If you are a fan of the Charlotte Hornets and went into Thursday night’s draft expecting to be overwhelmed, that didn’t happen.
But “overwhelming” is hard to do when you’re picking No. 12, and so it makes some sense that the Hornets chose a player who was repeatedly described as “solid” – Kentucky’s PJ Washington.
I like the pick. I don’t love it, but I like it. The Hornets chose Washington over North Carolina’s Nassir Little, along with a group of three to four other players they considered, at No. 12. They also considered a bunch of trade scenarios, both to move up and move down.
So was it better to take Washington over Little? I think so. After watching Little for that inconsistent freshman year at UNC, if I were a general manager, I wouldn’t want to risk a large part of my NBA team’s future on him. He’s too up-and-down. Plus, in an NBA where everyone but true centers must be able to shoot threes, Little — who ended up not being drafted until No. 25 overall by Portland in one of the big draft-night surprises — really can’t do that yet.
Washington is the rare Kentucky lottery pick who actually came back for a second year as a Wildcat, after figuring out following his freshman year that he might not even be a first-round pick if he left his name in the 2018 draft.
Washington was way better as a sophomore in most everything, as Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak pointed out – shooting three-pointers, playing with more passion, and in general making what Kupchak called “a huge jump” from Year One to Year Two in college.
“He is always in the gym and loves to work,” Kupchak said of Washington. “’If he can continue to make that kind of jump he made from his freshman year to his sophomore year, then he will be a good player in this league for a long time.”
In the second round with pick No. 36, the Hornets picked Cody Martin. You may remember him. Martin and his twin brother Caleb began their collegiate careers at N.C. State before transferring after two seasons from the Wolfpack to the Nevada Wolf Pack. Cody Martin is a 6-6 combo guard/forward with some scoring ability but a real need to improve his outside shot. He is older than the average NBA rookie; he will be 24 by the time he plays his first real NBA game for Charlotte.
With their final pick, at No. 52, the Hornets chose 6-10 forward Jalen McDaniels of San Diego State. McDaniels has been accused by two women in pending, separate civil lawsuits that he used his phone to record sex acts without their permission and then shared the videos with friends.
This occurred while he and the women were high school classmates in Tacoma, Wash. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported this month that McDaniels had admitted in court documents that he did record both videos and also shared them, but that he since deleted the footage and has apologized to both women.
Washington said in a conference call Thursday night with Charlotte-area reporters that his improved shooting as a sophomore was partly the result of a change in form. “My freshman year every time I caught the ball and went up with it I kind of dipped ... the ball a little bit. So I just tried to eliminate that, just tried to get into a quicker motion, a lot smoother.”
Kupchak acknowledged that a lot of people might believe that the Hornets should have taken a guard in the first round, given the uncertainty surrounding franchise point guard Kemba Walker, who enters unrestricted free agency June 30 and soon thereafter will answer the “Will-he-stay-or-will-he-go” question that has dominated the Hornets’ offseason. If he goes, the Hornets will be seriously undermanned at the point. But, Kupchak said: “We’re not going to pick a player based on position.”
The NBA has evolved into nearly a position-less game these days, with the exception that every team needs a couple of true point guards. Kupchak is trying to build a young core that includes players like Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham. Washington will be part of that mix, and Kupchak said he hoped the young players would do everything from “have lunch together” to working out together.
Every NBA pick is always a gamble, but Washington was less of a gamble so than a lot of them. The Hornets aren’t expecting Washington to be spectacular right away. They want him to be solid. To be a part of things, not the main thing. And at No. 12, that’s pretty realistic.