By Sam Perley
When all the dust and debris from the 2019 NBA Draft finally settled at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday night, the Charlotte Hornets were left with another trifecta of young talent for the second consecutive year.
Kentucky forward P.J. Washington was chosen with the 12th overall pick, Nevada combo guard Cody Martin with the 36th pick and San Diego State forward Jalen McDaniels at the 52nd selection. This was the organization’s second draft under President of Basketball Operations and GM Mitch Kupchak, who touched on the team’s initial selection Thursday night.
“We take into a lot of factors, besides just the ability to play, [we look at] their character, work habits and teammates. [PJ Washington] checked all the boxes,” he stated. “He is very versatile. He can be very athletic and skilled. He can rebound, shoot the ball and he is long. He made a huge jump from his freshman year to his sophomore year. If he can continue to make that kind of jump, then he will be a good player in this league for a long time.”
Washington tested the NBA Draft waters last year, but elected to return to Kentucky for another go-around. His scoring average rose from 10.8 PPG to 15.2 PPG, while his rebounding (5.7 to 7.5) and blocks (0.8 to 1.2) averages also increased as well. Most impressively though, the third-team All-American’s three-point percentage skyrocketed from 23.8% to 42.3% (33-of-78) between his two years in Lexington.
“My freshman year, every time I caught the ball and went up with it, I kind of dipped the ball a little bit,” said the six-eight Washington. “I just tried to eliminate that, just tried to get into a quicker motion, a lot smoother. Then once I did, I got a lot of reps in and building my confidence with it and once that happened I started going from there.
A native of nearby Mocksville, NC, Martin and his twin brother Caleb played at N.C. State from 2014-16 before transferring to Nevada for their final two years of collegiate eligibility. The former was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and a two-time All-MWC honoree under former NBA Head Coach Eric Musselman.
Martin also worked out for the Hornets back on June 4 as did his brother a few weeks earlier. Kupchak stated he envisions the 23-year-old as a ball-handling guard that specializes in perimeter defense. Clocking in at six-seven and 205 pounds, Martin averaged 12.1 PPG on 50.5% shooting (35.8% from three), 4.5 RPG, 4.9 APG and 1.4 SPG this past season.
As for McDaniel, he’s a lanky six-ten, 195-pound forward who averaged 15.9 PPG on 46.6% shooting, 8.3 RPG, 2.1 APG and 1.1 SPG in 34 game started this season for the Aztecs. Like Martin, the McDaniel finished his sophomore campaign on the All-Mountain West team. His younger brother, Jaden, is currently the sixth-ranked recruit in the high school class of 2019 and will be playing for the University of Washington next season.
Kupchak stated that Martin and McDaniels will almost certainly spend a lot of time with the team’s G League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, with Washington also occasionally making the hour-and-a-half commute as well. This process paid notable dividends with Devonte’ Graham and Dwayne Bacon last season and further emphasizes the organization’s commitment to player development.
For now, the three will presumably make their debuts in the purple and teal starting with the Las Vegas Summer League in early July. Graham, Bacon, Miles Bridges and 2018 Lithuanian second-rounder Arnoldas Kulboka, who spent this season playing for Brose Bamberg in the German BBL, have also committed to play.
The Hornets are quickly assembling an intriguing young core with a large contingent hitting the court together in just a few weeks. With the 2019 NBA Draft now officially in the books, a busy, likely-eventful offseason is underway for the Charlotte organization.