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Hornets ‘very surprised’ James Bouknight fell to them in NBA draft

·3 min read

The Charlotte Hornets selected James Bouknight in the first round of the NBA draft Thursday night, giving them something they’ve badly needed — more talent.

After the Hornets lost 15 of their final 20 games in the 2020-21 season, falling from fourth place in the East to 10th, it became clear to general manager Mitch Kupchak, that to make the playoffs, they needed to continue to add talent and not draft based on position.

Thursday was the first step in that direction, taking the 6-5, 190-pound shooting guard out of UConn. Bouknight was expected by most draft experts to go higher, but he fell in the draft. Bouknight averaged 18.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 44.7% from the floor last season as a sophomore for the Huskies. He shot 29.3% from 3, which is where he must improve.

Bouknight, 20, worked out with Hornets on July 2.

“We were very surprised,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said of Bouknight falling to them at No. 11. “We got a player we felt we rated much higher.”

Hornets traded for two extra NBA draft picks. Here’s what they did with them.

The Hornets entered the draft with a void at center. Veterans Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller are both free agents and neither has provided the dominance in the post the Hornets need to compete in the Eastern Conference. But Kupchak said last week that the draft wasn’t deep with centers, so they wouldn’t chase one. He said they’d instead take who they felt was the best available player.

And that’s what they did, applying the same strategy they used last season by picking LaMelo Ball third overall despite already having two point guards with starting experience — Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. Once Ball became a mainstay in the starting lineup, Rozier became Charlotte’s true shooting guard while Graham came off the bench. Ball was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

The Hornets finished 33-39 during the 2020-21 season.

How James Bouknight fits with the Hornets

Bouknight fills one of the Hornets’ needs.

Shooting guard Malik Monk, who averaged 11.7 points per game off the bench for the Hornets last season, is also a free gent. And that’s where Bouknight comes in.

Terry Rozier, who is entering the third season of his three-year $56.7 million contract, will start at shooting guard again, but Bouknight could be a spark off the bench, and another scoring weapon for the Hornets.

“Coincidentally he does fill a need in the backcourt, but that is not by design,” Kupchak said. “We really wanted to take the best available talent, but that will help us in our interim.”

Kupchak said Bouknight would primarily play shooting guard, but could play some point guard and small forward, also.

“He’s an excellent athlete,” Kupchak said. “He moves his feet well. He can probably guard three positions, I would imagine. At least starting out, he would play the two.”

Hornets traded for Plumlee

Before the draft, the Hornets acquired the 37th pick in the draft and former Duke center Mason Plumlee from the Detroit Pistons for the Hornets’ 57th pick. The Hornets also have the 56th pick in the draft.

Plumlee, who is 6-foot-11, 254 pounds, averaged 10.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists last season. He immediately addresses the Hornets’ biggest need.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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