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Jeff Peterson Nails First Hire to Make Hornets ‘Premiere Franchise’

Charlotte Hornets players huddle up

After hiring former Brooklyn Nets executive Jeff Peterson to lead their basketball operations, Peterson has made his first official move as Charlotte Hornets executive vice president. Per ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets are hiring Atlanta Hawks vice president of player personnel Dotun Akinwale as assistant general manager.

As such, Akinwale becomes Peterson’s first acquisition for what the latter believes will become “the premier franchise of the NBA.”

Hornets Hire Dotun Akinwale as Assistant GM

Akinwale had been with the Hawks since the 2015-16 season, beginning his executive career as their Manager of Scouting. In 2019, Atlanta renamed him Director of Scouting before promoting him again in 2021. In taking that step, Akinwale was named Senior Director of Player Personnel before a final promotion to Vice President of Player Personnel at the start of the 2023-24 season.

Notably, Peterson worked with the Hawks for several seasons before landing with the Brooklyn Nets. From 2013-14 to 2014-15, Peterson served as both a scout and as Basketball Operations Coordinator for Atlanta. In 2015-16, Peterson was promoted to Director of Scouting, where Akinwale would work under him. Promoted to assistant general manager in 2016, Peterson remained in that role with the Hawks until 2019, when he left Atlanta to take the same job with the Nets.

As such, Peterson and Akinwale have quite a bit of familiarity with one another, having been colleagues for four years (2015–2019). It’s also worth mentioning the scouting backgrounds of both Peterson and Akinwale.

Building Organically

Charlotte’s core players, LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller, have All-Star-caliber talent. Indeed, in their most recent drafts, the Hornets drafted several promising prospects: Duke center Mark Williams, Kentucky forward PJ Washington, Kentucky guard Malik Monk.

However, the Hornets have had a noticeably poor draft record overall over the years.

2021 No. 11 pick, James Bouknight, has played just 79 games with Charlotte after three seasons. Averaging 18.7 points per game in his second and final season at UConn, Bouknight has a career average of 4.8 points per game in the NBA. They’ve yet to hit on any of their second-round picks this decade, although Amari Bailey— last year’s 41st overall pick— has shown solid potential.

Yet, while building through the draft benefits every franchise, it’s essential for teams like the Hornets.

Due to Charlotte’s status as a bottom-rung team, they’re unlikely to sign marquee free agents. Even if they offer oversized contracts, free agents will turn their noses up at the idea of playing for a team with such a poor reputation. To that point, when asked about Charlotte regaining their status as playoff contenders, Peterson says the Hornets “don’t want to skip steps, we want to do it organically” (h/t SI Now’s James Plowright).

But, to be frank, the Hornets have to build their roster organically.

Revamping Their Scouting

Looking at Peterson and Akinwale’s draft history, they could be the right men for the job. In their time with the Hawks, Atlanta drafted Trae Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter.

Young, a 3-time All-Star, is one of the league’s elite offensive talents. His potential hasn’t been questioned for a while. However, he did have doubters around the time of the 2019 NBA Draft. Ranked 23rd in his high school class by ESPN, Peterson and Co. deserve credit for believing in his ability.

Collins and Huerter are no longer with the Hawks. Nonetheless, both remain starters. In fact, Collins has the eighth-highest career true shooting percentage (62.3) and offensive rating (120.9) in NBA history. He ranks 20th among active players in career rebounds per game (8.1). Huerter has posted a double-digit scoring average for five consecutive seasons and has a career 3-point percentage of 38.2.

Since Peterson left Atlanta, the Hawks have also drafted Jalen Johnson.

Johnson is having a career season in Atlanta, averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. A stat-sheet stuffer, Johnson was selected 20th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. Finding a player of his caliber outside of the lottery is a show of their scouting department’s strength. It’s also the type of analytical ability that the Hornets have been missing.

Lastly, in Peterson’s time with the Nets, their most notable draft acquisitions were Cam Thomas and Nic Claxton. Averaging 20.9 points per game, the 22-year-old Thomas is a Most Improved Player candidate in what’s just his third season. Claxton, who has the fifth-highest block average since 2022-23, is already one of the league’s elite defenders. Both were drafted outside the top-25.

Taking the Long View

The Hornets are rebuilding inside and out, with an eye on long-term results.

“Our main goal is to have sustained success,” Peterson says, per Steve Reed of The Associated Press. “We don’t want to make the playoffs one year and then we’re out for another three or four years. We want this to be sustainable and turn this team into a consistent winner.”

In light of the comments from his introductory press conference, Peterson’s decisions should and will be judged on how they enable the Hornets to attain and retain a status as playoff contenders. Having failed to reach the playoffs every season since 2016-17, Charlotte’s front office is being met with a tall task.

Nonetheless, in making use of Peterson’s personal relationships, roster-building approach, and executive background, the Hornets just might be knocking on the door of redemption.


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