Mystery surrounds Hornets as draft approaches

Charlotte holds the No. 2 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft

Alabama forward Brandon Miller is still the favorite to be selected second overall by the Hornets in the 2023 NBA Draft. (Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Heading into Thursday night’s 2023 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets are hoping to make the right decisions that can help them bring a buzz to the 2023-24 campaign while finally snapping the league’s longest active playoff drought at seven consecutive seasons.

Although the Hornets have five picks in total — a pair of first-rounders (Nos. 2 and 27) as well as three second-round picks (Nos. 34, 39 and 41) — all eyes are set on Charlotte to see what the team decides to do with its first No. 2 overall pick since 2012.

“We have a bunch of picks,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said after the draft lottery last month. “We’re going to focus on all the picks, but we’re going to spend an awful lot of time on No. 2 and get up close with who we consider to be the prospects and hopefully get to work them out.”

The consensus among draft experts is that Alabama wing Brandon Miller or G League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson will be the second player taken off the board, with generational talent Victor Wembanyama a lock to San Antonio at No. 1.

With a ball-heavy point guard like LaMelo Ball already in Charlotte’s mix, Miller could be a better positional fit for the Hornets’ roster as a 6-foot-9 wing who can slash and also shoot from long range.

At the same time, Henderson provides a combination of court vision, defensive talent and an All-Star ceiling that would make him a betting favorite for the No. 1 overall pick most years.

Kupchak’s post-lottery comments provided a slight indication that the team is now looking beyond the best-player-available strategy to drafting.

“That’s been our position for the last three or four years when you try to accumulate talent,” Kupchak said. “I don’t think we’re 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 also the position.”

As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Hornets conducted a second round of workouts and interviews with Miller and Henderson on Monday as both auditioned for the No. 2 pick in outgoing owner Michael Jordan’s first in-person assessment of the two players.

Jordan, who finalized the sale of his majority stake in the team last week, will maintain a minority stake in the franchise and remain the team’s final decision-maker until the new ownership group is approved by the league’s board of governors in a few weeks.

Sources told ESPN that Miller remains the favorite for the Hornets’ selection but that Henderson has also impressed the front office in his team workouts.

Additionally, those same sources alleged that both Miller and Henderson have shown excitement about getting selected by Charlotte due to the team’s recent ownership change as well as the city’s location near their respective families.

Despite the current expectations, the Hornets may have other plans entirely for draft night.

On Monday, NBA reporter Shams Charania of The Athletic hinted that there had been talks between the Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans to possibly engineer a trade for the No. 2 pick. The Pelicans are targeting Henderson, and the return to Charlotte could be either Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram.

Of those two players, Charlotte reportedly has a higher value on Ingram.

With four other draft picks available following their lottery pick at No. 2, the Hornets have myriad options for how they want to handle those selections. Some draft analysts have lobbied that Charlotte should trade its No. 27 or No. 34 picks for a future first-round pick.

On the flip side, the Hornets could decide to package one or some of its three second-round picks to move up into the early 20s if there is a certain player on the team’s radar.

At No. 27, Charlotte has been linked in mock drafts to a group of forwards that include GG Jackson (South Carolina), Olivier Maxence-Prosper (Marquette), Kris Murray (Iowa), Rayan Rupert (New Zealand Breakers) and Brice Sensabaugh (Ohio State).

Guards Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara) and Amari Bailey (UCLA) have also been projected as picks in the late 20s.