Tom Sorensen

Will Hornets draft the right player with 9th pick? I don’t trust them

The prevailing NBA business model is to fashion a team around three players. The three I’d choose are Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Noah Vonleh (not pictured).
The prevailing NBA business model is to fashion a team around three players. The three I’d choose are Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Noah Vonleh (not pictured). dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

I watched film of Mario Hezonja, the 6-foot-7 guard from Croatia who probably will be gone when the Charlotte Hornets make their first pick.

But if Hezonja somehow is available, he’ll be tough to ignore. He can run and jump, shoot and handle the ball, and he’s only 20. His highlights are mesmerizing, especially those that are accompanied by music. If the highlights of Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo were accompanied by music, you’d say: We need this guy.

With the ninth pick in the June 25 NBA draft, the Hornets should add a good player. But I don’t trust them. If you were to detail Charlotte’s strengths, draft night would not be among them.

Let’s say that the Hornets do draft astutely. What will the rookie’s impact be? Will the Hornets suddenly become a team that can win a playoff series? Or will they become a team that makes the playoffs, which in the Eastern Conference means they can’t finish too many games below .500?

The Hornets are not one player away from being good, unless that player is LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden or somebody elite. They’re one player away from being OK.

If this continues, the strategy that makes the most sense is to tear down what they have and start over.

The prevailing NBA business model is to fashion a team around three players. The three I’d choose are Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Noah Vonleh.

Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist work harder than anybody on the roster. Walker needs to make more shots or take fewer shots. But what his critics choose not to realize is that he needs scorers to which to pass. Walker can’t find them if they’re not on the roster.

Kidd-Gilchrist plays very good defense, and last season his renovated jump shot forced defenders to move up on him and enabled him to better go to the hoop. He likely will never be a consistent scorer. To be effective, he doesn’t have to be. But his work ethic is such that he’ll become a better shooter.

Vonleh played one season at Indiana before the Hornets selected him with the ninth pick in the 2015 draft. He’s athletic and appears to be versatile. But we’re guessing.

P.J. Hairston, who played at North Carolina, was the team’s other first-round pick last season. To his credit, he had several triple doubles. For Hairston, a triple double is showing up where he’s supposed to, when he’s supposed to, and hitting a jump shot.

A player who should have another season in him is Big Al Jefferson. To accomplish this, Big Al has to show up less Big.

About the rookies: A player often slips past the place the mock drafts say he will go. I can’t imagine Duke’s Justise Winslow being available at No. 9. But we can dream.

Kentucky’s Devin Booker might be the best shooter in the draft. Not a terribly gifted athlete, he could be J.J. Redick. Tickets are forming as we speak.

Arizona small forward Stanley Johnson plays without fear, and he’s versatile.

If Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein slips to No. 9, the Hornets will have a fine inside defender who should learn to score. They already have a Kentucky player with a hyphenated name who is learning to score. Collect the whole set.

An intriguing pick is Texas center Myles Turner. Turner runs as if he’s angry at his feet, and teams worry there’s a medical issue. We’ll know soon enough. He’s 7 feet and athletic and can hit the 3-pointer. Season before last he was considered the No. 2 high school player in the country. If Winslow and Hezonja are gone, I like Turner.

But what will Turner or Johnson or Booker offer next season? I want to turn to whomever is next to me and ask: “Did you see what the rookie did? He might be rough, and he might be raw. But he offers hope.”

For the Hornets to compete, they need more than a draft pick. They need their high picks from drafts past to improve.

If their young talent fails to, and if the rookie isn’t special, 2015-16 will be another lost season.

If the Hornets again are mediocre, their best option – and perhaps their only option – is to trade assets for draft picks and become worse so they can become better.

The transition will be painful. Music will not accompany it.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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