The Charlotte Hornets added some height to their roster with a pair of first-round picks in Thursday night’s NBA draft. The team used its number-nine choice to draft 6-foot-10 Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh. The Hornets picked up former North Carolina shooting guard P.J. Hairston with their other first-round choice. WFAE’s Mark Rumsey spoke with Charlotte Observer sports columnist Tom Sorensen to get his thoughts on what the new players will bring to the mix for the Hornets.
Rumsey: Tom, did the Hornets get what they needed in last night’s draft?
Sorensen: I think they did. You know, they changed their name and I think they changed their luck. They should have never obtained the number-nine pick in the first place - it was a statistical anomaly and they got lucky. Then, Noah Vonleh was projected to go fourth or fifth or sixth and he drifted down to nine. And then at #24 – they actually traded that pick – and with #26 they drafted P.J. Hairston, the [former] UNC guard, and there’s no way he should have lasted that long. So I thought they had one of the best drafts in team history. They haven’t had very many good ones, but this one was very good.
Rumsey: In terms of the quest for more size on the court, more shooting power, and defense – all those key elements – did size win out for the Hornets?
Sorensen: Size was one of the factors. But more than any component, more than any quality, they needed outside shooting. They’re one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA. They just needed somebody that other teams would have to respect from the outside – that could stretch a defense that could then open things up inside for the Hornets. To do that with the late pick, with the 26th pick and to get Hairston, who is a superior shooter, was great. Vonleh is only 18 years old – a very good athlete. He was not an integral part of Indiana’s offense last season. But he was 6-foot-5 his first two years in high school and he played guard and forward and did a lot of passing, so he’s good with the ball. He’s intriguing because people don’t really know him. He played only one season of college and Indiana wasn’t very good last season, so it’ll be intriguing to see what he can do.
Rumsey: P.J. Hairston, a former Tar Heel, so I guess there’s always a sort of sentimental appeal in North Carolina…:
Sorensen: Well, the appeal is mixed. He’s from Greensboro and played in Chapel Hill. But you know he was booted out of school for a series of mistakes, most of which involved driving automobiles that weren’t his, and speeding. Once he gets on the court, he’s fine. He just looks like an NBA player – he’s 6-foot-6, broad and strong. When he shoots from 23 feet it’s like the way a lot of people shoot layups – it just looks pure and natural. He brings a component that the Hornets absolutely had to have.
Rumsey: So there was the reckless driving charge that you alluded to..there was a marijuana charge that was dismissed eventually – how much of a concern are these things for a team like the Hornets, bringing on a new player?
Sorensen: I’m told they did more research into him than any player they’ve ever drafted. You know, Greensboro is 90 minutes away and the concern was that whoever influenced him there and in Chapel Hill could maybe reach him in Charlotte. He’s a professional now. He’s out of school, and they’ll surround him with support staff. I think his mother will probably move to Charlotte. It is a gamble; they’re gambling that he just made several youthful errors, and this is a new life here now.
Rumsey: Do you think the Hornets will be headed back to the playoffs this upcoming season?
Sorensen: Absolutely. They have the coach in Steve Clifford. They have the big man in Al Jefferson. They have the point guard in Kemba Walker. Those are the stars and they keep adding pieces around them. They upgraded those pieces last night so I think right now, they should not just make the playoffs, but maybe do some damage when they get there.