CHARLOTTE — For the Charlotte Hornets, the debate between selecting Alabama star wing Brandon Miller and G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson is over — it’s Miller time in Charlotte.
The Hornets, selecting No. 2 overall for the first time since 2012, drafted Miller at Thursday night’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center in New York.
The 6-foot-9 SEC Player of the Year is coming off a spectacular freshman season with the Crimson Tide during which his draft stock flew up with averages of 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
The Hornets will certainly appreciate his versatility as a player as he displayed the ability to slash into the lane while also shooting 38% from behind the arc. His ability to handle the ball and make plays for others — especially out of the pick and roll — will be an asset for the roster.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” Miller told reporters of the next stage of his career in Charlotte. “Mike (Jordan) and LaMelo (Ball) made me feel like I was at home.”
Ball videocalled Miller shortly after he was picked by the Hornets to congratulate him, signaling that the two new teammates are already hitting it off.
“With him being a playmaker and me being a shot-maker, I think that kind of fits well,” Miller said.
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak confirmed after the pick that Miller had been the front office’s favored pick over Henderson throughout the entirety of the draft process.
“They are both excellent players and both will probably go on to have long NBA careers, but (Miller’s) the one we think will have the best NBA career as a Hornet,” Kupchak said.
He noted that “five or six teams” had heavily pursued the No. 2 pick over the past couple days, but, “We never got to the point where we seriously considered moving the pick.”
Charlotte entered the 2023 draft with five picks in all: a pair of first-rounders (Nos. 2 and 27) as well as three second-round picks (Nos. 34, 39 and 41).
With the No. 27 pick, the Hornets selected Arkansas shooting guard Nick Smith Jr. — a former AAU teammate of Miller’s and a former No. 1-ranked recruit in 2022 by 247Sports.
The 19-year-old will be lobbying for playing time behind the starting backcourt of LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier as a rookie, hoping to overcome the lingering ailments of a knee injury that hampered his freshmen year as a Razorback during which he averaged 12.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
“I’m coming in with a big chip, for sure,” Smith said after his pick. “I also understand this game is a business and Charlotte was willing to take a chance on me. My trust is in Charlotte right now.”
Going into Thursday’s draft, Kupchak had previously hinted that the Hornets might not use all five of their draft picks.
Shortly after Smith’s selection, Charlotte traded picks No. 34 (to Sacramento) and 39 (to Boston) to acquire Detroit’s selection of 7-foot center James Nnaji at No. 31.
Nnaji, 18, was among the youngest and rawest players drafted on Thursday, but the Hornets believe the former rotational center for FC Barcelona can make an impact in Charlotte under the right leadership and training.
With their final pick of the night, the Hornets selected UCLA guard Amari Bailey at No. 41.
Bailey is another former 5-star high school recruit and a high-upside defensive guard who can work on adjusting his shooting to an NBA level with time. The 6-foot-5 Chicago native tallied 11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in his only season with the Bruins.