The Charlotte Hornets need help at center. Everyone knows that, and the Hornets have been linked to a number of high profile veterans at the position. They attempted to add depth to the position with a couple of second round flyers in Vernon Carey and Nick Richards Jr., but outside of a strong quarter or two from Carey late in the year, neither was able to contribute much as a rookie.
It’s possible that the Hornets go back to that well in the 2021 NBA Draft, though it probably feels like a stretch. Three second round centers in two seasons is a lot of roster space to invest on development, but if there’s any position worth trying that strategy at, it’s center. Plus the Hornets have their two-way spots they could utilize if they need to.
One potential target if they elect to go this route is Neemias Queta, center out of Utah State. As with most lower tier draft prospects, Queta could go anywhere in the second round, depending on where you look. If he were to fall far enough for the Hornets to reach him, he could be a perfect fit for this roster.
Queta played three years at Utah State, making gradual improvements year over year. He was named to the All-Mountain West Conference team and the conferences All-Defense team all three seasons, and he won the conference’s defensive player of the year in 2019 and 2021. In his final season with the Aggies, he put up an extremely unique stat line, averaging 14.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, and 3.3 blocks per game.
The first thing that stands out about Queta is his sheer size. He measured as the tallest player at the 2021 NBA Draft Combine at 6’11.25” without shoes along with the longest wingspan (7’4”) and tallest vertical reach (9’4.5”). His size and length are a big part of what makes him such a menace defensively and give him the potential to be the rim protector and rebounder the Hornets so desperately need.
He works hard on the glass on both ends of the floor and has a strong motor. Watch any highlight reel and you’ll see a number of instances of him running the length of the floor to chase down fast break layup attempts. His length and motor lead to tons of help side blocks and deflected passes.
But Queta’s ability isn’t exclusive to his physical tools. He has a very rare set of skills for a player his size, which put him in elite company statistically after his junior season.
Since '08, only four D-I players had a DRB% > 20, ORB% > 10, BLK% > 10 and AST% > 10 over the course of their NCAA careers.— Bryan Kalbrosky (@BryanKalbrosky) June 14, 2021
Neemias Queta (2021 NBA draft prospect)
Queta has a rare blend of rebounding, rim protection and passing. pic.twitter.com/OFxozWsLGs
In the clip below, you can see Queta’s passing on display. He’s adept at finding dump offs on the baseline if he’s doubled, and he has the vision and accuracy to find shooters on the weakside. You can see more clips here.
The Hornets ask their centers to make a lot of plays out of the short role, and Queta has the vision and willingness to make those plays.
Queta also showed some finishing potential at the college level. Most of his offense came out of the post, and he was quite efficient there. That won’t be his role in the NBA, but it’s a useful tool to have in his bag if teams try to guard him with smaller players, especially given how proficient of a passer he is out of the post. He also should be able to function as a decent catch-and-finish player. He wasn’t asked to do that much in college, but he has the skill set to do it. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he’s athletic enough for his size to be a lob threat and to finish around the basket from the dunker spot and as the roll man.
While he’s a decent athlete in space, Queta isn’t super mobile in tight quarters (evidenced by his relatively slow shuttle time at the combine). His change of direction is awkward, and he’s rather heavy footed on the perimeter. While he was a high impact defender in college, there’s reason to be concerned that he could be run off the floor if opponents can get him out in space. It won’t be as easy for Queta to cover for his lack of agility against savvier NBA finishers.
He’s also quite raw offensively when the ball in his hands for too long. While he’s a great passer for his position, he can be sloppy with the ball. He turned the ball over 2.4 times per game, an improvement over his 3.1 per game as a sophomore, but still too high for a big. His dribble isn’t tight, and he’s prone to having the ball poked away or just straight up losing it when he’s pressure. To fully unlock the play making aspect of his game, he’ll have to be more trustworthy with the ball.
Queta is also a non-shooter at this point. His stroke doesn’t look bad, but it’s a little disconnected and could use some tightening up. He’s a willing shooter, but the results just aren’t there yet. His misses are inconsistent and can be quite bad if he’s under any sort of pressure. There is a little room for optimism though, as his free throw shooting went from 56.5% to 67.0% to 70.7% over the course of his college career.
And of course, it’s always difficult to project how an older prospect is going to project from mid-major college basketball to the pro game. It’s a big leap.
The comparison that comes up a lot for Queta is Robert Williams. Like Williams, Queta is a strong passer and shot blocker that lacks any sort of shooting range. However, Williams is more agile and switchable defensively, while Queta is larger and quite a bit more lumbering.
While it may seem unlikely that the Hornets take a third second round center in two years, it may be hard to pass up the talent and versatility of Neemias Queta if he were to make it to the Hornets in the second round. His strengths fit the Hornets’ obvious needs on the glass and on the defensive interior, and his passing ability fits the Hornets ball movement-centric offense. They just need to decide if his talents project well to the NBA level and if they’ll be able to work around his lack of outside shooting and lateral agility.