Hornets seeking versatility, shooting prowess with No. 9 pick in NBA draft
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Heading into Thursday’s NBA draft, it seems obvious the Charlotte Hornets — holding the No. 9 overall pick — would only target players with a high propensity for long-range shooting.
The Hornets have been one of the NBA’s worst outside shooting teams over the last four seasons and finished dead-last in 3-point shooting last season — at 31.8 percent.
However, general manager Rich Cho says the Hornets are not locked into a particular strategy or prospect with their lottery selection.
"We’re going to take the best player available," says Cho. "We’re going to address the shooting this summer, but it could be through the draft, free agency or a trade. …
"Versatility, guys that can make buckets, guys that can do multiple things on the court and play both ends of the floor. All of that is as important as ever. If it’s neck-and-neck, you might address need; but in general, we’re going to go with best player available."
Should the Hornets bypass on the best shooting candidate — Kentucky freshman Devin Booker — there’s a chance they could go with Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, an athletic wing who may be limited offensively, at least early on.
That aside, Johnson may no longer be on Charlotte’s draft board. In a move that should alarm Cho, Johnson has refused to work out for the club. He reportedly wants to be taken by Detroit at No. 8, or Miami at No. 10.
"Right where we’re picking, I think positions across the board are deep," Cho said. "There are some good point guards, it’s deep at the wing spot and with the bigs."
If the Hornets don’t draft Booker, a potential star down the road, trading up or down — as a means of acquiring veteran assets — might be the best alternative route to landing a starter with shooting prowess.
"We’ve been talking to a lot of teams about moving up, moving backward, moving the pick altogether," Cho said. "A lot of things are in play. … It depends on what we’d have to give up, but I’d love to move up."
Charlotte has minimal salary-cap flexibility with only $5.5 million available for a first-season salary. Cho said that would be enough to find a "rotation player," but the team needs something much more than that.
Starting point guard Kemba Walker has never been a good shooter during his four seasons. Last year, he shot just 31.8 percent from 3-point range and finished with the NBA’s second-lowest overall shooting percentage — among those qualified to win the shooting title.
Shooting guard Gerald Henderson (career 3-point percentage — 30.9) has started the last three seasons. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has one of the worst outside shots outside of 10 feet and has attempted only 18 triples in his three-year career.
Then there was guard Lance Stephenson, no longer with the team (traded to Clippers). Before being shipped to Los Angeles, Stephenson had a deplorable shooting percentage from beyond the arc (17.1).
To put it mildly, the Hornets need an outside shooter — preferably two.
"We definitely want to address shooting," Cho said. "At some point we want to get a third point guard. We don’t have a ton of spots left. We have 11 players under contract, and we’ve got some free agents, the 9th pick and the 39th pick. We’ve got our mid-level (exception) and our bi-annual, too, so there are a lot of things that can happen."
Charlotte needs help on the inside, as well.
Center Al Jefferson was in and out of the lineup last year with myriad of injuries, along with starting forward Cody Zeller, who missed the last few weeks due to a shoulder injury.
Jefferson will be the team’s highest-paid player this coming season — at $13.5 million.
"This is a big year for Al and for us," Cho says. "It depends on how Al comes back. If he plays great like he did two years ago, then it’s a different situation than if he plays like he did this past year. Part of it depends on Al and how well he plays what direction we go.
"Al was genuinely disappointed in last year, and I know he’ll make a concerted effort to get in shape this offseason."
Follow Brett Jensen on Twitter @Brett_Jensen.