Hornets Add Positional Depth with Draft Additions of Carey Jr., Richards and Riller

by Sam Perley

A little less than two hours after tagging LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in Wednesday night’s NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets rolled off the first of three second-round picks, landing centers Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards along with guard Grant Riller to close out the evening.

Carey was plucked with the 32nd overall selection after playing his college ball just up the road at Duke University last season, posting averages of 17.8 points on 58% shooting, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 1.7 blocks in 31 outings. Ringing in at 6’10 and 270 pounds (although he has reportedly dropped down to 240 now), the Miami native was named ACC Rookie of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American. Of note, his father, Vernon Sr. was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2004 and played eight NFL seasons at defensive tackle.

“He has skill, size and great hands,” said President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “As you know he was a great high school prospect, and he can really shoot the ball too, so his skill level is very high. He looks pretty good.”

“[Getting drafted] meant the world to me, just growing up and this being my lifelong dream,” said Carey. “I'm just super excited and ready to get to work really. I know I'm going to just follow Miles [Bridges] and PJ [Washington] and those type of guys and just soak up all the knowledge I can because they already went through it. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do it. Playing defense, getting rebounds, I’m here for it.”

Richards played three years at Kentucky (two of which were with PJ Washington) and broke through last season with averages of 14.0 points on 64% shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks (second in the SEC) over 31 appearances in route to First-Team All-SEC honors. The Jamaican-born, 6-11 big man was drafted by New Orleans with the 42nd overall selection and traded to Charlotte for a 2024 second-round pick.

“At Kentucky, I was more of a paint presence,” Richards explained. “Just trying to get as many offensive rebounds, blocks and defensive stops as possible. That was one of my roles at Kentucky, that’s something that I think I can excel at in the NBA. I honestly think there’s some parts of my game that I haven’t been able to show yet and parts that I’m working on to get better at, every single day. I feel like my defensive ability will be able to carry over into the NBA and help me be as successful as possible.”

Last but not least with the 56th selection, Riller closed out an illustrious career at the College of Charleston as the NCAA’s 11th leading scorer last season at 21.9 points per game on nearly 50% shooting. The 6-3 combo guard also averaged an impressive 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals, while draining 83% of his attempts from the line and 36% from three-point range. Heading into school, Riller was a two-star high-school recruit and unranked by a majority of national scouting services.

“I’m a guy who can score on all three levels, can create for himself, create for others, likes to play off the pick-and-roll and is super comfortable playing off ball with other talented guards,” said Riller. “[I’m] a guard who puts a lot of pressure on the defense, who likes to play fast, who likes to play in transition and really get downhill. Overall, I’m an exciting type of player, a guy that’s going to bring hard work and excitement to the team.”

Four rookies are a lot to incorporate to any NBA team, particularly one that’s already quite young like the Hornets. Ball and Riller will provide additional tempo and floor spacing on the offensive end, where Charlotte ranked 27th in wide-open shots generated (15.8) and last in restricted area field-goal percentage (59.2%).

Carey and Richards will shore up the team’s frontcourt rotation that has both Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangómez entering unrestricted free agency. Both will need a bit more time to develop physically, although could become vital elements for a Hornets defensive unit that ranked last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (70.6%) last season and 25th in both defensive rating (112.8) and blocks per game (4.1).

“We’re going to have to experiment some. None of us know how this is going to look,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “There’s no math right here that we’ve got figured out. We’ve just added extreme talent that can play, and I’ll figure it out from here. We have the pieces, we have versatility, we have defense, we have athleticism and length on the floor.”

He added, “There’s a lot of versatility here in our playmaking, size and our defense. We’re going to have to figure this out on the fly. It’s a great challenge, but I look forward to it because these are very good basketball players. As we go, we’ll evolve, we’ll adjust, we’ll adapt. We did that last year, and I expect it to continue. We’re adding depth, versatility, playmaking, size, competitiveness. Those are all things that win in today’s league.”

With training camp, preseason and the regular season all beginning within the next month, the turnaround time coming out of the draft will be as short as it’s ever been before in the NBA. The Hornets don’t have a ton of time to figure things out in the short term, but a hefty haul of talented players in the 2020 NBA Draft has certainly provided plenty of pieces for when they do.

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