Should the Hornets draft for need or shoot for star?

If you asked a group of 10 Charlotte Hornets fans which direction the team should go in Thursday’s NBA draft, you’d get seven different answers. Some will ask Charlotte to pick a center, the position the team needs most since Al Jefferson took the young big man to school in 2014. Others might claim that picking the best players produces the best long-term results. Still others will tell you that the Hornets shouldn’t make these choices at all, but should pack and trade them for one already in the league A veteran who establishes his worth.

There’s always a thick smog around the league during draft week, and the Hornets’ true intentions remain shrouded in mystery. Management certainly has a lot going for it after Kenny Atkinson stepped down as head coach a few days ago, and there are few substantial holes in linking the Hornets to any player in the draft. So while teams can go in infinite directions in terms of actual players, their draft strategy itself is just as important.

Picking a center or defensive wing who can come off the bench will help Charlotte in the short term. However, picking a player who can be a headache at first, such as a backcourt teammate who aligns with LaMelo Ball’s timeline, may be a wiser choice for the team’s future, even if that player may be very Hard to find minutes.

Cases to be drafted

The Hornets moved into the center position last offseason with a stopgap solution rather than a long-term solution. If management refuses to address the center position in another offseason, many fans will be outraged and the team will be under-equipped for the coming year.

While the team did technically address the need last offseason by trading Mason Plumlee and draft pick Kay Jones, neither player felt the problem could be addressed immediately. Unsurprisingly, the hole at the center position quickly became apparent, and throughout the season, the lackluster center hurt the Hornets on both ends of the floor multiple times.

The Hornets, a very promising young team with a winning record for the first time in six years, fired James Borrego, marking their entry into win-win mode. So, filling needs in the draft, especially centers and backup point guards, is the quickest way to win right away and makes the on-demand draft more appealing. With players like LaMelo Ball, fans are asking management to fill the roster with the most talented players at every position as quickly as possible.

The case for selecting the best players

If a team drafts a star, they draft it. Lineup fit and playing time distribution can always be assessed, and they usually don’t cause as much of a problem as the pundits would have you believe. Picking the best player on the board is almost always a smart move, even if it felt frustrating at the time to have a less talented player who could immediately address a team’s flaws. That being said, there are plenty of examples of teams ignoring health and drafting their best players for huge success, and many more examples of teams simply drafting for a bad need and leaving a star-caliber player on the board.

For example, NBA fans don’t understand why the Philadelphia 76ers drafted a center named Joel Embiid with the third overall pick after taking Nerlens Noel with the sixth overall pick the year before. Years later, it’s clear Embiid was the right choice.

Instead, the Golden State Warriors chose to pass LaMelo Ball’s generational talent to James Wiseman because they needed a center. Just two years later, the Golden State Warriors are ostensibly trying to trade Wiseman while LaMelo Ball is becoming a superstar.

The Boston Celtics drafted two very similar players in consecutive years when they drafted Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Jayson Tatum in 2017. While these choices may not be seamless, they have proven to be sensible.

These examples all involve top-five picks, and by the end of the lottery, the talent gap between prospects will have narrowed significantly, but the stakes will remain the same.

Find a balance between immediate help and long-term gains

Addressing immediate needs while selecting players deemed the best by management is a dream scenario for any team. This is also an unattainable scene.

However, there is some middle ground between what needs to be drafted and the best player in the draft, and that middle ground will relate to the Hornets’ draft strategy this week. At some point, the gap between the most talented players on the board and those who can meet an immediate need is small enough to justify picking players who can benefit your team more quickly. A player like Jeremy Sokhan has been linked with the Hornets in this draft, and in theory would give the Hornets the versatile wing defender they desperately need, even if it takes a few years.

Comparing Sochan to a player like Johnny Davis, who can provide the Hornets with guard depth quicker but may not have Sochan’s advantage, makes the decision more difficult.

So, what should the Hornets do?

If Mitch Kupchak and Michael Jordan think Jalen Durham, Mark Williams or another rookie can fill a hole on this roster right away and are also the best player on the board, then they should draft that rookie. However, they shouldn’t draft any player on the grounds that the player will provide immediate help next season. Holding two top-15 picks gives the Hornets some flexibility, but picking the best players at both positions is the Hornets’ best strategy.

Hornets fans desperate for playoff success have turned a deaf ear to calls for patience, since Hornets fans haven’t seen a playoff series win since 2002. However, even players touted as direct contributors will have to adapt once they arrive in the league. With that in mind, drafts with potential upgrades at desired positions should be ditched in favor of more skilled, higher-cap players, even if the straight fit isn’t perfect.

Clearly, the Hornets should address the center position, backup point guard and their overall defense this summer. However, addressing immediate needs through the draft at the expense of players who may provide more value in the long run is a move other teams have made and then often regretted.

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