As the Charlotte Bobcats – soon-to-be Hornets – turn their attention to June, the NBA draft on the 26th becomes their top priority.
Front office personnel spent last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Chicago for the annual draft combine. They will find out on Tuesday night at the draft lottery whether they will have one or two first-round draft picks.
The Bobcats have lost their own pick (16th overall) to the Chicago Bulls, completing the Tyrus Thomas trade. They know they will have the 24th pick from the Portland Trail Blazers, completing the Gerald Wallace trade.
The open question is whether they can end up with the Pistons’ lottery pick. The Pistons’ pick is protected through the top eight. Since the Pistons’ record last sesaon was eighth worst in the league, a team with a better record in the lottery would have to jump into the top three, pushing the Pistons to ninth or lower in the selections.
With that in mind, Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell looks at the team’s needs position-by-position and some rookie possibilities with the ninth and 24th picks:
They are solid at the starting spot with an improving Kemba Walker. His shooting dropped off a bit last season, but he became a better passer/decision-maker out of the pick-and-roll, finding more spot-up shooters when defenses focused on his drives.
The issue is who will be Walker’s backup. The Bobcats made a trade at the February deadline, sending Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien to the Milwaukee Bucks in return for shooting guard Gary Neal and point guard Luke Ridnour. On whole, the deal was a good one, as the Bobcats needed Neal’s shooting/scoring. But Ridnour was a step down from Sessions, particularly in getting to the rim. At 33, Ridnour might be aging out of the NBA. Sessions, an unrestricted free agent, said after the trade he’d be receptive to returning to Charlotte.
Gerald Henderson didn’t seem to progress greatly beyond what he did in the 2012-13 season. The issue with Henderson has been his shooting range: He took only 115 3s last season and made 35 percent of his attempts. It can be problematic to play Henderson with small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is generally limited offensively. Henderson has two seasons left on the contract he signed last summer, each at $6 million per season.
Neal is under contract for next season, and though he had an uneven playoff series against the Miami Heat, coach Steve Clifford was happy with Neal’s contribution. In particular, Neal was a better pick-and-roll player off the dribble than Clifford anticipated. However, Neal’s presence wouldn’t preclude the Bobcats from drafting or signing another shooter with range.
Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t quite lived up to being the No. 2 overall pick in 2012. He’s a well above-average defender, both individually and team-wise and a solid rebounder for a small forward at 5.2 per game. However, he reached 10 points just three times in the last 16 regular-season games.
Jeff Taylor is a solid backup chosen in the second round of the same 2012 draft. He missed most of last season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon. He’s been progressing well in his rehab and is expected to be fully healthy before the start of training camp in October.
Whether through the draft or free-agency, the Bobcats could use another scorer at small forward. Due to Taylor’s injury they were forced to use Gerald Henderson here as a backup to Kidd-Gilchrist in the playoff series against the Miami Heat.
Last season’s starter, Josh McRoberts, can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If McRoberts left, the Bobcats would have a big hole to fill even after using the No. 4 pick last June on Indiana’s Cody Zeller.
McRoberts has become essential to the Bobcats’ ball movement. Zeller has similar skills to McRoberts, but lacks his experience. Also, Zeller needs to get physically stronger to deal with the pounding in the lane and to help him guard without fouling so frequently.
The Hornets will have at least $17 million in cap space this summer. Whether it’s retaining McRoberts or replacing him with a veteran, the team figures to spend a significant piece of that at power forward.
The Bobcats signed Al Jefferson last summer to a three-season contract worth $13.5 million per season. Expensive as that was, it’s so far been the best free-agent signing in franchise history.
Jefferson provided the low-post scoring that propelled the Bobcats to the playoffs. When he got hurt in the playoff series against the Heat (a plantar fascia injury that didn’t require surgery), the Bobcats performance suffered greatly.
Jefferson is obviously a keeper. The question is how best to fill the minutes behind Jefferson. Bismack Biyombo, a lottery pick in 2011, has been underwhelming: A decent defender-rebounding but a significant liability offensively who hasn’t improved much in three NBA seasons.
The team has Brendan Haywood under contract for another season. The question is what Haywood has left after 12 NBA seasons. He missed every regular-season game in 2013-14 after being diagnosed in the preseason with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Candidates for ninth pick
The Hornets would get the Detroit Pistons’ lottery pick in the June 26 draft if it’s outside the top eight. That will be determined in Tuesday night’s draft lottery.
Five players who could interest the Bobcats if they chose ninth:
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse point guard: The team has a clear need for a backup point guard. The contract for Luke Ridnour, who had mixed results as Kemba Walker’s backup, is expiring in July. Ennis is a tremendous passer who is not reluctant to take big shots. He’s been compared to Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens for Ennis’ court vision. But Ennis played just one season of college ball and is greatly in need of more physical strength.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona forward: He’s a superior athlete with a great motor who will rebound relentlessly. He’s particularly effective as an offensive rebounder; extremely difficult to box out. He’s primarily a power forward, but he can guard multiple positions. The downside is he’s still quite raw offensively with a limited skill set. Most of his points come off put-backs or just physically overpowering defenders. He’ll need a lot of coaching to refine his shot and ballhandling.
Rodney Hood, Duke forward: The Bobcats met with Hood at the Chicago Combine Wednesday. Hood was impressed how much Charlotte’s front office knew about his game, so he’s obviously on their radar. The team needw another shooter-scorer at the wing positions, and Hood would certainly fit that description. One thing the Bobcats shared with Hood: He’s a much more efficient player when he stays conscious of getting to the foul line.
Doug McDermott, Creighton forward: Drafting McDermott would create quite the contrast at small forward between him and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. McDermott is a highly skilled shooter/scorer with long range and a variety of floaters and moves. However, Kidd-Gilchrist’s forte – defense – could be a real liability for McDermott at the NBA level. He’s probably not big enough at just over 6-foot-6 to play power forward at the next level, and he’ll struggle as far as quickness and leaping ability to guard NBA small forwards.
Dario Saric, Croatian forward: Saric could do many of the same ballhandling/playmaking things Josh McRoberts provides. While he would be somewhat redundant to what the Bobcats hope Cody Zeller becomes, coach Steve Clifford would be attracted to a front-court player with such high skills and basketball IQ. The rub with Saric will be his athleticism by NBA standards. He’s not equipped to contain explosive scorers.
Candidates for 24th pick
The Bobcats have lost their own first-round pick (16th overall) to the Chicago Bulls, completing the Tyrus Thomas trade. However, they will have the 24th pick, from the Portland Trail Blazers, completing the Gerald Wallace trade. Five players who might be available to the Bobcats at No. 24:
Jerami Grant, Syracuse forward: He’ll be an NBA small forward with potential to be a strong help defender in terms of shot-blocking. His wingspan of nearly 7-foot-3 is remarkable for a player of 6-8 height. Grant is still a project who needs more refined offensive skills and more muscle packed onto what is now an overly lean body type.
P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends guard: The team’s Bobcats’ greatest need is more range shooting. Hairston averaged over 21 points per game in the Development League, after losing his NCAA eligibility at North Carolina. He’s not shy about launching 3s, averaging nearly eight attempts per game. Hairston used his time in the D-League well, working on his mid-range game and defense.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut point guard: The Bobcats used a first-round pick on another UConn point guard, and Kemba Walker worked out well enough. Napier, like Walker, shined in pursuit of the national championship. The question for the Bobcats might be whether they want Walker’s backup to be so similar in height and weight, or whether they might want more of a contrast at the position.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State forward: He has the size and shooting range to be a very effective “pick-and-pop” forward. He measures at just under 6-foot-10, but his 7-foot wingspan suggests he’ll be a strong shotblocker. He’s strong and physical, with the defensive background you would expect from a player developed under Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
T.J. Warren, N.C. State forward: The Hornets obviously could use at least one more wing scorer and Warren displayed those skills in his run to ACC Player of the Year. Warren worked hard at remaking his body last summer and that will get him into the first round of this NBA draft.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell