The NBA Draft is tomorrow and it is a big night for the Charlotte Hornets. With the 9th pick, there is the potential to get something this team hasn't had since the days of Dell Curry or Glen Rice; a knock down, outstanding 3 point shooter. But there is also a chance to get a big time defensive presence with untapped offensive potential. Or they could simply blow the pick on a bust and NO ONE wants to see that, but it is in play.
Before I make my pick, let me narrow it down to 3 players who COULD be there at #9 and they are in the order I would pick them.
1. Mario Hezonja
2. Willie Cauley-Stein
3. Devin Booker
Let's take a closer look...
Mario Hezonja is a 6 foot 8, 200 pound wing player who is NBA ready RIGHT NOW and can be a starter from day 1! He is from Croatia, but played his pro ball in Spain. He has a very high ceiling. Mario is a great 3 point shooter at 39%. He has a quick and high release which makes it hard to block his shot especially being as tall as he is at 6 foot 8. He is a great finisher at the rim as he has explosive leaping ability. He is a great defender as well so would fit well with Charlotte from that stand point.
He is a very confident player and has some swag on the court. One of the big knocks on Mario is he can be a hot head at times, but if the coaching staff can keep him focused, he could be a great player in this league.
It is highly unlikely he will be around at #9, but I can hope and most Hornets fans can dream that around 8:15, he will still be on the board and Charlotte takes him. He could be a potential star in this league with his international roots if he comes in and lives up to some pre draft hype.
Willie Cauley-Stein is climbing up the boards, but still has a good chance to be around #9. He is often compared to former Charlotte Bobcat (he never wore a Hornets jersey) Tyson Chandler from a defense and rebounding stand point. As a 7 foot center weighing 240 pounds, he has the potential to put on even more bulk to be able to bang in the low post. Unlike most prospects in this draft, Cauley-Stein has 3 years of experience at the college game at Kentucky and that will help in his transition into the NBA. He runs the court well for a big man and gets rewarded with a lot of alley oops. He is also a great offensive rebounder.
His defense turns into offense with his ability to block shots. He averaged 2 blocks per game at Kentucky. In college, he guarded all 5 positions, but it is highly unlikely he will do that in the NBA. He should be able to defend the center and both forward positions at certain times of a game.
He talks of being a great offensive player and eventually an All Star. Those are the things you want to hear from a young player as he is displaying some confidence in his offensive game. Playing on some talented teams at Kentucky, Cauley-Stein was never asked to be a force on the offensive end, so we really don't know what he can do. But whoever picks him, will find out and they may have a real, all around gem on their hands.
During his work out with the Hornets, Michael Jordan was in the house to check out the big man. Take whatever you want from that, but I think that is big provided that he doesn't attend all of them.
Also keep in mind, this coming season is the last year on the contract of Al Jefferson. There is uncertainty that Big Al will be back. If he leaves, you can let Cauley-Stein work on his offensive game for a year while being the primary back up center and then slide him right into the starting line up in 2016-17.
Devin Booker is a 6 foot 6 shooting guard out of Kentucky and has an NBA ready body with that height and weight at 205 pounds. He is still very young as he is only 18 and spent only 1 year at UK. He along with Hezonja might be the best 2 three point shooters in this draft. Booker shot 41% from 3 point land in his only season at Kentucky and is often compared to Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. Booker also has a quick and high release on his jump shot. He also possesses an outstanding pull up jumper so he is more than just a 3 point shooter. He displays great balance and is always ready to catch and release.
Much like Cauley-Stein, Booker was not asked to do more than his role at Kentucky so there were big questions about his athletic ability, but he answered all those questions during the NBA Combine.
During his work out with the Hornets, Booker got some one on one instruction with head coach Steve Clifford afterwards. Once again, read into that the way you want, but I think it is big because Cliff does not do that with many draft prospects.
With all of that said, my pick for the team is...
I don't think Hezonja will be there at 9 and if he is, the Hornets better make the pick in 5 seconds. But the potential of Cauley-Stein as a great big man in this league could be too much to pass up. This team is built as a defensive team and WCS fits the bill. He can slide right in as a starter if Big Al moves on after this season. Because he was not asked to be an offensive force at Kentucky, I think he will surprise a lot of folks with his offensive game as he continues to work on it.
I won't be upset if I am wrong and the team picks Devin Booker. I think he is going to be a great shooter in this league, but if I had to make the pick, it is Cauley-Stein.