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2021-22 Hornets Player Preview: JT Thor

The freshman forward out of Auburn was one of the 2021 class’ biggest draft board risers

Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In the draft night trade that brought Mason Plumlee to Charlotte, the Hornets also acquired the 37th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and selected freshman Auburn forward JT Thor.

On top of having one of the coolest names in the world of sports, Thor spent the majority of his childhood in Anchorage, Alaska, which is also quite cool. When he makes his debut, he’ll join Carlos Boozer, Mario Chalmers and Trajan Langdon as the only players that were born/grew up in Alaska to play in the NBA. As a teenager, attended West Anchorage High School, Huntington Prep School and Norcross High School before reclassifying to the 2020 recruiting class and committing to Auburn a year early.

When he arrived on campus in Auburn, Ala., he was regarded as a potential one-and-done prospect more so than a surefire bet to depart after a season, but it became apparent quickly that he would be drafted if he declared in 2021. Starting all 27 games, Thor posted 9.4 points, 5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 23 minutes per contest with a block percentage of 5.9 that ranked fifth in the SEC. His best performance of the season came against Kentucky on February 13, when he scored a season-high 24 points on 8-11 from the field (5-6 3PT) to go with nine boards, two blocks and a steal, flashing impressive movement shooting and defensive versatility.

The Hornets inked Thor to a four-year, $6.63M deal with a team option after year three after he was drafted, staying in line with this front office regime’s (smart) tendency to give second-round picks substantial guarantees on their rookie contracts. When the Hornets expect him to contribute is a mystery, but they are going to take care of him while he develops his skillset, whether it be in Greensboro or Charlotte.

From what we’ve seen in Thor’s limited preseason minutes, his upside seems similarly-intriguing to that of Kai Jones. He’s 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, a smooth athlete with vertical pop, and he already looks comfortable taking shots beyond the 3-point line; it’s easy to imagine a floor-spacer with Thor’s length developing into an effective two-way frontcourt player in today’s NBA, which was a big reason why he shot up draft boards after the college season ended and scouts began to pour over film.

As is seemingly the case with any non-lottery Hornets draft pick, Thor will spend some time in the G League with the Greensboro Swarm as a rookie. Given that his best position right now is probably the four, he’s got veterans Miles Bridges, Jalen McDaniels and PJ Washington ahead of him on the depth chart. He won’t crack the nightly rotation in the early-going, but the potential is there, and the Hornets’ player development staff will chip away and unearth it over time — something they’ve placed a lot of faith in themselves doing since the James Borrego era began.