Potential Draft Options for Hornets: First-Round Guards

Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout 2017 NBA offseason and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds.

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Thursday, May 25, 10:01 a.m.

Although the 2017 NBA Draft is still a month away, the player evaluation process has been in full swing over the last several weeks for nearly all of the teams around the league. Last Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery selection show confirmed that the Charlotte Hornets will indeed have both the 11th and 41st overall picks at the June 22nd event, which is scheduled to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. Barring an unexpected player dropping or the always-possible trade, the Hornets could be looking at a great pool of guards if they choose to go down that path with their first-round pick.

Dennis Smith Jr. (PG, N.C. State) – One of the top-ranked point guard prospects in the NBA Draft, nearby Fayetteville-native Dennis Smith Jr. averaged 18.1 points on 45.5 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals in 32 games on his way to claiming 2017 ACC Rookie of the Year honors. Although he tore his ACL his senior year of high school, Smith’s athleticism and explosiveness showed no signs of rust during his lone year with the Wolfpack with his prolific scoring and play-making abilities the most notable trademarks of his game. 

Although he had tendencies to take questionable shots and play too much isolation basketball at times, Smith has an exceptional skill set and talent to thrive in the NBA assuming his knee injury does not become a long-term problem.

Frank Ntilikina (PG, Strasbourg/France) – The top international-ranked prospect in the NBA Draft, the lengthy Ntilikina is also one of the biggest, albeit intriguing, mysteries available as well. Born in Belgium to Rwandan parents, Ntilikina put up 5.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18.3 minutes across 33 games in the French Pro A League this season. The 2016 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship MVP, the 18-year-old Frenchman has been playing professionally for almost two years already and is known for his athleticism, playmaking, defense and basketball smarts.

Like other foreign-born players, Ntilikina will probably need some time to adjust to the NBA game, but certainly possesses an enticing combination of talent, physical attributes and maturity for a prospect of his age.

Donovan Mitchell (SG, Louisville) – A huge sophomore season and a strong showing at the NBA Draft Combine has vaulted Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell into the lottery conversation. A dynamic all-around threat, Mitchell was one of just three major-conference college players to average at least 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals over 30-or-more games last season. A 6-3 shooting guard, Mitchell did a bit of everything for the Cardinals last year with his scoring, ball-handling, defense and athleticism sticking out the most.

The main critique of Mitchell is that he’s not a true point guard and a bit undersized to be a conventional NBA shooting guard. However, he’s proven to be capable of adapting to a multitude of different roles on the court, perhaps making his transition to the next level that much more seamless. 

Justin Jackson (SG/SF, North Carolina) – The leading scorer on the reigning NCAA Champions, 6-8 North Carolina junior Justin Jackson enters the NBA Draft with the possibility of playing both shooting guard or small forward at the next level. The ACC Player of the Year and consensus First-Team All-American averaged 18.3 points on 44.3 percent shooting, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 40 games for the Tar Heels this year and was also invaluable from a leadership standpoint as well.

Known mainly for his scoring and playmaking, Jackson possesses all the physical characteristics to become an effective, two-way player in the NBA. Like Mitchell, Jackson has a great all-around skill set, but might need to get bigger and stronger to overcome some potential athleticism shortcomings at the next level.  

Luke Kennard (SG, Duke) – Arguably the most improved player in all of college basketball last year, Duke’s Luke Kennard exploded with averages of 19.5 points on 49.0 percent shooting. 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 37 games during his sophomore season with the Blue Devils. Kennard, who shot just 31.8 percent from three-point range his freshman season, bumped his long-range conversion rate to a staggering 43.8 percent this year, a mark that ranked ninth in the nation amongst players with 200-or-more attempts.

Kennard’s lack of elite-level athleticism and possible defensive struggles could be a concern in the NBA, but his ability to hit shots from almost anywhere on the court make him a coveted talent in a league that’s heavily emphasizing floor-spacing.

Terrance Ferguson (SG, Adelaide 36ers/Australia) – Similarly to Frank Ntilikina, American-born Terrance Ferguson enters the NBA Draft as a relative unknown after he elected to skip college altogether and spend his gap year playing professionally in Australia. A 2016 McDonald’s All-American who originally committed to Arizona, the 6-7 Ferguson put up 4.6 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 14.7 minutes across 30 games in the National Basketball League this past season.

Ferguson is still a bit raw and his numbers down under should be taken with a grain of salt as international teams generally have less incentive to develop players on short-term contracts. Overall, Ferguson’s high-level athleticism, shooting and facilitating capabilities could make him a tantalizing wing option for a number of teams in the NBA Draft. 

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