At this point you’ve probably seen plenty of national reactions to the New Orleans selection of guard Jordan Hawkins with the final pick of the 2023 draft lottery, but no one knows the player as well as those who covered him during his two-year University of Connecticut career. Pelicans.com enlisted David Borges, UConn men’s basketball beat writer for Hearst Connecticut Media, to help provide additional background on the 21-year-old Maryland native, as he joins the Pelicans and begins preparing for July summer league.
Pelicans.com: Let’s start with Thursday’s draft. What was the general reaction among UConn fans and media to Hawkins being picked 14th, the final selection of the lottery? Was that a surprise or expected? Did he enter last season as a player expected to turn pro in 2023?
Borges: Hawkins was expected to go anywhere between about 8 and 20, and most thought he’d be right on the fringe of the lottery. Which, obviously, he was. And now, as a lottery pick, he gets a banner on UConn’s practice facility walls, alongside the program’s 14 other lottery picks.
Hawkins came to Storrs with a plan to be an NBA Draft pick after two years, just like James Bouknight. In fact, Hurley told him he could be the “next James Bouknight.” Hurley also predicted back in early November that Hawkins would be a first-round pick this year. It sounded a bit lofty at the time, but he had seen Hawkins in summer workouts and secret scrimmages, and he was right. Their plan came to fruition.
Pelicans.com: Hawkins made one of the biggest jumps from his freshman to sophomore year you’ll ever see by a player, going from scoring 5.8 points per game to 16.2. What were some of the biggest reasons behind that increase?
Borges: Hawkins dealt with some injuries (including concussions) as a freshman. He also struggled a lot with his confidence. When he struggled, he had poor body language and seemed too hard on himself. He worked on improving on that a lot over the summer, along with getting up thousands of shots. He was much more confident this season. And he was also healthy, save for an injury in the season-opener that kept him out of the next two games … and a bout with food-poisoning at the Final Four!
Pelicans.com: UConn head coach Dan Hurley was quoted as saying that Hawkins “still has an unbelievable upside beyond who he is right now.” What are some of the areas where he can make the biggest improvements?
Borges: He can definitely improve his ballhandling. And while he’s improved his defense a lot since his freshman season, coming up with a few awesome chasedown blocks this season, he certainly needs to bulk up a little bit and improve even more on that end of the floor.
Pelicans.com: How do you expect playing in the NBA will impact Hawkins and some of his strengths? For example, his spot-up shooting appears to be perhaps his most pro-ready skill. Now he’ll be playing with several elite offensive talents in New Orleans.
Borges: Hawkins’ ability to shoot off of ball-screens is elite. He’s always in motion, always moving, and has a very quick release and accurate shot. It seems tailor-made for the NBA.
Pelicans.com: The New Orleans front office has made a major emphasis on character and bringing in players who are good teammates in recent years. How do you describe what Hawkins has been like in his interactions with other players and/or the media?
Borges: Jordan is a very nice, quiet, soft-spoken kid. He got along with everyone on his team and his coaches love him. He’s not the biggest talker, and his interactions with the media are often via short answers, but he’s always courteous and respectful.
Pelicans.com: What’s one thing even diehard UConn fans might not know about Hawkins?
Borges: I think it’s cool that Hawkins said his heroes aren’t MJ or LeBron or Kobe or KD, but his parents, Jasmine and Craig. When asked what his favorite basketball memory was, he simply stated it was shooting hoops and working on his game outside with his dad.