Hornets sound intent on taking best player available

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com

With depth concerns at multiple spots, New Orleans general manager Jeff Bower and head coach Byron Scott re-emphasized Tuesday that they expect to select the player they believe can best help the Hornets in 2009-10, regardless of position.

“We have the flexibility to add a player of many different types, whether it’s a (frontcourt) player or a guard,” Bower said at the Alario Center this afternoon. “We won’t lock into a specific position with that pick.”

“We all understand that we have a couple needs,” Scott said. “We still need a power forward who can spell David (West); we need a backup point guard who can keep up the pace when Chris (Paul) is not in the game. Those are probably the two biggest areas (of need). If we can get one of those guys in the draft, then obviously we’ll be very happy.”

Still, Scott did not rule out another route of drafting a swingman who can play shooting guard and/or small forward, arguably the positions where the Hornets are already the deepest. New Orleans started Rasual Butler and Peja Stojakovic at those spots last season, and also has James Posey, Morris Peterson, Julian Wright and Devin Brown under contract for 2009-10.

“We’ll look at it,” Scott said of taking a 2/3 if that is the best option, “but the one thing we don’t want to do is duplicate what we already have. If we do draft a swingman, he has to be able to do something differently than the players we already have.”

A few other tidbits from today's interview sessions with Bower and Scott:

• When asked about the potential for the Hornets to move up in the first round and obtain an earlier pick, Bower said, “We’ve talked about that scenario with a couple teams. If we felt it was achievable and thought it was necessary, we would do that. Right now, we’re picking at 21.”

• Bower agrees with analysts who believe point guard is the most talented position in the 2009 draft class. “That’s the position that has the most quality players who can help an NBA team,” Bower said.

• Both men noted that one of the unique aspects of the ’09 draft crop is the lack of clear-cut opinions on many of the players who will be chosen after the 14 slots that constitute the lottery teams. “The one thing about this draft is the lack of consensus for players, in the middle of the first round, from 14 or 15 through 30,” Bower assessed. “This is a draft that has a variety of opinions for those players. It shows how small the gaps really are between all of those prospects.” Scott: “There are a few guys in this draft who are can’t-miss guys. But once you get past the lottery – and probably (including) some of the guys in the lottery – it’s still a little bit of a (risk).”

• Asked about the possibility of trading the first-round pick after the Hornets did so in 2008, Bower responded: “It doesn’t serve us any purpose to rule anything out, (but) we’re highly enthusiastic about making a pick in the first round. The probability that we will make a pick at 21 is very high.”

• Scott all but eliminated the idea that New Orleans would take a center at No. 21, based on the scarce options that would be available at that stage. “If you look at where we’re picking, there is no 7-foot-1 center who can come right in and help us,” he said. “If we get a 7-1 guy available at 21, believe me, he’s going to be a project. Drafting a center is not really an issue, because there really isn’t one out there.”

• Scott, on the team’s recently completed draft workouts: “We felt we got a pretty good handle on the guys who could fall between the 15 and 25 range (of the first round). There might have been one or two guys where their agent wouldn’t let them work out for us, because (the agent) thought (the player) might (be picked) a little higher (than the No. 21 slot).”

• New Orleans’ five-year head coach was asked specifically about three of the names that have been mentioned frequently in mock drafts as possible Hornets, including Eric Maynor, Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Thornton.

On Maynor: “He did not have a particularly good workout for us, but we can’t base everything on workouts. I watched a bunch of tapes of Eric in college, and he’s a very good point guard. I don’t think his workout did him any justice. He even said that he thought he worked out terribly for us, for whatever reason. But we don’t base all of our projections on the workouts. We look at his overall body of work over the past four years at VCU. He’s on our radar. He had a very good college career.”

On Hansbrough: “A tough, rugged, physical basketball player, who I don’t think enough people give credit to for his athleticism (or) his shooting ability. I think he’s a guy who’s probably going to be gone before we pick at 21. Is he on our radar? Yes, he is. But I just don’t see him dropping that low.”

On Thornton: “Marcus had a very good workout for us. He can put the ball on the floor, come off screens. He plays extremely hard. He’s a physical two guard. Just like every guy, he has some question marks. I question his athleticism at that position. In this league, the 2 and 3 are probably the toughest positions to guard. But I don’t question his toughness and ability to get after people.”

Who might still be on the board at 21?

Without a doubt, the most frequent question I hear around the city at this time of year is, “Which player do you think the Hornets will take in the draft?”

I think it’s safe to say that even in the most predictable draft years, when a team has the 21st overall pick, it’s extremely difficult to even make a reasonably educated guess. By the time the draft gets to the latter portion of the first round, there is usually very little difference in the way many of the prospects are viewed from team to team. As many of the draft experts like to say, at that stage of the selection process, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

This year’s draft prognosticators seem to be facing an even bigger challenge than usual, because there appears to be an extremely wide range of opinions on potential draftees that could be selected from slots 4-30. How can one predict whom the Hornets will draft, when there does not seem to be much of a consensus on such a large group of players?

To get a feel for who may or may not be available when New Orleans makes its first-round selection Thursday night (probably at approximately 8:15 Central time), let’s take a look at a few of the players who’ve most frequently been projected as the Hornets’ pick in mock drafts. The mocks that were surveyed are a handful of the most respected hoops websites, including Draft Express, Hoops Hype, NBC Sports, Real GM, ESPN, SI.com and Sporting News.

DeJuan Blair, power forward, Pittsburgh
Best projection: No. 10 to Milwaukee
Lowest projection: No. 16 to Chicago
At one stage, ESPN had Blair going to the Hornets at 21, but it appears that his stock is rising significantly.

Chase Budinger, shooting guard/small forward, Arizona
Best projection: No. 19 to Atlanta
Lowest projection: No. 30 to Cleveland
He’s consistently been showing up in the 20-30 range since the first mock drafts were released in mid-May. Six of the seven sites surveyed have him getting picked later than No. 21.

Tyler Hansbrough, power forward, North Carolina
Best projection: No. 20 to Utah
Lowest projection: No. 25 to Oklahoma City
Many mocks – five of the seven we surveyed – are projecting him to go to the Jazz, one spot before the Hornets are on the clock. At one point recently, Hansbrough was projected as a lottery pick by some, but he’s dropped a bit.

Ty Lawson, point guard, North Carolina
Best projection: No. 14 to Phoenix
Lowest projection: No. 24 to Portland
Six of the seven sites surveyed have Lawson in the 14 through 17 range, with only Sporting News an outlier by making its 24th-pick projection.

Eric Maynor, point guard, VCU
Best projection: No. 17 to Philadelphia
Lowest projection: No. 22 to Dallas
The small-college standout has been the most frequently mentioned possibility by mock drafts to go to the Hornets. He worked out for New Orleans on June 8.

B.J. Mullens, center, Ohio State
Best projection: No. 15 to Detroit
Lowest projection: No. 23 to Sacramento
At least based on the mocks, he’s likely to be gone by the time New Orleans picks.

Jeff Teague, point guard, Wake Forest
Best projection: No. 14 to Phoenix
Lowest projection: No. 22 to Dallas
Only one site projects Teague to be picked later than 19th.

Marcus Thornton, shooting guard, LSU
Best projection: No. 21 to New Orleans
Lowest projection: No. 49 to Atlanta
Based on the mock drafts surveyed, Thornton’s stock is falling. Four of the seven sites now list him as a second-round pick.