Hornets Draft Recap: Vonleh, Hairston, and the Future


The Hornets are in the news again and not for any good reason as PJ Hairston has been charged with assault and battery of a seventeen year old according to WTVD in Durham. This story broke at basically the same time I was writing that Hairston’s behavior off the court would be the most important aspect of summer league play. That just raised itself to an even higher level now.

Just in case the legal terminology is confusing, assault is the threat of force and battery is actually making contact with the victim.

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It is in this environment that we look back at Draft Night for the Hornets. Going into the draft the Hornets were looking for players could play around Al Jefferson. Specifically there were two areas of need, a stretch four who could play off Big Al and let him work in the paint and shooting. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the small forward, most shooting options were likely to be shooting guards.

So the Hornets came into this environment with the 9th and 24th picks in the first round and the 45th pick in the second round. So what happened?

Feb 15, 2014; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers forward Noah Vonleh (0) takes a shot against Purdue Boilermakers forward Basil Smotherman (5) at Mackey Arena. Purdue defeats Indiana 82-64. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the Ninth Pick the Hornets Draft Forward Noah Vonleh (Indiana)

Vonleh falling to nine was something of a surprise, but it should be no surprise that the Hornets let him fall no further. Vonleh was considered the third best physical player in the draft behind Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. He has a great wingspan for his six-nine body and could be seen as an active defender. He is also a bit of a rim protector, something that Jefferson does not really do. He is a reliable shooter with almost three point range, so he will not take space from Jefferson. Finally he is coachable, so he should improve with time. This was arguably the best result the Hornets could have gotten from this pick.

With the Twenty-Fourth Pick the Hornets Draft Guard Shabazz Napier (UCONN)

This had people going at the time. Backup point guard is a concern for the Hornets, but not as glaring as needing shooters which Napier was not. However this was part of a trade package to the Miami Heat that allowed them to land LeBron favorite Napier for more picks- the 26th and 55th pick and a future 2nd rounder.

Jan 12, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Pj Hairston (15) shoots the ball past Florida State Seminoles forward Okaro White (10) during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at the Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

With the Twenty-Sixth Pick the Heat Draft Guard PJ Hairston (UNC/NBDL)

Hairston was the other end of the Napier deal. The Hornets managed to get him two picks lower which slots him cheaper in the rookie cap scale. Hairston looks the part of a basketball player at 6’6” and 230 lbs, and he has athleticism to match. Most importantly though is his shooting ability, which will make him a good friend of Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson during the season. As for any player on a Steve Clifford team, Hairston will have to prove himself on defense too. The leadership presence of Kemba and Al around PJ is all the more important now that off court issues have reached a new level of scrutiny.

Where the Hornets go from here

The second round picks the Hornets had ended being dealt. One went with Brendan Haywood to Cleveland and the other was sold to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

While the Hornets have the cash to make a play for a big free agent, I am less convinced that there is someone out there worth the effort. The Hornets are still mentioned around Gordon Hayward, and Lance Stephenson is less than impressed with the offer the Pacers made for him (5 years, $44 million). I don’t know what a Stephenson deal would look like. Meanwhile the Cavs are shopping Jarrett Jack with picks to open space for LeBron. Jack is not cheap ($ 6 million) but he would be a solid backup.

The Hornets are still trying to bring back Josh McRoberts, which would be somewhere in the neighborhood of the mid-level exception and seems to be a lost cause at the moment. Also they could attempt to bring back Ramon Sessions to handle backup point duties. Behind all of this is Kemba Walker’s deal which will expire after this season and he will be due a significant pay increase. I think that shadow will influence what moves the Hornets make this off-season.