The main event in Tuesday’s Charlotte Hornets’ pre-draft workout seemingly would have been Rodney Hood, previously of Duke, and P.J. Hairston, previously of North Carolina, participating in a 3-on-3 scrimmage.
Certainly the audience was packed. Team owner Michael Jordan and vice chairman Curtis Polk were in attendance.
“The fact that the greatest basketball player ever was on the sideline watching you, and knowing it’s him who might make the decision, is a big thing for me,” Hairston said.
But the Duke-UNC matchup never came off. About halfway through the audition, Hood got sick and was forced to sit out the rest of the session. Hairston was back for a second look with the Hornets, but the team with the ninth and 24th picks in the first round didn’t get the full effect of bringing in these prominent area players.
“Three-on-three is the best part (of the workout) to watch,” coach Steve Clifford said. “It got knocked down today to 2-on-2 (by Hood’s absence), so you don’t see nearly as much defense off the ball.”
Hood, a 6-foot-8 forward-guard, could be a candidate for either the ninth or 24th pick. He averaged 16.1 points and shot 42 percent from the college 3-point line as a Duke redshirt sophomore before turning pro.
He has a history of these stomach problems. Hood reportedly fell ill at least four times during last season at Duke.
“He did some of the skill work early, and right as they got to the meat of the workout, he had a stomach problem,” Clifford said. “I didn’t get to see him much at all.”
Because of his illness, Hood wasn’t made available to the media post-workout.
Clifford said this particular workout was set up to feature “positional matchups.” Clifford was out of town during Hairston’s first workout for the Hornets. Though the team couldn’t run the full schedule after Hood had to drop out, Clifford was impressed by what Hairston presented.
“He has skill and a feel for how to score,” Clifford said. “He can shoot with range, he can put the ball on the floor and he’s strong physically. He has an NBA body now. He did a good job today.”
Hairston, a 6-5 shooting guard, lost his college eligibility before ever playing for North Carolina this past season, after accusations he accepted impermissible benefits under NCAA rules. He instead played in the NBA Development League. In 26 games with the Texas Legends, he averaged 21.8 points and shot 35.8 percent from the NBA 3-point line.
Hairston said he has “no clue” where he’ll be chosen, predicting anywhere from No. 9 to just before the Hornets make their second selection at No. 24. His remaining workouts will be with the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
“Getting this (second) opportunity means they liked something they saw last time,” said Hairston, who grew up in Greensboro. “When (Hood) went down it did kind of throw off (the workout), but we played 2-on-2 with the same intensity.”
The other high-profile player at Tuesday’s workout was Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton. This was Payton’s eighth pre-draft workout, all for teams selecting in the middle of the first round. He’s quick off the dribble and has the tools to be a fine defender. And he’d conform to one of Clifford’s long-term goals – making the Hornets bigger position-by-position.
Payton measured nearly 6-4 at the draft combine. The Hornets need a backup point guard and Payton’s height would offer a contrast to starter Kemba Walker at 6-1.
“Good, tough. Knows how to run a team and get to the basket. I think he can be an exceptional on-ball defender,” Clifford said of Payton. “He’s long and is really good with his hands. I like his demeanor on the floor, too.”
As a junior last season, Payton averaged 19.2 points and 5.9 assists. He shot 50.9 percent from the field but only 25.9 percent from the college 3-point line.
“Me being 6-3, I can shoot over (the typical point guard) or see over them to make passes,” Payton said. “My length helps on defense – causes problems.”
Payton entered college at 6-1, then he had a growth spurt. He knows his outside shot must improve for him to be seen as a complete point guard.