Charlotte Hornets

If Nerlens Noel’s available in NBA draft, Charlotte Bobcats should jump

It happens every June.  The closer the NBA draft gets, the more likely we are to invest players with qualities they lack.

For the love all that’s holy, how can an NBA team of sound mind and body pass on guards Ben McLemore and Victor Oladipo or power forward Anthony Bennett?  

The last time such glowing, flowing accolades were flung around was – I know. It was last June, when many of you were campaigning for Charlotte to, with the second pick in the draft, take Thomas Robinson of Kansas.

I wasn’t. But some of you were. You know who you are.

Maybe Robinson will evolve into an NBA player. But he wasn’t as a rookie last season. He spent less time with Sacramento, the team that drafted him fifth, than the typical head coach spends with the Bobcats.

If I’m Charlotte, and I keep the fourth pick in Thursday’s draft, I give Bennett, the forward out of Nevada-Las Vegas, a long look. He’ll give Charlotte a quality it lacks, an inside scorer with strength, moves and range.

But if Nerlens Noel, the 6-10 Kentucky center, trickles down to No. 4, and I’m the Bobcats, I jump.

Noel can’t. He tore his ACL in February.

And if Noel is gone when the Bobcats select, I take Alex Len, the 7-1 center out of the Ukraine and Maryland.

I don’t jump as high as I would for Noel. But I jump higher than Len. He’s recovering from a stress fracture in his foot.

The Bobcats are as likely to say that they draft for talent and trade for need as some people are to tell you about their kids. But they need a center. And unless they believe that Bennett (or McLemore or Oladipo) is magic, they ought to go big.

If they get Noel, they get a goalie. Before he was hurt he was on pace to block more shots than Anthony Davis did as a freshman. Davis, also a Kentucky center, went No. 1 in 2012.

Noel is an athlete. His timing is tremendous and he treats the basket as if he has invoked eminent domain. He works hard. 

He probably will never offer consistent old-school, big-man, back-to-the-basket offense. But as the Bobcats gradually fill the space around him with scorers, Noel’s defense will be invaluable.

Len comes with more offense than Noel. He grew up learning Eastern European tricks. He doesn’t offer elite defense, but he has time to learn. He turned 20 on June 16.

You already know this, but what I or anybody else writes or says has no influence on whom the Bobcats draft. But some drafts the team and I think alike. A year ago I wrote that they should draft Kidd-Gilchrist, and I’m still glad they did. Although his rookie season was uneven, he showed flashes of what he will be -- a scorer, a defender and a leader.

In the interest of accuracy, I wrote in 2008 that the Bobcats should take D.J. Augustin with the ninth pick. Sorry. So are the Bobcats.

Whether you’re a sports columnist or the owner of the Bobcats, you have to acknowledge a failed pick.

Because Noel and Len are recovering from injury, we might not know until 2014-15 what they can do. Alas, there are no throwaway seasons in the NBA. Fans will be expected to pay for tickets, nachos and beer next season.

Next season is the season Charlotte has to go through to attain 2014-15. In 2014-15, in a draft that at this juncture looks as dazzling as the ballpark the Charlotte Knights are building downtown, the Bobcats could have three first-round picks.

If they don’t sign a free agent before next season, they’ll have the money to sign at least one a year from now.

It all fits. The Bobcats acquire the Hornets’ name in 2014-15. They acquire free-agent talent and perhaps a star in the 2014 draft. Young players such as Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Taylor acquire experience.

On opening day, 2014, the Hornets are ready to take off.

So is Noel or Len.  

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer