Top Five 2018 Draft Prospects for the Charlotte Hornets

As the 2018 NBA Draft looms, the Charlotte Hornets have the eleventh overall pick for the second straight year. Which player should they take with it?

For the second straight year, the Charlotte Hornets are slated to make the 11th overall pick in the NBA draft. While another late lottery pick certainly isn’t ideal – especially for a franchise that could lose their all-time leading scorer after another mediocre season – there is some reason to be optimistic. This year’s draft class looks to be loaded, with enough depth for Charlotte to snag an exciting prospect at the end of the lottery.

That said, the draft’s depth also creates an issue. With so many talented players, it’s hard to predict what directions teams will go in, leaving a pick as late as the Hornets’ shrouded in mystery. And that’s before even considering that Charlotte themselves have a question to answer: should the team look for a higher-upside younger player that may not be ready to contribute immediately and risk losing Kemba Walker? Or should they try to return to the postseason to convince Walker to stay by drafting a more NBA-ready player now, even if it means missing out on someone more likely to be a star?

In one of his first major decisions in Charlotte, new general manager Mitch Kupchak has his work cut out for him. That said, there are five prospects that could be available to the Hornets that seem to stick out above the rest.

5) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – PG/SG, Kentucky

Gilgeous-Alexander would be a solid pick for Charlotte, if not a very exciting one. At 6-foot-6 and with a seven-foot wingspan, the former Kentucky guard has the length and defensive ability to play at either spot in the backcourt, immediately adding some size to the Walker/Malik Monk backcourt duo. The ability to play alongside either the team’s star or their most exciting prospect (not to mention someone like Jeremy Lamb) gives the team options they severely lacked last season, as well as likely becoming an immediate improvement over the dreadful Michael Carter-Williams, a player who Gilgeous-Alexander’s size, length, defensive ability, and hyphenated name might be reminiscent of. That said, Gilgeous-Alexander’s offensive ability is worlds beyond that of MCW. Carter-Williams scored 11.9 points per game on .436 shooting his sophomore year at Syracuse, while Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.4 points on .485 shooting, including 40% shooting from behind the arc, albeit on only 1.5 attempts per game.

As a sidenote: if the Hornets do end up with Gilgeous-Alexander, I am leading the charge to ensure we can refer to him as SGA in the same way Michael Carter-Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s names were shortened. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an exceedingly cool name, but it’s not particularly fun to type.

4) Kevin Knox – SF, Kentucky

The Hornets taking a young wing with scoring ability from Kentucky? What could go wrong? Outside of some basic similarities, though, Kevin Knox and Malik Monk are not comparable players. The 6-foot-9 Knox has the size to play power forward, with the skills and athleticism to play on the wing as well. That positional versatility is extremely valuable to the Hornets, who have question marks at pretty much every position outside of point guard, but especially on the wings. Will new head coach James Borregabe able to revive Nicolas Batum? How will he manage to deal with the all-defense, no-offense game of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Throwing some young blood into that mix makes things a lot more interesting, especially if Knox could slide up and fill in for a still-aging Marvin Williams.

On that note, Williams seems a solid comparison and therefore a fitting mentor for the young Knox. As a former one-and-done player that has found himself floating between positions before finding success in Charlotte, Williams could go a long way in developing someone like Knox. Maybe he’ll live up to that big contract after all.

3) Collin Sexton – PG, Alabama

As the draft draws nearer, it seems more and more likely that Sexton won’t last until the 11th pick. Recently, the Alabama star that’s been nicknamed Young Bull has picked up steam as a potential option for the Cleveland Cavaliers as either a great second option for LeBron James or a player to build around should the King leave. In the same way, Sexton represents a middle ground for a Hornets team in flux.

Like Gilgeous-Alexander, Sexton would be an immediate improvement as a backup point guard behind Walker, potentially with the ability to play alongside him in the backcourt. But Sexton also has a much higher ceiling, with his speed and athleticism drawing comparisons to Russell Westbrook. Sexton, who averaged 19.2 points per game in his lone season at Alabama, clearly has scoring ability. But if he can translate his athleticism to the defensive end, he has potential to be an All-Star-caliber player. Perhaps the biggest risk in taking him is that taking such a high-upside player at his position would alienate Kemba Walker, making him more likely to leave. Even if that were to happen, however, Sexton’s potential could soften the blow.

2) Miles Bridges – SF/PF, Michigan State

One of the players most often linked to Charlotte in mock drafts, Bridges is one of this year’s most intriguing prospects. With NBA-level athleticism that translates to ferocious dunks and dominant rebounding as well as a three-point stroke (37.5 percent in 5.5 attempts per game in his two-year career), Bridges would seem like a sure thing. But there are issues. Without an abundance of off-the-dribble ability, the former Spartan’s game is perhaps best suited to play power forward. At about 6-foot-6, however, Bridges is even slightly undersized as a small forward. His strength and athleticism make him more likely to succeed at the four, but it’s still somewhat worrisome, especially on a team with a pair of undersized guards in Walker and Monk.

Of course, there’s another former Michigan State star who’s managed to thrive in the post despite being undersized. But comparing anyone to Draymond Green is silly, simply because there’s no one quite like the enigmatic Golden State star. Bridges isn’t even all that similar to Green in the first place. But if Bridges could take a page out of Green’s book and learn to use his strength and shooting ability to find a place despite being outsized, he could find similar personal success.

1) Mikal Bridges – SG/SF, Villanova

In the lead-up to last year’s NBA Draft, I spent a lot of time talking about Donovan Mitchell and Malik Monk. Monk represented the exciting prospect that would be picked well before he was available to the Hornets, while Mitchell was an athletic 3-and-D player that, while unexciting, would be a solid fit in the Charlotte backcourt. Mikal Bridges reminds me of both of those players.

While often linked to the Hornets in early mock drafts, Bridges’ play during Villanova’s championship run catapulted him up the board, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that he’ll be available when Charlotte is on the clock, just as it seemed for Monk last year. But Bridges’ game is more comparable to Mitchell, an athletic player that shoots well from distance and plays good defense. Of course, one year later we see that there was maybe a reason Monk fell so far in the draft, and that Mitchell seems to be a lot better than he was projected to be.

It seems unlikely that Bridges will fall to the Hornets, but if he does, Kupchak shouldn’t hesitate in selecting him. At 6-foot-7 with a seven-foot wingspan, Bridges has ideal size to play on the perimeter. That size, along with his shooting, athleticism, and defense make him a perfect partner to Walker in the backcourt. Of course, players with such a versatile skillset are so valuable in today’s league that Bridges seems like a great fit for nearly every team. Bridges will be 22 by the time the season begins, and while that age may turn off some scouts, it also means that he’s likely closer to being a major contributor.

The biggest risk here would be selecting Bridges and Walker leaving next summer anyway, leaving Charlotte with a player that seems likely to be a good role player rather than someone with more star potential. Even so, the Hornets have options. If Bridges shows more scoring ability than previously thought and becomes this year’s Donovan Mitchell, the team has a valuable young star that could potentially be the small forward of the future next to Malik Monk. If Bridges caps out as a valuable role player, however, he becomes either a solid young player or a valuable trade piece if Michael Jordan and Kupchak decide to launch a full-scale rebuild. Nearly every time could use a player with the all-around skillset Bridges seems to possess, meaning potential trade partners would be lining up.

Whichever direction Charlotte goes, missing hard on this pick would have pretty major negative implications for the future of the franchise. Luckily, there are a number of options available in what appears to be a stacked draft class.

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