Between the Philadelphia 76ers trading for the first overall pick, rumors of a Paul George or Jimmy Butler trade, and the whispers that Kristaps Porzingis may be available, the 2017 NBA Draft is shrouded in more uncertainty than ever. The uncertainty leaves Charlotte with a bevy of options with its first draft choice, number 11 in the first round. Mock drafts around the web are split, predicting a wide array of players to join the Hornets next season.
None of the choices are perfect, but some are better than others. With that said, here’s a look at the top five options for Charlotte to take with their first round pick:
5.) Justin Jackson – SF, North Carolina
Jackson had a great career with the Tar Heels, one that culminated in averaging 18.4 points per game for a National Championship-winning UNC squad. Still, he doesn’t seem like a great fit for the Hornets. At 6 feet 8 inches tall and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Jackson does have the size and length to go toe-to-toe against NBA forwards, but it’s not clear if he has the skill, strength, or athleticism to ever stand out as a defender or rebounder, both vital attributes in Steve Clifford’s system. He’s a talented scorer that improved in all offensive aspects during his final year in Chapel Hill, but it’s unclear if he’ll be as dangerous against NBA competition – especially if the junior year improvements to his three-point shot don’t translate at the next level. Jackson is talented, but he’s not what Charlotte needs.
4.) Zach Collins – PF/C, Gonzaga
Collins is a great player, to be sure – in fact, it’s not even clear if he’ll be available to get picked by the Hornets. If he did slip to the late lottery, he would be good value at number 11. Of course, it’s not all about value. Charlotte has spent several draft picks on a variation of the same theme, a talented big man that suggests at least the promise of a jump shot – Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky are currently major pieces of Clifford’s rotation, while Noah Vonleh was shipped out for Nicolas Batum after a short stay in Buzz City. Collins has a high ceiling, but it’s hard to see him getting the amount of time necessary to live up to that potential with more established players standing in his way. Besides, Zeller has been good enough to deserve to be the starting big man.
3.) Luke Kennard – SG, Duke
Like his Tobacco Road rival Justin Jackson, Kennard was a talented scorer for one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs. And like Jackson, Kennard isn’t without his flaws, particularly on the defensive end. What separates the former Blue Devil is that his offensive game more naturally translates to the NBA. Both Jackson and Kennard were dynamic offensive players that showed the ability to score in a number of ways, but Kennard has never had an issue with his three-point shot – in fact, he was one of the best long distance shooters in the entire nation over his two seasons in Durham. Due to a lack of true point guards during his time with Duke, Kennard also spent plenty of time as the primary ball handler. Kennard could immediately slot in as a younger version of Marco Belinelli, inserting him into the rotation right off the bat.
2.) Frank Ntilikina – PG, France
If it’s possible Collins is picked too early for the Hornets, it’s a near certainty that Ntilikina will be. The 18-year-old Frenchman already has all of the tools to be a great NBA point guard, and it seems nearly impossible that Ntilikina will slip past the Dallas Mavericks at pick number nine. If he does, though, he would be a great option for Charlotte. Like Jackson, Ntilikina has the size and length to be a talented defender. Unlike the former Tar Heel, however, Ntilikina is a more natural athlete has an actual track record of performing well on that end. He’s no slouch on offense either, where he brings great court vision and passing as well as a good ability to score. Of course, there’s an obvious issue with his fit in Charlotte – he plays the same position as the Hornets’ best player and lone All-Star, Kemba Walker. There’s a possibility Ntilikina can slide up and play next to Walker as a shooting guard. If not, a talented backup for Walker certainly can’t hurt. Remember Jeremy Lin?
1.) Donovan Mitchell – SG, Louisville
The most likely, and perhaps the best option for the Charlotte Hornets is former Louisville Cardinal Donovan Mitchell. At just 6 feet 3 inches (which may be a generous measurement), he’s undersized for a shooting guard, especially next to the 6-foot Walker. But his 6-foot-10 wingspan and explosive athleticism makes him a great defender, as evidenced by his selection to the All-ACC Defensive Team during his sophomore season at Louisville. That athleticism hasn’t quite translated to the offensive end when it comes to finishing at the rim, but he has shown an ability to stretch the floor by knocking down three-pointers. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has already shown how much a great defender can do under Steve Clifford even without a great offensive game, and Mitchell can already shoot much better than MKG ever could. Even if Mitchell never becomes a great scorer himself, his combination of jump shooting and defense makes him a natural fit next to Walker, giving the Hornets a dynamic backcourt combo moving forward.