During the 2020 NBA Draft the Charlotte Hornets selected two big men with the 32nd and the 56th picks. Agree or not with this choice the team needed to address the void in the Center position. This strategy will probably take a long time to give some results but there is one thing that it’s worth to be underlined: using two second round picks for centers mean that the front office does not want to spend much money on a position which is considered not that valuable. This is surely a gamble by Mitch Kupchak and the team. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo must act as role models in order to unlock their development.
Vernon Carey JR is just 19 years old and he is likely the player with more upside between these two. In his only season at Duke he was very productive on the offensive side, ending the year averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds. His skillset is pretty wide as he displayed a good post game while stepping out with some range. Defense is the key for him to survive in the league. During the summer he declared that he worked on his weight losing almost 30 pounds. His brief outings in the preseason confirmed that this new frame can pay dividends as James Borrego wants a player with good mobility in the center position.
Nick Richards, who is already 23 years old, should be much more ready to contribute especially on the defensive end. During three seasons at Kentucky he was the team anchor on defense and showed good instincts as a rim protector. Richards frame is NBA ready, his measurements were outstanding during the Draft Combine. Offensively he is very raw and will play a rim runner role in his first years in with the Hornets. During team interviews he declared that he is working on his three point range which Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari held down during his college years.
Their roles will probably be very similar during the 2020-21 season. As preseason displayed, Borrego is set with Zeller and Biyombo as rotation centers with some situational minutes to PJ Washington in order to unlock small ball power. Their development will probably be hurt by the absence of a real G-League tournament this year. Charlotte uses their affiliate team to give young players opportunities to grow and develop their confidence and game. In case Zeller starts missing some games because of his well known physical problems one of those two young centers will be thrown into the rotation.
Carey is the one with more hopes of growth because of his really intresting offensive skillset. The problem with him is that it is really hard to project him as a full time 5 with the defensive issues that he displayed during college: first of all lack of rim protection. His weight loss will surely give him more mobility and explosiveness in order to survive on the hard switching scheme used by Borrego.
Nick Richards is a high floor and low upside type of pick. There is not much room for development aside from his possible three point range addition. On the other side, he may be able to provide a good amount of straight defense, rim protection and rebounding as soon as he steps on a basketball court.
It won’t be that easy for them to settle into the NBA rhythm and physicality in this situation. They played their last college game a long time ago and they had a really small preseason window. Let’s not be rude with them and their production especially in the first period of this year. The Hornets already showed trust in their two rookies giving both of them the classic 4 year second rounder contract, front office knows and hopes that they could be part of this young group and contribute on the long term as they develop together.