At the time of this writing, the Charlotte Hornets remain in the playoff hunt in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. It’s down to the point at which every game counts, and thanks in large part to a miraculous shot by Jeremy Lamb in a recent game, the Hornets retain slim hopes of a postseason berth.
Whether or not the team makes the playoffs though, we know generally where it might pick come June’s NBA Draft. The Hornets will either be in the late lottery or they’ll be one of the first teams to pick outside of it, putting them right in, say, the pick 12-16 range. That’s not typically where teams pick up elite prospects, but it certainly happens. Julius Erving was a 12th pick; Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone both went 13th; Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash, Kawhi Leonard, and John Stockton are just some of the stars who have gone in the 14-16 range. So, while these gems are few and far between, there’s always potential value in a mid-first round pick.
The Hornets will need to find some of that value if they’re ever to elevate themselves from the middle-lower tier of the NBA, where they’ve toiled far too long. Here, by our estimation, are some of the players Michael Jordan and the front office should be looking at.
Bruno Fernando – C, Maryland
If you catch him at the right moment, Bruno Fernando looks like an absolute monster. He’s a physical specimen with fairly good natural touch around the basket and good defensive instincts. Fernando isn’t always as assertive as scouts would likely prefer to see, but when he’s on he can largely control a game. In Charlotte he’d potentially be the best big man of the Michael Jordan era, and would be a fascinating running mate for Kemba Walker, if Walker re-signs. It’s ultimately likely that Fernando will be selected a few picks before Charlotte has the chance to pick him, but he should still be on the team’s radar just in case.
Jarrett Culver – SG, Texas Tech
Jarrett Culver is one of the rising names of March Madness, and is far and away the standout star on a Texas Tech team that, on any given night, has been as good as anyone else in the country. Indeed, while the latest sports forecasts from oddsmakers have Duke and Virginia favored to meet in the national championship game, Culver’s Red Raiders have proven to be on the same level – nearly beating Duke earlier this season and topping Virginia in defensive efficiency (which is usually Virginia’s bread and butter). Culver is a big reason why, as he fits into the team’s vaunted defense and also provides its top offensive threat. He’s not an elite shooter just yet but he’s a good one, and his jack-of-all-trades style and NBA-ready athleticism will make him appealing to a lot of teams. In Charlotte, he could just be the player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist never quite turned into.
Bol Bol – F, Oregon
Unfortunately, Bol Bol’s lone year in college was cut short due to injury, and he was unable to showcase himself the way he might otherwise have. This may wind up being great for Charlotte, however, as it means Bol could be available in the middle of the first round. At 7’2’’ with fairly good movement and some signs of shooting ability, Bol Bol is nothing short of an alarming prospect. Players of this general type – not that there have been very many – can be somewhat hit-or-miss, but from the brief glimpse we got of Bol at Oregon, he has a more advanced skillset than, say, a Thon Maker. He’d be a worth pick simply on the chance that his upside pays off and the Hornets find themselves a star.
Darius Garland – PG, Vanderbilt
There’s still a definite chance that Kemba Walker will leave the Hornets this summer, despite Jordan’s stated desire to keep him around at all costs. Some indications have even been that he may be more likely to leave than to stay. This would be something of a disaster for Charlotte, but all the team would be able to do is start a rebuild, and there’s some logic to doing so with a high-value point guard prospect. Darius Garland is just that. He was viewed by many as the top point guard in the current freshman class, but missed almost the entire season with an injury. That makes him a bit of a question mark, but if he can get back to normal it may also mean the Hornets could land a top-five level prospect in the middle of the first round.
The NBA Draft never quite turns out the way it looks like it might a few months in advance. For now though, these seem to represent some of the most sensible and exciting possibilities for the Hornets.