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

The Charlotte Hornets entered the 2022 NBA draft Thursday night with three picks and a variety of different ways to take them. When all the back-and-forth finally ended after midnight, they were left with two new players and a bunch of future draft picks.

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

Later that night, the team packed the 45th Pick and one of those newly acquired second rounds to Minnesota in exchange for the 40th Selection then used on Nebraska combo guard Bryce McGowens.

A part-time starter in his freshman year at Duke, Williams made a big step forward during his sophomore campaign, finishing with an 11.2 point average with 72.3% shooting, 7.4 rebounds and ACC-leading 2.8 blocks. He attempted just one 3-pointer in college, though he hit encouragingly on 72.7% of his attempts from the free throw line last season after shooting 53.7% in 2020-21.

With Williams, the Hornets have what it takes to be a modern, versatile NBA big man. Best known for his finishing and blocking shots, the 20-year-old excels at walking on the ground and should bring another immediate threat of praise to the team’s already strong offense. At last month’s NBA Draft Combine, Williams measured 7’2″ with a reach of 9’9″ and a wingspan of 7’6½”, all the best of any measured prospect.

A Norfolk, VA native, moves reasonably well for his height and could potentially transition into more of a ground defender on offense, which would increase the team’s scoring chances even further. Defensively, don’t be surprised if he also switches to smaller players at the edge, something the Hornets have never seen from their central position.

Williams played on arguably the most talented varsity team last season — Duke had four players in Thursday night’s first round, including first overall winner Paolo Banchero — so he’s used to working with great players. He won’t be a key attacking point early on, but could quickly take on a needed role thanks to his rebounds and edge protection.

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

McGowens finished his only season in Lincoln as the ninth-best scorer in the Big Ten with 16.8 points per game while averaging 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 31 starts. Though he shot just 40.3% from the field, 47.8% from two and 27.4% from behind the arc, it’s likely that he received too much defensive attention given Nebraska’s lack of truly elite talent.

Like Williams, McGowens conducted preliminary design training in Charlotte. At the NBA draft combine, McGowens measured 6’6 ½” with a wingspan of 6’8 ¾”, which on paper means he’s likely to be projected as either a shooting guard or small forward in the professional ranks. McGowens needs more size and strength and currently weighs just 181 pounds. He’s got plenty of time to get that extra spice he needs, especially at the age of just 19.

Williams should immediately be fighting for minutes of rotation on the frontcourt, while McGowens will likely need a lot more development time and could spend much of his rookie season in the G League. However, fans won’t have to wait too long to get their first glimpse of the pair in purple and teal as both are expected to line up for the NBA Summer League in a couple of weeks.

Aside from the two players who came after Charlotte, much of the post-draft chatter inevitably revolved around the decision the Hornets made with that 13th overall selection. On the surface, the trade allows the Hornets to win back a first-rounder next year who may go to Atlanta if he doesn’t fall in the lottery. The now three second rounds are also additional investment currency that can be used to facilitate all sorts of trades down the line.

After all, after James Bouknight, Kai Jones and JT Thor all played as rookies at the NBA level last season, it just isn’t realistic to make the playoffs with so many young, relatively inexperienced players on the roster. Development resources are limited and the Hornets don’t have the luxury of allocating as many as they would have needed had they stuck with those two top-15 picks.

Also, many of these decisions will be made on draft day while a close eye is kept on the free hand, which begins next Thursday. Miles Bridges, Cody Martin, Montrezl Harrell and Isaiah Thomas are all tied to expiring contracts, and who and how the Hornets envision making the roster again plays a big part in how the NBA draft is handled. Now that one off-season chapter is officially closed, several more will soon open for the Charlotte Hornets, including the aforementioned free agency stint, the eventual hiring of a new head coach, and then the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Now it’s time to buckle up, because the excitement and fun is just beginning in Buzz City for the next few weeks.

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