CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Charlotte Hornets drafted two centers in the first round of the NBA draft — trading one and keeping the other.
The Hornets selected Memphis center Jalen Duren with the 13th overall pick before trading the pick to the New York Knicks. The Hornets then used the 15th pick on Duke’s 7-foot-2 center Mark Williams, who they hope will fill the team’s most glaring need.
The Hornets will receive a future first round draft pick and four second round draft picks in the Duren trade.
The 242-pound Williams has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and is known for his shot-blocking ability. He gives the Hornets the rim protector — and the size in the middle — they’ve desperately coveted for years.
Williams averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks over only 15.3 minutes per game as a freshman for the Blue Devils, before taking on a more prominent role as a sophomore. He averaged 11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks over 23.5 minutes last season while earning ACC defensive player of the year honors and helping the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
“It’s an area that we need help in, and we are hopeful that he continues to develop at a rapid pace. He made great strides in his first couple years at Duke,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He gives us great size with rim protection and he rebounds the ball a little bit. He’s a good athlete and has great length.”
The Hornets later traded up five spots in the second round with Minnesota to select Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens at No. 40. Charlotte gave up its 45th pick this year and one of the 2023 second round picks they acquired earlier from the Knicks.
With the way Williams runs the floor and finishes around the rim, he also provides an intriguing alley-oop option for All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball in transition.
Williams said he can’t wait to play with one of the game’s best passers.
“It will make my life a little easier playing with him and hopefully on defense I can make his life a little easier,” Williams said.
Williams said having played a few hours from Charlotte he’s had a chance to watch the Hornets and likes the team’s chemistry and how they play.
“They play fast and I love to play fast,” Williams said. “I love to run the floor.”
Kupchak also believes Williams will give the Hornets a valuable pick and roll option at the top of key when paired with Ball. He feels Williams’ size and Ball’s height — he’s 6-7 — and ability to see over the defense could make a great combination.
“That part will be a fun thing for Melo,” Kupchak said. “That is something that we haven’t had here.”
Williams ability to protect the rim would appear to make him a good fit, although Kupchak wants to see him add some weight.
Charlotte was one of the league’s worst defensive teams overall last year, finishing 22nd in the league while allowing 48.1 points per game in the paint. Opponents scored 15 points per game off second-chance opportunities, the most allowed in the league.
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Duren would have made sense for the Hornets, too. He averaged 12 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks over 25.3 minutes per game, and anchored one of the better defensive units in the country.
But Kupchak said the Hornets didn’t want to draft two players in the first round because the team has three rookies from last year that they are still trying to develop and get on the floor. He didn’t want the bench to get too clogged up with young talent.
“We didn’t feel using both picks was prudent,” Kupchak said.
The Hornets finished 43-39 last season, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the sixth straight season after suffering a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament.
That led to the decision to fire head coach James Borrego.
Charlotte entered the NBA draft without a head coach in place, leaving Kupchak to handle all draft day decisions.
Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson had agreed to a four-year contract to become the team’s next head coach, but backed out of the deal after the Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship. That forced Hornets owner Michael Jordan to reopen the team’s coaching search, which is ongoing.
Kupchak said it’s unclear when the Hornets will hire a new coach.
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