The Charlotte Hornets have an incredible legacy of coming up just short in the NBA Draft when there’s a franchise-defining big man waiting at No. 1.
In 2004 they watched as the Magic took Dwight Howard and they settled for Emeka Okafor. It happened again in 2012 when Anthony Davis was selected with the top pick, leading to the disastrous selection of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Now it’s happened again, as the Spurs will take Victor Wembanyama — except this time it’s still a blessing to pick second, or is it?
The Hornets now face the biggest decision in the history of the franchise, and a problem that’s uniquely their own . Scoot Henderson is the second best player in the 2023 class, and it’s not particularly close. He projects to be an NBA-defining guard, with a game that resembles Russell Westbrook’s, with an incredible knack as a both a shot-creator and perimeter defender. Henderson would be the No. 1 pick if not for Wembanyama, and he’d be the No. 1 pick in almost any other draft class.
Now Charlotte could pass over him entirely and select Brandon Miller, destroying conventional wisdom in the process.
There’s a major fit problem in imagining Scoot in Charlotte. A ball-dominant guard who likes to run the tempo, the Hornets already have one of the brightest young stars in that role in LaMelo Ball. Despite an injury-shortened 2022-23 campaign, Ball was showing the promise of ascending to become one of the best point guards in the NBA. He averaged 23.3 points per game, 8.4 assists, and 6.4 rebounds. Melo is comfortable conducting the offense with his passing ability, while becoming a reliable threat from behind the arc. All that Charlotte is lacking is more weapons, with the team needing major talent upgrades at every single position except point guard.
It’s a shame Scoot plays point guard.
Now, it’s a little disingenuous to simply say “they play the same position, it can’t work.” Positional rigidity has evaporated in the modern NBA in favor of trait-based roster evaluation, but even then you have two guys who fundamentally share the same traits it gets very awkward. There is a world where Melo moves off ball as the better perimeter shooter, but in doing so it could cost the Hornets a lot of their effectiveness that comes from Ball running the show. It’s also far from a guarantee that as exciting as a Scoot/Melo backcourt would be on paper, it might not work in practice.
This is where it gets even more complex, because Brandon Miller is such a perfect fit for what the Hornets need. An ideal off-ball wing, Miller could easily slot in to Charlotte’s roster right now and provide a mammoth lift to a team that lacks talent. Off-court concerns aside, Miller is absolutely the kind of player the Hornets need, as he would become the team’s top scorer in an instant and give Charlotte a base to build off.
The question is: At what cost? Is getting a really good wing worth the cost of losing out on a generational guard talent? What would the break-even point be for it to be worth Charlotte selecting for fit over talent because of their team construction right now?
How this decision has a domino effect on the draft
Charlotte is dealing with its own fresh hell as they mull over whether to take Henderson or Miller, but there are some far-reaching effects that could be caused depending on what the Hornets do.
No. 1: They take Scoot
This is the lowest-drama option which doesn’t really cause ripples beyond Charlotte. It also seems like the least-possible scenario right now. It feels like the Hornets are very concerned about pairing Scoot and Melo in the back court, which as we’ve established is a real fear. This team wants to get better right now, and I don’t know if Scoot and Melo achieve that — especially with the coaching staff the team has in place.
No. 2: The Hornets take Brandon Miller
Now things start to get spicy. If Scoot is on the board at No. 3 it opens up a lot of options for the Blazers with the third pick. We know that Portland is desperate to make a deal that brings them a star and keeps Damian Lillard happy, and a prospect like Scoot could be the piece the team needs to get it done.
If we work under the assumption that the Blazers only want a wing, then it’s tough to project. Could they convince the Bulls to part ways with Zach LaVine? What about this for a scenario: If we assume LeBron James is on the verge of retirement, even a temporary one — then the Lakers are in a major lurch.
Let’s be real: Los Angeles cannot win with LeBron, so without him this team is dead in the water. They also need a new point guard, and it just so happens the Blazers are amendable to dealing Anfernee Simmons to facilitate a trade for a star.
It would hurt, but if you’re the Lakers you could do so much worse than rebuilding with Simmons, while also getting Scoot Henderson. Would the No. 3 and Simmons be enough for Portland to get Anthony Davis? Maybe. Would Anthony Davis be the piece the Blazers need? Perhaps.
No. 3: The Hornets take Brandon Miller and the Blazers pick third
Is Scoot the right fit for the Blazers? This is a team who wants to win right now, and a Scoot/Lillard pairing is similarly awkward to a lot of the issues the Hornets have. Amen Thompson is a better natural fit if Portland is forced to make a pick now, and while it won’t make Lillard happier — there’s not much they can really do at this point.
Now it opens up more weird scenarios where Scoot is available at No. 4. Would the Rockets bite? Would they try to trade for pieces? Things get weird from here.
No. 4: The Hornets try to pull off a blockbuster
There’s a wild card to all the draft discussion, and that’s Michael Jordan trying to sell the Hornets. Right now the team’s value is depressed, and outside of LaMelo there’s not a lot enticing about the organization.
Charlotte has both the No. 2 pick, and a mammoth expiring contract in Gordon Hayward. Could these be used to package a deal together to get an established star? Perhaps.
This would purely be a economic move designed to push hype on the Hornets and increase how much money the team sells for. Would it be the correct move? No. Could it happen? Absolutely. If the Hornets are able to add a true star to pair with LaMelo (and Melo can stay healthy) the Hornets are in position to make a playoff run in the east. At the very least make the play-in tournament. This is a team that went 43-39 in 2021-22 with Miles Bridges as their second option. A better player would easily put them in a good position, especially if Charlotte entertains taking the mammoth PR hit by re-signing Bridges despite his suspension in an effort to win quickly.