Kreider: Grading the Hornets’ first-round draft options

Hornets owner Michael Jordan will be looking to make all the right moves in the draft this summer.

With the Charlotte Hornets once again marching toward the playoff bubble, what better time than now to look at a handful of prospects projected to be available when the Hornets are on the clock June 20.

I wrote a similar piece prior to the 2017 draft, which actually aged pretty well. At the time, the Hornets held the 11th pick and I graded the potential selections of either Lauri Markkanen or Donovan Mitchell as A’s. Markkanen ended up in Chicago with the 7th selection, while that other guy fell all the way to 13th and appears to be a perennial All-Star in Utah.

The Hornets grabbed natural scorer Malik Monk of Kentucky who is… well… still only 21, so there’s hope…

Fast-forward to 2018 when the Hornets picked 11th yet again. This time they traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Los Angeles Clippers for the draft rights of Michigan State product Miles Bridges. Though he’s still a pretty raw talent at the current age of 20, Bridges has shown promise this season, including some highlight reel dunks that are reminiscent of a young Vince Carter (yeah, I said it).

Fast-forward once again to 2019 where, if the season ended today, the Hornets would select… wait for it… wait for it… 11th! I’m starting to think the Hornets like eleven more than Mike from Stranger Things.

Now granted this projection is based on current inverse standings, and the revamped lottery odds mean literal chaos could erupt at the top of the lottery, it still feels like Charlotte’s destiny is to once again pick in the middle.

So let’s review some prospects that might be available in that murky middle ground of the first round, paired with a letter grade for each potential selection.

Charlotte, you’re on the clock!

1. Romeo Langford, G, Indiana

Scouting reports consistently peg Langford as an athletic, lengthy wing with great scoring potential but somewhat lackluster handles. His defense can be shaky, but the dude’s 19 and can stuff the statsheet. There’s a ton of volatility in his projection with some slating him as high as 7 and others as low as 18. It’s likely the sixth-best scorer in the Big Ten could fall somewhere in between those two, which is likely to be Hornet territory.

Grade: B

2. Bol Bol, C, Oregon

The son of the second-tallest player in the history of the NBA, Bol is advertised as a “mobile center,” which seems like a pretty wild understatement after watching him effortlessly stroke jumpers here. NBADraft.net compares him to both Sam Perkins and Kristaps Porzingis, which is kind of like comparing your dinner to both French onion soup and jalapeno poppers. But hey, both are tasty! Bol might have the biggest upside in the entire draft (outside of Zion, of course), but a foot issue has lowered his stock a bit recently. The mouthwatering potential here has me “bullish” on Bol.

Grade: B+

3. DeAndre Hunter, G, Virginia

Let me start by saying I think Hunter is a great prospect that has true star potential. Let me finish by saying the Hornets biggest need is on the offensive side of the ball, and while Hunter can indeed get buckets, his all-around game is where he makes his bread. If the Hornets are able to retain Kemba Walker, they’ll desperately need to surround him with more efficient scorers that can create their own offense, easing the burden on the All Star guard. My sense is that Hunter’s ceiling is something like Harrison Barnes, so I think the Hornets can aim a bit higher.

Grade: C+

4. Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky

Smooth. That’s the one word that jumps out at you when watching this Kentucky Wildcat’s highlights. Another guy with projections all over the stratosphere, Johnson has had some of his best performances in the biggest games this season, including 23 points versus Duke and 19 to knock off top-rated Tennessee recently. Oh, and John Calipari is no slouch in identifying NBA level talent.

Grade: A

5. Darius Garland, G, Vanderbilt

And now for the Kemba Walker insurance policy. With Walker becoming a 29-year-old unrestricted free agent in July, Kupchak and the Hornets may look toward the future with their first round pick. Garland could indeed be long gone by the time the Hornets make their selection (perhaps to the Miami Heat?), but if he does slip due to his injury-shortened season Charlotte would at least have to consider him. The former five-star recruit has bundles of upside, as documented in this 33-point explosion prior to his injury.

Grade: B+

Christopher Kreider | @krydr1