NBA Rumors: Who Are the Charlotte Hornets Targeting With Their Five Draft Picks?

Mar 24, 2023; Louisville, KY, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide forward Brandon Miller (24) dribbles during the second half of the NCAA tournament round of sixteen against the San Diego State Aztecs at KFC YUM! Center. Will the Charlotte Hornets take Miler with the second overall pick?Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets nearly missed hitting the “jackpot” of the NBA Lottery. Now, the Hornets have arguably the toughest decision to make at the league’s premier amateur event on June 22,  as they own the No. 2 overall pick. But the 2023 draft is much more than choosing between Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson for the Hornets, who have five picks. All of which fall within the first 42 selections.

NBA Rumors: Charlotte Hornets Putting In Prep Work Leading Up To Draft, Who Are They Targeting With Their Five Picks

Charlotte Hornets Current Roster

Charlotte has 11 players under contract for the upcoming season with cap space of about $28 million. The Hornets have some wiggle room as Kobi Simmons ($2.06 million) and JT Thor ($1.8 million) are on nonguaranteed deals.

Charlotte has a non-tax-payer exception ($12.2 million) and a bi-annual exception ($4.4 million) that they can use on free agents. Additionally, the Hornets have a $1.93 million trade exception. However, Hornets president of basketball operations Mitch Kupchack told reporters that it is unlikely that they will go on a spending spree.

“Although we have a lot of financial flexibility, we don’t typically go big-game hunting with our free agent money.Maybe one day we will get to the point where a marquee free agent would look at our team and we’re winning a bunch of games and he’ll say, ’Hey, that’s a place I really want to go,” he said. “But right now, I don’t think that’s realistic. We’ve got to do it through the draft primarily.”

What are Charlotte’s Draft Needs?

Charlotte is coming off a season where the Hornets finished last in the Southeast division for the first time since 2012 with a 27-55 record. However, it was the seventh straight season that the Hornets missed the playoffs. The 27 victories were also their second-fewest victories in this seventh-year stretch.

Injuries played a big part in Charlotte’s struggles. The Hornets used 26 starting lineups and 19 players this year. In addition to injuries, scoring was their biggest problem as the Hornets finished 30th in the league in offensive rating as they were 29th in field goal percentage and 29th in three-point percentage. A major reason for their offensive troubles was that their two leading scorers from 2021-22, Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball, totaled 36 appearances this past season.

Defensively, Charlotte finished 20th in efficiency. Rebounding, particularly on the defensive end, and rim protection were the Hornets’ most glaring weaknesses.

Regarding positional needs, the Hornets’ most pressing area is wings and big men — mainly small forward and center. But those areas are contingent upon whether Charlotte plans to make a qualifying offer to P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges, which is likely. If they don’t, then power forward becomes more important. Similarly, the Hornets plan on re-signing Dennis Smith Jr. If they don’t believe that will happen, they will likely need a point or combo guard in the draft.

Who To Choose at No. 2?

The biggest debate in the 2023 NBA draft is not who will go first, as French teenage sensation Victor Wembeyama has wrapped up that honor. So, now the league and its fans turn to Charlotte to see what the Hornets do with the No. 2 selection. While the Hornets haven’t indicated their plans, it is widely assumed that they will select either Miller or Henderson.

The NBA Combine ended this past weekend, and one of the players spotlighted was Miller. The 20-year-old Tennessee native had an impressive freshman campaign earning  SEC Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors. However, while not charged, Miller was also connected to the fatal shooting of Jamea Jonae Harris in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Miller did not participate in the Combine as he was still recovering from mono, which caused him to lose 13 pounds, but he interviewed with 12 teams in Chicago. The hottest topic, of course, was the shooting incident, which Miller did not speak about. Miller gave team executives a legal brief written by his attorneys informing teams that he could not comment on specific details regarding the shooting.

Miller was asked by reporters what was the message he was hoping to convey at the interviews. 

“The message I’ve presented to them is just it’s all a lesson learned,  to convey to teams regarding the shooting. “You always have to be aware of your surroundings and know what you’re surrounded by. I feel like the night could’ve changed my career in less than a heartbeat. So always be aware of your surroundings.”

Charlotte plans to send its attorneys to Tuscaloosa this week to investigate Miller’s involvement in the Jan. 6 shooting, Miller’s Agent, Wilmer Jackson, told ESPN, and Miller plans to fly to Charlotte in mid-June for a workout and follow-up interview.

Are the Hornets Leaning Toward Miller?

According to Jonathan Givony in his ESPN story, it was difficult to find one general manager at the Combine who believes that Miller won’t be selected by the Hornets’ No. 2 over, for good reason.

Miller is an elite-level scorer with lethal shot-making ability from anywhere on the court. Miller is also an explosive athlete with great size and length for a wing. He is also an excellent rebounder and versatile defender with sound instincts. Ball handling is his main weakness.

Meanwhile, Henderson is considered a top-not guard with a lot of upside. The 19-year-old combo guard interviewed with three teams at the Combine though he also didn’t participate in any events.

Henderson has a robust and sturdy frame of 6’2″, 195 pounds. He is a three-level scorer who is explosive athletically and can kick into another gear. Henderson is a solid floor leader and quality distributor. Turnovers and three-point shooting are his biggest issues.

Henderson produced 16.5 points, 6.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in nearly 31 minutes over 19 appearances with the G-League Ignite this past season. He produced a shooting slash line of .429/.275/.764.

G-League Ignite general manager Anthony McClish recently spoke glowingly of Henderson, according to Charlotte Observer Roderick Boone.

 “He’s going to be loved by coaches, he’s going to be loved by teammates, he’s going to be loved by fans and youth in the community. He’s uplifted our building. He’s been our beacon of what we want to have as an example, in terms of our values and carrying a program.”

What Will The Hornets Do With Their Other Picks?

According to Givony, Kupchack weighs individual team workouts more heavily than many executives. While Miller and Henderson will get another chance to impress the Hornets brass, so will and have others.

In addition to their lottery selection, Charlotte owns the 27th pick in the first round. The Hornets’ three second-round selections are No. 34, No. 39, and No. 42.

While the Hornets’ other draft selections are predicated on what other teams do, Boone said that Kupchack didn’t rule out adding another ball-handling guard to the roster while indicating that fit will be a consideration.

“We are getting a little bit more advanced in putting this team together. I think three years ago, or even two, three years ago, I would have said that without question that we are going to take the best available player, and that’s been our position the last three or four years when we are trying to accumulate talent,” Kupchak said. “And I don’t think we are where we need to be from a talent level, but we’ve got a lot more talent now than we did two or three years ago. So, I think we can be a little bit picky and take into consideration not only the overall talent, but the position.”

Who are the Hornets potentially targeting with their late first-round and second-round picks?

Charlotte has held three workout sessions. Emoni Bates and Jordan Miller are the most intriguing.

Emoni Bates

Bates has had his issues. But he did show some improvement at Eastern Michigan last year. Bates averaged 19.2 points and 5.8 rebounds this past season.

More importantly, Bates impressed in the Hornets in his May 5th workout. So much so that Adam Zogaria of Forbes said that the Hornets could select the 19-year-old with one of their later picks.

“Larry Jordan, Michael’s brother and the Vice President of personnel with Charlotte, is a big Bates fan and was in attendance when he scored 35 points this season in an overtime loss to Ball State in February.”

Bates was one of the stock risers from the Combine. Bates tallied 21 points, on 7 of 14 shooting, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, seven rebounds, and three blocks in the two scrimmages in Chicago.

“I think that Emoni did a good job this week trying to play a little bit of a different style than we had seen from him at Eastern Michigan, which was not the most winning style,” Givony said Friday on a conference call. “He really showed his shot-making ability in the scrimmages. He hit some really, really tough shots off the dribble. That’s what he does. He’s a scorer. I think you look at his measurements; not really ideal in terms of 179 pounds, a wingspan that’s shorter than his height in shoes, athletic testing, didn’t test particularly well. I think we knew that about him. He’s not the most explosive athlete out there.”

Jordan Miller

Miller had a solid college career. The 23-year-old wing finished his collegiate career at Miami (FLA) after spending the first three seasons at George Mason. He is an efficient scorer with decent size and a good rebounder. Miller participated at the Combine and worked out for the Hornets this past Monday.

Miller was one of the most productive players at the Combine, totaling 28 points and 15 rebounds.

ESPN’s Jeremy Woo gave this evaluation of Miller after the Combine.

“Though he measured in under 6’5″, his nearly 7-foot wingspan allows him to play a bit bigger, and makes him an interesting fit for small-ball lineups, particularly if his shooting can improve a bit. Miller is a solid two-way contract candidate who could overachieve in the right situation.”

Other Potential Targets for the Charlotte Hornets

Several other potential targets will be mentioned for the Hornets leading up to the draft. Brandin Podziemski, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Ben Sheppard, Tristan Vukcevic, Seth Lundy, Amari Bailey, and Zach Edey are other potential targets.

Podziemski made a massive jumper at Santa Clara in his second collegiate season, averaging nearly 20 points along with 8.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists while compiling a shooting slash line of .483/.438/.771. He also had an impressive Combine, stuffing the stat sheet in the first scrimmage.

Maxence-Prosper is a raw prospect who has improved in his first three seasons. Maxence-Prosper measured just under 6’7″ barefoot with a 7’1″ wingspan and 40½-inch max vertical at the Combine. He stood out at the first scrimmage, showing his two-way potential, tallying 21 points and seven caroms.

Sheppard has taken significant steps in his development in the past four years. He compiled 18.8 points while developing into a prolific three-point threat, averaging 2.5 treys at a 41.5% clip at Belmont this past season. The following excerpt is from Givony.

” He was tasked with some ballhandling duties and didn’t look entirely uncomfortable initiating play, also making several impressive passes for assists. Those elements of his game leave the door open for potential growth as a secondary creator moving forward. Sheppard also looked solid defensively trailing the ball, and his all-around activity level and constant energy left a positive impression.”

“We knew Sheppard was a legitimate threat from distance entering the week, but he also flashed a pretty quick first step and measured up to par for a 2-guard, coming in at 6-5¼ barefoot with a 6-6¾ wingspan. He certainly didn’t look like an overmatched mid-major star in any respect, and considering the constant league-wide demand for perimeter shooters, Sheppard now looks like a solid bet to be drafted. He could conceivably keep rising with positive showings in team workouts.”