The Charlotte Hornets are armed with the 13th and 15th overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft, as they hope to round out their core around star guard LaMelo Ball. For the Michael Jordan-owned franchise, it’s all about building themselves a long-term competitive window, to optimize their chances at a championship.
What, then, is the plan with their two first-round picks? The team could go in a multitude of different ways in terms of the players they select, or they could try to move up and see if there’s something better to be had. But if they do, they’d have to make sure it’s worth it.
The risk of moving up
Moving up in the draft can be one of the best decisions a franchise ever makes, assuming they nail the selection. In 2011 the San Antonio Spurs moved up to the 15th pick by trading the contract of George Hill to the Indiana Pacers. There they selected Kawhi Leonard, who in 2014 helped them win the championship, taking home the NBA Finals MVP award.
But in this draft class, a lot of talent appears to be on somewhat equal footing, meaning the Hornets could risk acquiring a player on a similar level as the two selections at 13th and 15th. For a team looking to cement their status in the league, they will have to get any trade-up right.
While general manager Mitch Kupchak has hit on Ball and Miles Bridges since his arrival in 2018, it’s worth noting that the acquisition of Bridges came in a trade that saw them draft Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, only to flip him for a package that included Bridges. With respect to Bridges, Gilgeous-Alexander is the better player.
In 2019 Kupchak selected P.J. Washington 12th overall, who has seen his development stagnate, despite optimistic early returns. Washington was viewed as a steal after his debut season, but as the calendar pages have turned, and names like Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Jordan Poole have started elevating, the selection of Washington has begun appearing less impressive.
This isn’t to say Kupchak is a bad drafter. Every team hits and misses, and overall Kupchak’s draft record in Charlotte is perfectly fine, even if we are still to find out what kind of player James Bouknight (11th overall in 2021) is.
However, this summer is a crucial one for the Hornets in terms of identifying – and acquiring – the right pieces around Ball. Because of that, trading two bites at the apple for one isn’t a decision to take lightly, unless the Hornets front office is convinced they can select a hidden gem.
Calling the Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs currently own the 9th, 20th, 25th, and 38th selections in next month’s draft, and they’ve spent the past few years going through a youth movement. Surely they’re fine with the amount of selections they have, right? After all, when a team is armed with three first-round selections in the same draft, there’s not usually a major level of interest in adding to that treasure chest of draft assets.
However, given the organization’s track record of accurately identifying top-tier talent in later stages of the draft board, especially by scouting heavily overseas, it might make sense for them to be interested anyway. The Spurs, after all, are known to stash players for a few years, and could once again target multiple international prospects. That means they not only give themselves a youth injection this year, but have talent coming in over the next few years like they’re seated at a running sushi restaurant.
San Antonio’s willingness to participate in such a trade could also be telling, in that they haven’t identified a player in the Top 9 they believe is ahead of the rest of the field, assuming they’re ready to talk shop. Naturally, other franchises can’t let San Antonio’s draft analysis dictate their own actions, as evaluations differ greatly from team-to-team, but it would make for an interesting subplot to the draft.
Assuming the two sides discuss a framework around the 9th pick for the 13th and 15th (to align value, elements such as cash and future draft considerations could be added to the final deal), what type of player should the Hornets go for?
It’s no secret the Hornets needed defense this season, and it’s fair to wonder if Gordon Hayward is going to be on the roster by opening night. Thus, a wing with defensive capabilities should be of intrigue to Kupchak and his team.
That could be G-League Ignite guard/wing Dyson Daniels. The 19-year-old averaged 1.9 steals and 6.2 rebounds over 31.1 minutes this season, utilizing his near 6’8 frame and 6’10.5 wingspan to play a brand of defensive basketball that, long-term, would become a tremendous asset to the Hornets.
While raw offensively, as he shot just 25.5% from the outside and produced 11.3 points per game, the Hornets have a competent enough offense to offset that lack of production in the first year, while Daniels improves and becomes a bigger asset as a shooter as his career progresses.
Daniels is also a ball-handler and playmaker, who posted 4.4 assists per game, so he will offer something on that end of the floor.
The biggest question mark about Daniels is the sample size. He played just 14 games for the Ignite, and less than 500 total minutes on the season. That’s not a lot of data points, and it allows for his statistical production to be heavily influenced by cold or hot games.
Daniels is one example of a player that is expected to get selected before the Hornets pick for the first time, and of course they will make their own observations during pre-draft workouts.
Overall, for the Hornets, it becomes a question of value received versus value given. Whichever direction they go, they have to make sure to get maximized value with the pick, or picks, they end up having in the first round.