Michigan State’s Miles Bridges? Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Villanova’s Mikal Bridges? Kentucky’s Kevin Knox?
Those four players, assuming they are in the 2018 NBA draft, figure to be in the range where the Charlotte Hornets most likely will select in the first round. With one game left in the Charlotte’s season (on Tuesday in Indianapolis), the Hornets are 35-46, which makes it highly likely they will pick 10th or 11th in the June draft.
There are nine non-playoff teams that will definitely finish with worse records than the Hornets and three that can’t finish behind Charlotte. The only team still in play is the Los Angeles Lakers, who have 34 victories and two games remaining, so they could finish ahead of the Hornets.
The draft lottery, where the Hornets would have a slim chance to move up into a top-3 pick, is May 15 in Chicago, just before the annual draft combine there. If the Hornets finish with the 11th-worst record, they would have a 2.9 percent chance of a top-3 pick, which would grant access to the likes of Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, European pro Luka Doncic or Duke’s Marvin Bagley.
The Hornets have a new general manager in Mitch Kupchak, who has been out of the league since early 2017, so Kupchak will have to do some quick study on this draft class. Some quick thumbnails on players who could be available with the 11th pick and how they might fit in the Hornets’ roster (in alphabetical order):
Mikal Bridges, Villanova forward, 6-7
Bridges got a lot of exposure in Villanova’s national championship run, averaging 17.7 points and shooting 43.5 percent from the college 3-point line. He’s a good fit with the direction the NBA is headed — a reliable range shooter and the sort of long, quick defender who could fit in switching schemes, modeled by Golden State and Boston. He will need to get stronger to match up in the NBA, but that isn’t a deal-breaker in the late lottery. Relative to Hornets: He’d be more of the two-way player coach Steve Clifford often says the Hornets need in greater abundance at the wings.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State forward, 6-7
The question with Miles Bridges will be whether his body matches his skill set at the NBA level. Right now he’s much more an inside player than a guy consistently comfortable on the perimeter, and that could be problematic at his size. He isn’t a bad 3-point shooter, at 36 percent last season, but he’s never looked particularly comfortable there, and his 3-of-12 from 3 in the NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse sure didn’t help his reputation. Still, he’s tough and competitive in a way that suggests he won’t be physically intimidated by the NBA. Relative to Hornets: He’s different from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but his discomfort offensively along the perimeter could create similar challenges to what Kidd-Gilchrist has.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky guard, 6-6
Gilgeous-Alexander is a true point guard with 7-foot wingspan. He was expected to be a strong defender from the start of his one-season college career, but he had dramatically more impact offensively late in the season. Terribly slim at 180 pounds, but he moves with a fluidity off the dribble in a way that unravels defenses. While he shot 40 percent from the college 3-point line, he didn’t take enough of them (57 in 37 games) to say he’s proven anything about his range. Relative to Hornets: A player with great length would be a fine complement to Kemba Walker, and insurance in case the Hornets trade Walker in anticipation of him reaching unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.
Kevin Knox, Kentucky forward, 6-9
The potential in Knox – a guy with great size for a small forward who attacks dynamically in transition – is obvious. The concern is he doesn’t always play with focus and passion, and Kentucky coach John Calipari pushed him all last season to be more reliable in that way. He tended to try to force his way through double-teams, rather than look for open teammates. He can often get away with that at the college level; it won’t be the same against bigger, more sophisticated NBA defenders. Relative to Hornets: The Hornets can use size and scoring, but drafting Knox comes with some risk as far as his motor.
Key off-season Hornets dates
May 15: NBA draft lottery
May 16-20: NBA draft combine
June 21: NBA draft
uly 1: Free-agency negotiating period begins.
July 6-17: Las Vegas Summer League