Basketball

What is Charlotte Hornets’ 12th pick worth, if the 2019 NBA draft isn’t deep?

Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke

Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, whose first workout is with the Charlotte Hornets, on his need to shoot better from the perimeter.
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Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, whose first workout is with the Charlotte Hornets, on his need to shoot better from the perimeter.

It’s a common perception the 2019 NBA draft class isn’t as deep as the 2018 class was. But how different?

That was one of your questions for this week’s Hornets mailbag: Will it impact the Hornets with the 12th overall pick? And what about the two second-round picks the Hornets hold in the June 20 draft?

Q. I’ve heard this draft is weaker than last year’s. Will there be any good players left when the Hornets pick 12th?

A. I asked ESPN analyst Jay Bilas that exact question a couple of weeks ago. Bilas agrees this draft class doesn’t look as deep as a year ago. However, he said there are more than a dozen players good enough to help the Hornets.

Where this gets more complicated is in the second round, with the Hornets holding the 36th and 52nd overall picks. To put the 2019 draft in context, Bilas said Hornets point guard Devonte Graham, who went 34th overall in 2018, would be safely in the first round (first 30 picks) in the 2019 draft.

As far as the 12th pick, Bilas said either of the Gonzaga frontcourt players — Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke — would be good fits fo the Hornets. Clarke is among the players working out for the Hornets on Monday.

Q. You think Clarke is the favorite at the Hornets’ 12th spot if he’s still available?

A. I doubt general manager Mitch Kupchak is close to firming up their draft ranking. I wouldn’t put special emphasis on Clarke in Charlotte right after last week’s NBA Draft Combine, except it indicates his range (he’s also working out for the teams with the 11th, 13th and 14th picks).

However, Clarke was third in shot blocking in Division I (3.16 per game) last season, and Kupchak and James Borrego have said interior defense and physicality are areas of need. So Clarke is a very logical consideration if he’s available.

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Oregon center Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, is preposterously long: 7-foot-2 height with a 7-7 wingspan. Mary Altaffer AP

Q. Being that interior defense and physicality seem to be the major points of emphasis for the Hornets, why are they projected to pass on Bol Bol in most mock drafts?

A. First off, I wouldn’t put much weight on mock drafts published a month before the actual selections. I guarantee those mocks aren’t reflective of what Kupchak does or doesn’t think.

Bol is the son of former NBA center Manute Bol. Like his dad, he is preposterously long: 7-foot-2 height with a 7-7 wingspan.

Bol was a prize recruit for Oregon, but he only played nine games as a freshman last season due to a broken foot. The bone he broke was a navicular bone, which can be problematic to heal. Bol weighed only 208 pounds at the Combine, so his physicality at the NBA level might be in question.

Bol’s foot injury and his exceedingly slim frame figure to make teams a little wary, particularly since they saw so little of him in college basketball before this draft.

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UCF’s Tacko Fall (24) fights for a rebound with Duke’s RJ Barrett (5) during the first half of Duke’s game against UCF in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Columbia, S.C., Sunday, March 24, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com


Q. Do you think Tacko Fall could fill the Hornets’ expressed need?

A. With an 8-foot, 2-inch wingspan, Central Florida center Fall obviously could provide some rim protection wherever he plays. But the question with Fall is how long it would take before he is ready to play in the NBA. The sense I got at the combine is he’s still a project. An intriguing project, but a guy who might spend most of his rookie season in the G-League.

If he’s unselected when the Hornets pick 36th, maybe they consider him. If he’s still unselected when the Hornets pick 52nd, then sure, why not?

Q. Is the Hornets front office’s philosophy “need” rather than best available player?

A. I don’t think Kupchak (or any NBA general manager) would draft a significantly inferior player to fill a need. There are other tools — trades and free agency — to fill a gap in your roster, such as when the Hornets signed Tony Parker last summer to back up Kemba Walker at point guard.

However, roster-building is as much an art as a science: If two draft candidates are roughly comparable, and one matches a team’s needs far more than the other, a front office wouldn’t be doing its job if fit wasn’t considered. You can value your draft board without being oblivious to your existing roster.

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Power forward Julius Randle has a $9 million guarantee for next season and could be traded if the New Orleans Pelicans pick Duke’s Zion Williamson No. 1 overall in next month’s draft. Gerald Herbert AP

Q. Is Julius Randle an option for the Hornets?

A. The New Orleans Pelicans won the draft lottery, and it seems a foregone conclusion they will draft Duke’s Zion Williamson, whose natural NBA position would be power forward. Randle is a Pelicans power forward with a $9 million guarantee for next season. So it makes sense that sooner or later, Randle could be available in trade.

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Percy Miller, aka rapper Master P, participated in a Hornets intrasquad scimmage in 1999. He attracted a larger-than-expected crowd to the old Charlotte Coliseum. JEFF SINER Observer staff file photo

Randle dramatically improved his 3-point percentage (34 percent last season, compared to 22 percent the prior season). That’s important because the Hornets, like most NBA teams, increasingly expect power forwards to be at least part-time perimeter scorers. The Hornets do need to look long-term at power forward beyond the end of Marvin Williams’ contract next season.

So Randle is certainly worth a phone call to New Orleans.

Q. Any memories from when rapper Master P had a brief stint as a Hornet?

A. The Hornets let Master P — Percy Miller — participate in their preseason in January of 1999, following the resolution of an NBA lockout. Two things come to mind: Percy was a great guy who the players enjoyed getting to know, and the Hornets were caught off-guard by his massive popularity at the time.

The Hornets had a free intrasquad scimmage, a pretty common promotion in the preseason. The team anticipated maybe 8,000 people attending. It ended up roughly double that attendance at the old Charlotte Coliseum, with some fans lining up hours before the doors opened. That was all about Master P’s popularity at the time.

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