The Charlotte Hornets have had five straight losing seasons, so every NBA draft presents a plethora of opportunities. You’ve got to get better almost everywhere when you’re a perennial NBA lottery team, and I think the Hornets did so with a bang Thursday night when they selected James Bouknight with the No. 11 overall pick and then traded up to get Kai Jones at No. 19.
Bouknight is a shooting guard with a flashy handle and a lot of scoring ability. He doesn’t have the three-point shooting percentage you’d like — he only hit 29% of his threes at Connecticut last season — but that will improve with the wide-open looks that LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier are about to provide for him.
Jones, a center from Texas, will give the Hornets more athleticism at their biggest position of need. In some drafts, he would have even been a consideration at No. 11, but this one was so deep (ESPN’s Jay Bilas called it the best NBA draft class since 2003) that a player with Jones’ ability was still available at 19. The Hornets traded up with the New York Knicks to get Jones, according to ESPN, although the price wasn’t immediately available.
Together, though, this was a great night for the Hornets. Add those two first-rounders to the limitless potential of LaMelo Ball and the clutch gene of Terry Rozier, and you’ve got to think that the Hornets’ five-season playoff drought may well come to an end in 2021-22.
A lot of draftniks had Bouknight going higher, and he didn’t look particularly happy when he finally got picked at 11 and went up to shake the NBA commissioner’s hand.
“In terms of my emotions, I was kind of upset I was sliding,” Bouknight said in a conference call with Charlotte-area reporters Thursday night. “I’m not going to lie. ... But I’m definitely excited, and I’m happy to be a Hornet.”
The Hornets, meanwhile, had “off the charts” interest from other teams wanting to trade up to 11, either to select Bouknight or one of the other players Charlotte could have taken.
But Mitch Kupchak, the Hornets’ general manager, passed on what he called “a lot of temptation” for a player he said Charlotte had “rated much higher.”
“Coincidentally,” Kupchak said of Bouknight, “he does fill a need in the backcourt. That’s not by design. We really wanted to pick the best available talent.”
Kupchak said Bouknight (pronounced BOOK-night) wasn’t a point guard but would be considered more of a wing for the Hornets who was an excellent athlete who could guard everyone except power forwards and centers.
Bouknight said he loved the idea of playing with Ball.
“I think we complement each others’ games very well,” Bouknight said. “We both are exciting to watch. We both play with a different type of swag, a different type of flair to us. And we both want to win.”
While I like the Bouknight and Jones picks a lot, I was less impressed with the Hornets’ trade for a big man. Kupchak acquired Mason Plumlee from Detroit in exchange, basically, for allowing the Pistons to dump his contract and for Charlotte to be able to move up 20 draft spots in the second round.
Plumlee, 31, will cost the Hornets more than $8 million each of the next two seasons. He did have decent numbers in Detroit last year, but I’m not sure he’s an upgrade over Cody Zeller (now a free agent).
The Hornets already employed another Plumlee brother once upon a time, in 2017. That was Miles Plumlee, and that was an extremely regrettable decision made by previous GM Rich Cho. It haunted him for a while.
I know the Plumlee brothers are all different players, and the Hornets obviously had to do something at center (the trade was made before Charlotte selected Jones). That one, though, seems like far from a slam dunk.
Bouknight, though? And Jones? They both seem like solid picks — and maybe, if the Hornets are lucky, a lot more.