Mitch Kupchak was general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers for 17 years before joining the Charlotte Hornets in 2018. One of the most important duties of an NBA GM is to ensure the scouting department absolutely nails the draft, especially during a rebuild. Kupchak’s long tenure with the Lakers gives us plenty of data points to reveal how effective he and his scouting departments have been in correctly assessing talent and drafting the right players.
The Hornets have three picks in the 2020 draft - No 3, No. 32, and No. 56 - so let’s see what Mitch’s draft history reveals about players he’s selected around those draft spots. All of the information provided below is from Kupchak’s Basketball Reference page. I’ve excluded players he drafted then immediately traded because he was making those picks on behalf of another team.
This week I’ll dive into Kupchak’s draft history around pick No. 32 (i.e. picks 27-37) and next week I’ll focus on the No. 3 pick. Since players picked around No. 56 rarely pan out we won’t analyze Mitch’s draft history at that point in the draft. After evaluating every player Kupchak has selected, I’ve also listed the next three players who were drafted after Mitch’s picks as a frame of reference of the talent that was still available. Players who outperformed Kupchak’s selections are designated with an asterisk.
No. 27 - Sasha Vujacic (2004) - Role Player. The 6-foot-7 guard had a nice 10-year NBA career as a backup. In 581 games (with 58 starts) he averaged 5.3 points and shot 36.7 percent from the three-point line. He was a valuable role player in the Lakers back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010. Next three players drafted: Beno Udrih*, David Harrison, Anderson Varejao*.
No. 27 - Larry Nance, Jr. (2015) - Spot Starter. Nance seems to get a little better every year and has developed into a occasional starter who plays about 26 minutes per game. Over the last two seasons he has averaged 9.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per contest. Next three players drafted: R.J. Hunter, Chris McCullough, Kevon Looney.
No. 32 - Luke Walton (2003) - Role Player. Walton played in 564 games in his 10-year career and won two titles with the Lakers. During his only season as a full-time starter in 2006-07 he averaged a versatile 11.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Next three players drafted: Jerome Beasley, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Szymon Szewczyk.
No. 32 - Ivica Zubac (2016) - Starter. Now in his fourth NBA season Zubac is the starting center for the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged 8.3 points (on 61 percent shooting) and 7.5 rebounds in the 2019-20 regular season and has been even better in this year’s playoffs. Next three players drafted: Cheick Diallo, Tyler Ulis, Rade Zagorac.
No. 34 - Anthony Brown (2015) - Bust. Brown is one of the few misses in Kupchak’s tenure. He appeared in just 41 games over three NBA seasons. Next three players drafted: Willy Hernangomez*, Rakeem Christmas, Richaun Holmes*.
No. 36 - Cody Martin (2019) - Role Player. Martin had a promising rookie season with the Hornets, playing solid perimeter defense while averaging 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 48 games this year. Our very own Jonathan DeLong gave Cody a solid A-minus grade for his first professional season. Next three players drafted: Deividas Sirvydis, Daniel Gafford, Alen Smailagic.
No. 37 - Ronny Turiaf (2005) - Role Player. Like most Kupchak picks, Turiaf carved out a 10-year career (473 games) as a valuable role player. He never averaged more than 6.6 points or 5.6 rebounds in a single season, but he could give any team a competent 15 minutes off the bench. Turiaf played a minor role in helping the Miami Heat win the 2011-12 NBA title. Next three players drafted: Travis Diener, Von Wafer, Monta Ellis*.
Overall, Mitch Kupchak has a solid track record for selections this late in the draft. Reasonable expectations for a player taken in the late twenties or in the thirties is to be a capable rotational player who can contribute in limited minutes. Six of Mitch’s seven selections reached this threshold or are on track to do so.
Four of the seven players Kupchak selected were better than each of the three players who were drafted immediately after them. The only two difference makers Mitch just missed on were Anderson Varejao (2004) and Monta Ellis (2005).
Based on Kupchak’s history, we can likely expect him to find a solid role player with the No. 32 pick, someone whose career will play out along the lines of Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, or Ronny Turiaf. Every team needs a deep bench with players who are capable of playing a solid 15-20 minutes per game, which is what Mitch Kupchak has been able to consistently find with his late first round or early second round picks.