CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) — The Charlotte Hornets drafted two centers in the first round of the NBA Draft — trading one and keeping the other.
The Hornets picked Memphis center Jalen Duren with the 13th overall pick before trading the pick to the New York Knicks. The Hornets then used a 15th pick on Duke’s 7-foot-2 center Mark Williams, which they hope will satisfy the team’s greatest need.
The Hornets will receive a future first-round draft pick and a four-second round draft pick in the Duren trade.
The 242-pound Williams has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and is known for his shot-blocking ability. That gives the Hornets the rim protector—and the shape in the middle—they’ve been coveted strictly over the years.
Williams averaged 7.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in just over 15.3 minutes, before taking on a more prominent role as a sophomore, as a freshman for the Blue Devils. He averaged 11.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 23.5 minutes last season, while earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and helping the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
“This is an area we need help with, and we expect him to continue to grow at a rapid pace. He made great strides in his first two years at Duke,” said Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak. “He gives us great shape with the rim protection and he rebounds the ball a little bit. He’s a good athlete and has a good length.”
The way Williams runs the floor and finishes around the rim also provides an interesting alley-up 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-by.
“It will make my life a little bit easier to play with him and hopefully I can make his life a little easier on defense,” Williams said.
Williams said she got to watch the Hornets after playing for a few hours with Charlotte and loved the team’s chemistry and how they played.
“They play fast and I like to play fast,” Williams said. “I like to run floors.”
Kupchak also believes Williams would give the Hornets a valuable pick and roll option at the top of the key when paired with the ball. He thinks Williams’ size and ball height – he’s 6-7 – and his ability to see the defense can make a great combination.
“That part will be a funny thing for Melo,” Kupchak said. “It’s something we don’t have here.”
Williams’ ability to protect the rim appears to make him a good fit, although Kupchak would like to add some weight to him.
Charlotte was one of the league’s worst defensive teams last year, finishing 22nd in the league, while allowing 48.1 points per game in the paint. Opponents scored 15 points per game from second-chance opportunities, the most allowed in the league.
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Durren would have counted 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 whom they are still trying to develop and get on the floor. He didn’t want the bench to get too bogged down with young talent.
“We didn’t think it was prudent to use both picks,” Kupchak said.
The Hornets finished last season 43–39, failing to qualify for the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season after a 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the play-in tournament.
This led to the decision to sack head coach James Borrego.
Charlotte entered the NBA draft without a head coach, leaving Kupchak to handle all draft decisions.
Golden State assistant Kenny Atkinson had agreed to a four-year contract to become the team’s next head coach, but withdrew from the deal after the Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics to win the NBA championship. This forced Hornets owner Michael Jordan to reopen the team’s coaching search, which is ongoing.
Kupchak said it could be a few weeks before the Hornets have a new coach.
More AP NBA: More