CHARLOTTE — LaMelo Ball is thrilled to have a chance to play for the Charlotte Hornets. But the 6-foot-7 point guard is more excited to play for the one of the greatest basketball players of all time in Michael Jordan.
“Man, straight blessing, for real,” Ball said of the six-time NBA champion and current Hornets owner. “I don’t even have enough words to say, I’m just blessed.”
The Hornets selected Ball with the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, giving Jordan’s team a player with immediate notoriety and a rookie who can help put fans in the seats once the coronavirus subsides. Ball has amassed more than 5.6 million followers on Instagram — which is 600,000 more than last year’s No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.
“He’s a very young talented player who plays the kind of pace that we like to play,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He has a flare to his game that maybe has some entertainment to it, maybe more so than some other players. (But) that’s not why we drafted him. We drafted him because of his size and length and the way he can handle the ball and the way he pushes the ball.”
Charlotte later addressed its lack of size by selecting 6-foot-10 center Vernon Carey Jr. from Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, with the 32nd overall pick in the draft.
The Hornets then traded their second round in 2024 to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Kentucky 7-foot center Nick Richards, the No. 42 overall pick, according to person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night on condition of anonymity because the details of the trade have not been announced.
Charlotte also drafted guard Grant Riller from the College of Charleston with the 56th overall pick.
Coach James Borrego said he can foresee Ball on the floor at the same time with Charlotte’s current starting backcourt of Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier, the Hornets’ two leading scorers last season. Graham averaged 18.2 points per game in his second season, while Rozier averaged 18 points per game after coming over from the Celtics.
Ball said he’s all for that.
“I feel like I fit anywhere,” Ball said. “It is positionless basketball. I feel like I can get it and go.”
Kupchak said he envisions Ball playing some point wing alongside four other players who are 6-foot-7 or shorter.
Ball averaged seven assists per game last season for Australia’s Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League. He finished 17th in the NBL last season in scoring, averaging 17 points per game although he only played in 12 games.
Ball first earned national attention during his freshman year at Chino Hills High School in California where he won a state title playing alongside his older brothers LiAngelo and Lonzo, who now plays for New Orleans Pelicans. Ball left to play professionally overseas after his junior season of high school, first playing in the Lithuanian league and later for the Hawks.
Lonzo and LaMelo are the first brothers to be selected in the top five.
“I feel like I was born to do this,” Ball said.
Magic take North Carolina’s Cole Anthony with 15th pick
Cole Anthony spent his lone year in college battling injuries and still put up big numbers. The Orlando Magic can’t wait to see what he’s capable of when fully healthy.
The Magic took the former North Carolina guard — and son of longtime NBA guard Greg Anthony — with the No. 15 pick. The 6-foot-3 Anthony led the Tar Heels in scoring at 18.5 points per game last season, his lone season at the college level.
“I’m healthy now and I just can’t wait to get out there and play. … This is the best moment of my life right here,” a teary Anthony said on the ESPN telecast of the draft. “Nothing compares to this moment right here. Maybe birth.”
With Anthony — who endured some knee issues in college and played much of last year at less than 100% — the Magic could essentially be adding two first-round picks to their roster for this coming season. Orlando used the No. 16 pick last year on forward Chuma Okeke, who missed last season while recovering from a torn left ACL. The Magic signed Okeke on Monday.
“Cole is a very talented guy that we didn’t think would get to 15,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We’re excited to have him. … At 6-2, with a strong body and a high motor and a high skill level and a high IQ, we feel like Cole is going to be kind of a modern guard. He’s going to be able to play both positions and elevate others around him.”
Orlando went 33-40 last season, getting to the playoffs for a second consecutive year and falling in the first round to Milwaukee. Markelle Fultz, a former No. 1 overall pick, emerged as the team’s starting point guard and averaged 12.1 points along with a team-best 5.1 assists, but the Magic clearly need some additional offensive punch after finishing last season 24th leaguewide in points per game.
Anthony could help: He had 20 or more points in each of his first three college games, including what became a season-best 34 in his debut against Notre Dame.
Spurs select Tre Jones
San Antonio selected Duke’s Tre Jones in the second round at No. 41.
A 6-foot-3 guard, Jones was named ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last season while averaging 6.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds as a sophomore with the Blue Devils.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity and very thankful for the San Antonio Spurs organization for believing in me,” Jones said. “I’m just excited to get going.”
Pacers pick Duke guard Cassius Stanley at No. 54
The Indiana Pacers were impressed with Cassius Stanley’s athleticism. New coach Nate Bjorkgren liked his versatility.
Now, Indiana will try to figure out where the 6-foot-6, 193-pound Duke guard fits best.
The Pacers ended a four-hour wait Wednesday night by selecting the 21-year-old freshman with their only pick in the draft, No. 54 overall.
“We had him graded much higher than where he ended up being drafted,” general manager Chad Buchanan said. “We were happy he was there.”
Indiana wasn’t expected to make a major splash on draft night — as it did last season — because Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard traded Indiana’s first-round pick to Milwaukee for guard Malcolm Brogdon in 2019.
But what the Pacers think they found was a shooting guard full of potential.
In his only college season, Stanley started 29 games, averaged 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds while earning ACC all-freshmen honors.
Stanley slid despite getting rave reviews from some familiar names.
“G @cassius_stanley with his 44” vertical is one of the best athletes in the NBA Draft,” Magic Johnson wrote on Twitter. “A gym rat and a competitor, he will be a better NBA player than college player!”
The Pacers believe it’s possible.
Buchanan acknowledged Bjorkgren is looking for players who can dribble, pass and shoot, and while the Pacers believe Stanley can excel at all three, they see Stanley’s long frame and athletic skills making him an even better defender.
Where exactly he fits next season, on a deep roster with title aspirations, isn’t exactly clear. He could start with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Indiana’s G-League affiliate, to help him develop as the Pacers chase playoff success.
Indiana has been swept in the first round three of the past four seasons.
But Bjorkgren thinks Stanley can help the Pacers, perhaps even next season.
“Nate really likes his ability to get to the paint, which is a big part of what Nate wants to do,” Buchanan said. “We all feel like he has the potential to be a tremendous defender and that’s what we think he can hang his hat on.”