Hornets Add More Young Depth with High-Upside Second-Rounders JT Thor, Scottie Lewis

by Sam Perley

Perhaps slightly lost in the shuffle after the Hornets added James Bouknight and Kai Jones in the first round during last Thursday night’s NBA Draft were the second-round additions of forward JT Thor and guard Scottie Lewis to the roster.

Projected by some analysts as a potential late first-round pick, Thor was still available at the 37th spot and later officially acquired by the Hornets in a draft-night deal with the Detroit Pistons. Thor averaged 9.4 points on 44.0% shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 27 starts as a one-and-done freshman at Auburn last season. And although he connected on just 22-of-74 three-point attempts (29.7%), the lengthy 6-10, 205-pound forward did go an encouraging 63-of-85 from the free-throw line (74.1%).

Thor, who worked out for the Hornets in early July, also turned heads from a measurement standpoint at June’s NBA Draft combine, clocking in the second-longest wingspan (7’3.25”) and the fourth-longest hand length (9.25”) of any player in Chicago. ESPN NBA Draft Analyst Jonathan Givony pinpointed Thor’s perimeter-oriented size, mobility and defensive instincts as the most intriguing elements of his game right now.

“When I worked out [for the Hornets], I showed the coaches that I’m improving my game rapidly from college to now,” said Thor. “My lower body got stronger, my shot mechanics are way better. I feel like I’m going to be a great player someday and I think that’s why the Hornets took a chance on me. [I’ve] got great versatility on the defensive and offensive end. I can effectively switch pick-and-rolls, guard one through five. I’ll be able to hit corner, wing and top-of-the-key shots. Keeping it real simple early on in my career.”

Thor has one of the more unique backstories of any player taken in the draft. Born in Nebraska to South Sudanese immigrants, he moved to Alaska at age five, then back to the continental United States for high school nine years later. Still just 18 years old, Thor reclassified into the 2020 high school class and was one of the youngest players in college basketball this past season.

As for Lewis, the former five-star high-school recruit wrapped up his second and final season at Florida with averages of 7.9 points on 44.5% shooting, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 block in 21 appearances (nine starts) as a 6-5, 190-pound shooting guard. The Bronx native and 2019 McDonald’s All-American was a member of the SEC All-Freshman team in 2020 and finished as a career 34.3% three-point shooter at the collegiate level (36-of-105).

“The fact that the Hornets gave me a chance at 56 means the world to me,” he said. “My main focus is being the steal of the draft, proving myself and letting the Hornets know they made the right decision by picking me. I’m pretty confident shooting the ball right now after a long summer of work. I think I’m just exciting. I’m really into my teammates and coaching staff. I’ve been a winner wherever I’m at and I’ll do whatever it takes to win. High speed, up and down the court, super athletic. I love to defend and create for my teammates.”

Lewis, who signed a two-way contract with the team on Tuesday afternoon, certainly has a lot of talent – especially on the defensive end – although his skills never seemed to full matriculate on the offensive end at Florida. Givony stated post-draft that Lewis’ ball-handling, passing and shooting will all need to improve (primarily in the G League initially), but his seven-foot wingspan and intensity on the defensive end already stand out.

Rarely are second-round picks ready to contribute immediately at a high NBA level and these two are probably no exception. Both should spend a lot of time with the Greensboro Swarm as part of the organization’s on-going developmental process, although there’s no doubt each one is an intriguing addition to the organization’s ever-growing young core.

“We’re just trying to get talent into the system,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “We have to draft well, maybe make a savvy trade if possible, but most importantly, get players into the system – whether it’s in Charlotte or Greensboro – and develop them. We’ve used the team in Greensboro the last couple years. It’s been good to us and I think it’s just something we have to continue to do.”

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