The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone and now our sites are set on the impending free agency and summer league seasons. However, before we look too far into the future, let’s take a step back and examine Mitch Kupchak’s first draft as GM of the Hornets after having slept on it throughout the weekend.
Really, to summarize my thoughts for a second, this Hornets draft was as busy a draft as the franchise has had in recent memory. Mitch came into the night with an extra draft pick in hand from Brooklyn (pick 45), orchestrated a deal in the lottery to acquire to more future second round picks with the Clippers and then turned right around and flipped those two picks to Atlanta in order to move up in the second round. It was quite an active night and the results have produced mixed reviews from the fanbase. Not surprising given how cynical most of the fanbase is at the moment.
Here is a recap of each pick and my take on the fit and overall outlook each pick provides to the Hornets.
Pick 11: The Hornets draft PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky and trade his rights to the Los Angeles Clippers for the draft rights to Miles Bridges and two future second round picks (2020 & 2021).
Okay there is a lot to unpack here.
In regards to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, there was talk that he could go as high as six in the draft and it was rumored that teams outside of the lottery may attempt to try their way in to get SGA. As we crept towards the 11th pick and the Hornets being on the clock, Twitter and the board led me to believe that SGA would end up a Hornet. The upside was there, and he filled a position of need now and potentially the future depending on if Kemba was extended or not. His defensive ability also seemed to make sense under Coach Borrego and I think he could have seamlessly played on the court with Malik Monk.
Given SGA’s overall upside as a 19 year old, there was understandably a lot of intrigue around the league around him. Mitch was able to leverage that into his favor by moving back a spot in the draft while still getting the guy he coveted and, at the same time, getting some additional assets.
The guy Mitch Kupchak ended up coveting was Miles Bridges. I personally am very high on this pick for the Hornets. Most fans who disapprove will point to the fact that he’s not a high risk/high reward pick or that there were other players (Michael Porter Jr) available that had potential superstar ceilings. Maybe those points are valid, but in my view, Bridges best represents what the new NBA is: positionless basketball.
Bridges is undersized for a four in a traditional NBA sense at 6-7 and his offensive game isn’t poilished enough to be considered a true three either. That being said, his ability to come in and guard three positions right away is exactly what makes him valuable. I don’t think Bridges has a higher defensive upside than SGA, but the athleticism coupled with his 220 pound frame make him ready to handle what’s asked from him defensively today. We have seen how the ability for players being able to switch off PnR’s can elevate your team. Bridges brings that.
Offensively, he has a lot of great foundational skills. He’s a great catch and shoot shooter. His form on his jumper is good as well so I have no reason to believe that he won’t be able to improve as a three point shooter. The athleticism and ability to run the floor should benefit him from day one as well. Ideally, you’d love to see him develop into a big bodied three and just bully people around offensively. Some things he will need to improve on are his ball handling and while he improved his free throw shooting dramatically as a sophomore, he didn’t get to the line very often. That’ll need to change.
Pick 34: Hornets trade two future second round picks to the Atlanta Hawks for the draft rights to pick 34. With the 34th pick, the Hornets selected PG Devonte Graham from Kansas.
While Kupchak ultimately decided to pass on SGA and a potential PG of the future at pick 11, he did decide to add a PG in this draft. However, instead of getting the heir apparent to Kemba, Mitch opted instead to draft a player that could support Kemba in a reserve role for what they hope is the foreseeable future. Early in the second round, there was a run of PG’s that included Jevon Carter and Jalen Brunson so the Hornets made a move to get a guy that most likely would have been off the board by pick 45.
Graham’s college career at Kansas is storybook. Finished off his senior campaign as the Big 12 POY and led the Jayhawks to the Final Four all while replacing one of the great PG’s in Kansas history in Frank Mason.
Graham comes into his rookie season as a really mature 23 year old. It’s rare today that players come into the league via the draft with two years of college experience much less a full four. That experience should aid Graham into being able to see some minutes this upcoming season. It’s likely that Charlotte will sign a veteran in free agency to serve as the primary backup to Kemba which would allow Graham to really develop from that third PG spot.
What Graham does on the court though could provide real dividends down the road. He averaged 17 and 7 this past year at Kansas which means he’s not only comfortable scoring, but also making plays for others which are qualities that the past two backup PG’s have lacked here in Charlotte. It also helps that Graham has experience playing off the ball so theoretically, he’s someone that can share the court with Kemba during certain points in the game. This is valuable as it takes more pressure off of Kemba to not only score, but do the bulk of the creating as well.
Graham doesn’t give the Hornets the high upside PG of the future that the fans are craving, but he does give a steady presence and provides a solid offensive skill set that should compliment Kemba quite well. If he can develop into a similar player to Fred Van Fleet then that’s a win.
Pick 45: The Hornets draft G Hamidou Diallo through the Brooklyn Nets. Sell rights to Oklahoma City.
This pick was one the picks the Hornets obtained from the Dwight Howard trade that was made on 6/20. With the selection, they took the Kentucky guard Hami Diallo who is one of those high celing/low floor second rounders that teams seem to like.
I won’t speculate much on this pick because before the night was over, Charlotte sold the rights to the Thunder for what is believed to be a future 2nd rounder and some cash. We won’t know the details until July 6th.
Pick 55: The Hornets draft international prospect Arnoldas Kulboka from Lithuania.
With the final pick for Charlotte on the night, Mitch Kupchak decided to dabble in the draft and stash game. With his wing and PG already in hand from this draft and a pretty full roster, Mitch opted to go with a player that can stay in Europe for a couple of seasons and hopefully develop into someone that can play for the team down the road.
I don’t know much on Kulboka, but he’s listed as a 6-9 wing and is said to have a really good jump shot. All of those things are valuable if they develop correctly. He will be one to keep an eye on over the next two seasons.
All things considered, I think that Mitch had a nice and productive first draft night as the GM for the Hornets. He checked his boxes with getting a wing and a PG that fit what this team needs and should be able to contribute as early as this upcoming season. I also applaud him in being creative with trades and acquiring future assets and reflipping them to get the guys he wanted while not sacrificing any additional assets going forward.
Summer league should be fun.