Charlotte Hornets’ Needs and Possible Picks

Tyrese Haliburton
During his two years at Iowa State, Tyrese Haliburton made 42.6 percent of his 3-point shots and had an assist-turnover ratio of 3.0. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State Athletics)

I took part in the most recent version of Hoops Prospects Mock Draft. In this mock, I was contributing to the selection of each pick, but also primarily focused on Charlotte. As the draft unfolded, I made conscious decisions for the Hornets, and have provided a quick “state of the franchise” update below, along with the reasoning behind each selection. 

At the beginning of the 2020 NBA season, Charlotte entered a rudderless, post-Kemba Walker era. The Hornets came into the season with one of the most inexperienced rosters in the league, and talent was also in short supply. Last summer, the organization was not yet aware that Devonte’ Graham would prove to become a legitimate on-ball NBA playmaker (7.5 assists per game [APG] with an A/T ratio of 2.6), that Terry Rozier would transform from a distressed contract into a valuable asset, or that P.J. Washington would immediately be a starter-quality rookie. It’s also worth noting that Miles Bridges has made slow but sure improvement, albeit not quite as quickly as the fanbase would like. 

Fast forward to our current “off-season,” and you’ll see a different and more optimistic outlook. The Hornets have shed costly expiring contracts (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Biskmack Biyombo, and Marvin Williams) to free cap space, and have intelligently drafted/signed young players who may prove useful (Caleb Marin, Cody Martin, and Jalen McDaniels). 

As I have harped on, the Hornets now possess three terrific characteristics moving forward: a seemingly competent front office, a healthy and flexible long-term cap sheet, and a bevy of young assets. 

The Hornets’ roster still has deficiencies, and although the overall outlook is brighter, the results are still below average. They do not have a bonafide “star” on this roster, yet, and Charlotte will finish the shortened season being near the bottom in both offensive rating (28th, 105.9 points per 100 possession) and defensive rating (25th, 112.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Hornets landed at 10th in the Eastern Conference, with a final record of 23-42. Their retooled and young roster still needs more playmaking and shooting with size at the guard position, and is also incredibly desperate for rim protection and defensive versatility. 

The Hornets cannot fix all of their issues in one draft, but here is my attempt to continue to stockpile young talent while filling holes based on the available talent at each draft slot. 

Tyrese Haliburton
Tyrese Haliburton (Photo by Wesley Winterink | Iowa State Athletics)

Pick 8 — Tyrese Haliburton (PG)

  • Team:  Iowa State
  • Age:  20.3
  • Height:  6-5
  • Weight:  175
  • Wingspan: 6-8
  • Vertical:  

With the eighth pick in the draft, after considering what is available, Tyrese Haliburton would be a fantastic bargain. Other players considered at this spot were Obi Toppin, Devin Vassell, Cole Anthony and Aaron Nesmith.

Haliburton is a 6’5” versatile two-way guard. The Iowa State product has superb shooting splits (.504/.822/.419) to effectively space for a playmaking backcourt counterpart like Graham. Haliburton can also shoulder playmaking responsibilities on the ball and help create for others with his brilliant vision and uncanny ability to manipulate defenses (6.5 APG). Charlotte noticeably lacked consistent playmaking in its second unit, and Haliburton can be that solution while acting as an equivalent to universal blood type for the Hornets’ staff developing a rotation and prescribing backcourt pairings. Meaning, the Iowa State star can mix and match with any of the Hornets perimeter options in a lineup due to his versatile skill set.

Haliburton would be a positive ingredient for the continued development of Washington and Bridges, as he would create easy opportunities for them to score in pick-and-roll, spot-up, transition and at-the-rim situations. The Hornets were also near the bottom of the league in pace, likely by design to stay in games. Yet, as this team matures, it would like to play faster, and the sophomore is excellent in transition, averaging 1.33 points per possession (PPP), which ranked at the 93rd percentile. 

Haliburton is not without flaws. Although his basketball instincts on the defensive end bear out to the tune of 2.5 steals per game, his analytical profile on that end of the floor is only average in most cases. On film, the Wisconsin native can be attacked off long closeouts, pick-and-roll action and simple straight-line drives. Additionally, he must improve as an isolation offensive scorer and as a pull-up jump shooter to unlock all his brilliant playmaking at the NBA level. His frame is slight and needs time to develop, but this is less concerning due to his length, instincts, and overall size. 

Overall, Haliburton makes sense for this Hornets roster, fills immediate needs and complements the returning young core, while giving Head Coach James Borrego and his staff another multi-purpose tool. 

Cassius Stanley
Cassius Stanley (Duke Athletics)

Pick 32 — Cassius Stanley (W)

  • Team:  Duke
  • Age:  20.8
  • Height:  6-6
  • Weight:  195
  • Wingspan:  6-7
  • Vertical:  46 inches (max)

The Hornets need for rim protection is an obvious flaw at the heart of their defense, but in any draft, teams must remain cognizant of value. Vernon Carey and Paul Reed were selected ahead of this pick in the mock draft, and it’s best not to reach to fill a need. There has never been a more robust or cost-effective market in today’s free agency for traditional centers. In other words, the Hornets can be patient here and make a “best available” type of selection to continue acquiring promising young talent.

Another factor to consider is that the Hornets have a decision to make on restricted free agent Dwayne Bacon this summer, and Malik Monk the following year. Veteran Nicolas Batum is entering the last year of his multiyear deal, and the Hornets could do well to bring in another young wing to compete with Cody and Caleb Martin for rotational minutes.

At pick 32, the Hornets come away with a terrific project in Cassius Stanley. Others considered were Immanuel Quickley, Udoka Azubuike, and Zeke Nnaji.

Stanley’s physical profile is nothing short of incredible. He’s 6’6” with a 46-inch vertical leap, and he would inject a combination of size and athleticism that Charlotte lacks at the wing position. He is, simply put, an athletic outlier.  Second-round picks are never guaranteed, but Stanley is a terrific bet based on his physical and statistical profile. His raw shooting splits are solid (.474/.360/.733), and as you dig deeper, he scores 1.09 PPP on all catch-and-shoot jumpers, which is at the 87th percentile. Stanley is also electric in transition (1.28 PPP, 88th percentile). The freshman shows functional athleticism with his ability to make tough catches and finishes in traffic, and routeinly making thunderous put-backs and breakaway dunks.

Stanley is an elite athlete, efficient when catching and shooting, and a solid overall defender (allows 0.71 PPP, 84th percentile); this evidence paints a logical roadmap to rotational success as an NBA wing.  However, he must continue to improve as a jump shooter if he hopes to evolve into an elite offensive player; he particularly struggles shooting off the dribble. NBA opponents will try to run him off the 3-point line and force him into uncomfortable situations, such as shooting pull-ups or making decisions as a distributor — another area where he struggles (A/T ratio of 0.56).

Nick Richards (Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics)

Pick 56 — Nick Richards (C)

  • Team:  Kentucky
  • Age:  22.6
  • Height:  6-11
  • Weight:  245
  • Wingspan:  7-5
  • Vertical:  32.5 inches standing, 36.5 max

At pick 56, Charlotte finally commits to addressing possibly its most glaring weakness, rim protection. The pickings for true rim protection were slim this late in the draft, and other options considered were Mamadi Diakite, Reggie Perry, and Flip Petrusev. In terms of career block percentage, only Diakite (7.6) came close to Nick Richard’s 8.7.  

Richards has had a fascinating college career at Kentucky. He was a bench contributor as a freshman, slightly regressed as a sophomore, and then asserted himself, playing with more confidence and aggression, to become one of the premier “Bigs” in the SEC as a junior. This season, he not only earned All-SEC first-team honors, but also was a SEC All-Defensive selection.

Starting with the areas where he can improve, Richards has not taken a single 3-point shot in his entire college career. He found himself in foul trouble at times this year in an increased role under Coach John Calipari, and is not a very effective passer. Richards will have to continue to improve as a versatile defender to be capable of handling the constant switching of today’s NBA. His lateral footspeed can be taken advantage of in specific matchups. The last flaw worth mentioning is that he will turn 23 in November.

Now, to begin to explore why this pick fits the Hornets roster like a glove, Richards brings the prospect for rim protection without sacrificing mobility. He is, in fact, a very good athlete for his size. He blocked 2.5 shots per game this season, but he also allowed only 0.64 PPP (89th percentile) when defending in the post. The junior effectively defended “around the basket” shots (non-post plays), ranking at the 76th percentile for PPP allowed. These advanced numbers illustrate what raw blocks can sometimes mask, which is that Richards effectively balances the act of protecting the rim without giving up too many easy baskets.

Richards can fill a role on the offensive end as well. His skills will mesh well with the returning talent because he’s an effective offensive player without needing the ball. He accomplishes this efficiency via cutting and also as a roll man in the pick and roll (1.3 PPP, 89th percentile). The junior has developed into a solid free-throw shooter (75%), and has an underrated skill in his midrange jumper; 76 percent of all his jump shots were from medium (midrange) distance. Richards shot 41 percent and scored (0.82 PPP, 72nd percentile) on those attempts as a post-up player in high-level college basketball. He has never attempted a 3-pointer, but this statistical case helps support the notion that he could develop that skill in time.

Richards’ size, mobility, and two-way skills should mix nicely with the returning roster and the players selected in this mock draft for the Hornets franchise.

Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements:  Stats used in our reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology and RealGM.com, and occasionally from Sports-Reference.com.  Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. 

About Lee Branscome 6 Articles
Lee is a former NCAA D2 basketball student-athlete at Chowan University. Following graduation, he was hired as an assistant coach for the program. In four years, he helped rebuild the program, winning 19 games in his final season. Lee now covers sports, co-hosting a sports-centric podcast called "Which Carolina," on Podomatic.net, and he can be followed @WhichCarolina on Twitter.