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Hornets Exit Busy NBA Draft with Williams, McGowens, More Future Assets

The Charlotte Hornets entered Thursday night’s 2022 NBA Draft with three picks and a multitude of different ways to utilize them. By the time all the wheeling and dealing finally ended after midnight, they were left with two new players and a slew of future draft picks.

Shortly after taking Memphis center Jalen Duren with the 13th overall selection – who was subsequently traded to New York as part of a three-team deal – the Hornets landed another big man in Duke center Mark Williams, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year. As part of the trade, Charlotte received Denver’s protected 2023 first-round pick and four future second-round picks.

Later in the night, the team packaged the 45th pick and one of those newly acquired second-rounders to Minnesota in exchange for the 40th selection, which was then used on Nebraska combo guard Bryce McGowens.  

A part-time starter his freshman year at Duke, Williams took a major step forward during his sophomore campaign, finishing with averages of 11.2 points on 72.3% shooting, 7.4 rebounds and an ACC-leading 2.8 blocks. He attempted just one 3-pointer in college, although did encouragingly connect on 72.7% of his attempts from the free-throw line this past season, after shooting 53.7% in 2020-21.

With Williams, the Hornets have the potential makings of a modern-day, versatile NBA big man. Known primarily for his finishing and shot-blocking, the 20-year-old excels at running the floor and should provide the team’s already potent offense with another immediate lob threat. At the NBA Draft Combine last month, Williams clocked in at 7’2”, with a 9’9” standing reach and 7’6½” wingspan, all of which were the highest marks of any measured prospect.

The Norfolk, VA native moves quite well for his size and could possibly become more of a floor-spacer on the offensive end, which would open up the team’s scoring opportunities even more. Defensively, don’t be surprised to see him eventually switching onto smaller players out on the perimeter either, something the Hornets haven’t really seen from their center position before.       

Williams played on arguably the most talent-rich college team last season – Duke had four players taken in the first round on Thursday evening, including first overall pick Paolo Banchero – so, he’s used to working alongside great players. He won’t be a major offensive focal point to start, but could quickly carve out a needed role thanks to his rebounding and rim protection.

As for McGowens, it’ll be another homecoming of sorts for the Pendleton, SC native, who grew up a little over two hours away from Charlotte. A five-star recruit in high school, he chose to enroll at a non-traditional powerhouse in Nebraska, where he was teammates with his older brother, Trey, and played under former Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg.

McGowens completed his lone season in Lincoln as the Big Ten’s ninth-leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, while also averaging 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 31 starts. Although he shot just 40.3% from the field, 47.8% on twos and 27.4% from behind the arc, it’s likely he received an overabundance of defensive attention given the lack of truly elite talent surrounding him at Nebraska.

Like Williams, McGowens conducted a pre-draft workout in Charlotte as well. At the NBA Draft Combine, McGowens measured in at 6’6 ½” with a 6’8 ¾” wingspan, which on paper, means he probably projects as either a shooting guard or small forward in the professional ranks. In need of more size and strength at just 181 pounds right now, McGowens has plenty of time to get the extra seasoning he’s going to need, especially at just 19 years old.

Williams should immediately compete for frontcourt rotational minutes, while McGowens will likely need a lot more developmental time and could spend much of his rookie season in the G League. Fans won’t have to wait too long to get their first glimpses of the pair in the purple and teal though, with both expected to suit up for NBA Summer League in a couple of weeks. 

Aside from the two players coming into Charlotte, much of the post-draft chatter has inevitably revolved around the decision the Hornets made with that 13th overall selection. On the surface, the trade allows the Hornets to recoup a first-rounder next year with theirs potentially going to Atlanta if it falls outside the lottery. The now three second-rounders are also additional asset currency that can be used to facilitate all sorts of deals down the line.

Ultimately though, after how little James Bouknight, Kai Jones and JT Thor played at the NBA level as rookies last season, it’s just not realistic to make a jump into the playoffs with so many young, relatively inexperienced players on the roster. Developmental resources are finite and the Hornets don’t have the luxury of allocating as many as they would have needed to had they held onto both those top-15 selections.

Also, many of these draft-day decisions are made while keeping a watchful eye on free agency, which begins next Thursday. Miles Bridges, Cody Martin, Montrezl Harrell and Isaiah Thomas are all on expiring deals and who and how the Hornets envision having back on the roster plays a sizeable role with regards to how the NBA Draft is handled. Now that one offseason chapter has officially closed, a few more will soon be opening for the Charlotte Hornets, which includes the aforementioned free agency period, the eventual hiring of a new head coach and then NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Now’s the time to buckle up because the excitement and fun over the next several weeks is just getting started in Buzz City.