The NBA draft is just two weeks away, and it’s nearly impossible to tell what direction the Charlotte Hornets will go in with the 11th pick. Experts and fans alike are torn, with no clear favorite to be the newest player to don the teal and purple. A lot of that uncertainty stems from the fact that it’s difficult to predict the best players that will be available at the end of the lottery, especially in a draft steeped in mystery like this year’s – Markelle Fultz seems likely to go first overall to the Boston Celtics, but thanks in part to Lavar Ball’s shenanigans, it’s a crapshoot after that.
None of the options that are likely to be available at pick number 11 seem particularly attractive. The spot feels too early for guards like Luke Kennard, Justin Jackson, or Donovan Mitchell, while more intriguing options like Malik Monk or Frank Ntilikina will probably be off the board by the time the Hornets would have a chance to take them. Lauri Markkanen and Zach Collins would both be somewhat redundant in the admittedly underperforming Charlotte frontcourt if they’re even available.
On one hand, that takes some pressure off Rich Cho and company. The Hornets brass doesn’t have a rich history of making great selections in the draft, but players picked near the end of the lottery don’t usually turn out to be great anyway. An eleventh overall pick being out of the league within five years wouldn’t be ideal, but it wouldn’t be absurd, either.
In other words, Charlotte can't really screw this up – unless, of course, they turn down a king’s ransom of draft picks to take a mediocre big man, but something like that would never happen.
But more realistically, it puts the Hornets in a really rough spot. Giving big money to players like Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams as well as trading for Miles Plumlee and his exorbitant contract has destroyed the team’s cap space, meaning there’s no meaningful help coming in the form of talented free agents. With Charlotte severely underperforming this season, it’s clear that changes need to be made to the roster. And with so much money already on the books, the easiest way to make that change is through the draft.
The same draft in which the Hornets hold the eleventh overall pick and have no truly desirable options.
It’s not impossible that this all works out, though – it’s not as if Buzz City needs a savior to come in and change the makeup of the franchise. Kemba Walker is pretty clearly a star worth building around, and head coach Steve Clifford has given the team an identity centered around its stifling defense. There are talented pieces around him too, though they’re miscast in their current roles: Nicolas Batum’s best fit is likely a third option that can take over as a primary ball handler when Walker sits, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s elite defense isn’t quite enough to make him the obvious starter at the three moving forward.
If the Hornets manage to come away from the draft with a legitimate contributor, especially one that could act as a second banana to Walker, they could be back in the postseason race as soon as next year and maybe even challenging for a conference finals berth not long afterwards.
In the more likely event that Charlotte ends up with another mediocre bench player, though, it might be a while before they can find relevance again.