One the more intriguing prospects in this month’s NBA draft worked out Thursday for the Charlotte Hornets.
It was impossible to miss Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center from Senegal by way of Central Florida, as he made his way through a series of offensive drills toward the end of the session at the team’s practice facility. Whomever he stood next to — whether it was Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak (who’s 6-9) or fellow prospect Marques Bolden (6-11) — Fall commanded the gym with his sheer physical presence.
Yet Fall’s chance at being drafted appears to be in the second round, where the Hornets have two picks (36th and 52nd overall). Although he holds the Division I record for career field-goal percentage (74.0), Fall has his limitations offensively. As in: He’s not much of a threat from anywhere but directly beneath the basket.
It’s Fall’s size (he’s also a solid 310 pounds) and defensive skills, particularly his ability as a shot blocker, that he hopes will entice an NBA team. With a wingspan measuring 8 feet, 2.25 inches (the longest mark on record at last month’s NBA Draft Combine), Fall was ninth nationally in blocked shots (2.6 per game) for a UCF team that nearly upset Duke in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament.
“I feel like I can effect the game like no other,” Fall said. “My size, my length, and I’ve worked on my body to make it a lot stronger. Those are the things I can do to help right away.”
Kupchak and Hornets coach James Borrego have said finding a rim protector is a priority this offseason. Forward Marvin Williams was the team’s top shot blocker last season at 0.8 per game. The team averaged 4.9 blocks, 19th among the league’s 30 teams. Charlotte was average at best in points allowed in the lane (49 per game), which ranked 16th in the league.
Fall isn’t the only player the Hornets have looked at who might help solve that problem. Arkansas center Daniel Gafford (2.03 blocks per game last season) and Gonzaga’s Brandon Clark (3.16) have already worked out in Charlotte.
Having those kinds of players back-stopping a defense makes a huge difference. Guard Aubrey Dawkins, who also worked out for the Hornets on Thursday, was a teammate of Fall’s at UCF last season.
“He makes guys change their shots without even jumping,” Dawkins said. “He puts his hands up and it’s enough to make guys throw the ball over the backboard. He’s almost a safety net. It gives us confidence to guard our man, but you know if you get beat you have the best defender in the country behind you if you (do get beat).
“You want to stop your man and not let him get in the paint, but if he does, he’s going to have a tough shot. Either way, it helps.”
Fall averaged 11.1 points and 7.6 rebounds last season. But those points came mostly on dunks and layups.
“I’m nothing fancy (offensively),” he said. “I have the size and I’m getting a lot stronger. I’m working on getting a good touch around the rim, hook shots, catching lobs, simple stuff.”
Fall said his first hope is that his name is called on draft night next Thursday. If it doesn’t, he said he’d be fine with finding a spot on one of the of NBA’s G League developmental teams.
“I would do whatever it takes,” Fall said. “I know I want to play in the NBA. You never know what will happen. But I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Joining Fall, Dawkins and Duke’s Bolden at the workout were forward Jaylen Hoard, who played one season at Wake Forest; guard Jaylen Hudson, who played two seasons at Florida after starting his career at Virginia Tech; and Luka Asceric, a 6-8 guard from Austria.