improbable fantasy scenario the Hornets already have Myles Turner in the post and Pascal Siakam on the wing. Pairing Mitchell with Kemba Walker would’ve given the Hornets an unstoppable back court while giving the team insurance in the event Kemba bolted in free agency.

Could’ve been worse: Justin Patton. The former No. 16 overall pick has played a total of nine NBA games with three different teams over three seasons. He’s currently in the G League with the Wisconsin Herd.

2018 - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, No. 11 overall (traded for Miles Bridges and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021)

Next five picks: Miles Bridges, Jerome Robinson, Michael Porter, Troy Brown, Zhaire Smith

The Hornets took Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 then traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 12 pick, Miles Bridges, plus second round picks in 2020 and 2021. Bridges is a fine young player who is currently averaging 13.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in his second NBA season. Only time will tell if Charlotte lands any quality players with the extra second round picks they received by flipping SGA for Bridges.

Should’ve drafted (and kept): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. While Bridges is fine, Gilgeous-Alexander is really, really good. SGA spent a solid rookie season with the Clippers and was then traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Paul George deal. SGA had a breakout season this year in OKC by averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists.

Could’ve been worse: Zhaire Smith. This isn’t totally fair to Smith because he has already dealt with injuries and a health scare while playing for a loaded Philadelphia 76ers team. But so far he’s appeared in just 13 games in two seasons.

Between 2015 and 2018 a playoff-caliber Hornets team just missed out on Myles Turner (or Devin Booker), Pascal Siakam, Donovan Mitchell (or Bam Adebayo), and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Nailing any one of those drafts could’ve created an alternate universe where Kemba is still in Charlotte and the Hornets are a playoff mainstay. In fairness to Charlotte’s front office, however, they could’ve also made worse selections in each of those four drafts.

Over the last several years the Hornets have drafted some decent players while just missing out on franchise-changing talent. Let’s hope 2020 is the year they finally nail the draft.