NEW ORLEANS – The Hornets entered Thursday night’s NBA draft with two goals – add length and athleticism in one player and pick up a player who could create scoring chances for himself.
By the time the draft was over, New Orleans nailed both concepts with a bonus – it took a player who will add help off the bench and a strong work ethic.
New Orleans grabbed forward Anthony Davis at No. 1, guard Austin Rivers at No. 10 and forward Darius Miller at No. 46, the bonus pick.
“We like our on-base percentage,” Hornets general manager Dell Demps said, harkening back what he said Wednesday about not having to hit a home run. “We feel good about the draft. We really feel good about the draft.”
But Thursday certainly felt like a home run. The Hornets drafted not just for need, but took players they believed were the best on the board at the time of their picks, a rare combination on draft nights, when any number of variables can throw a wrench into the plan.
“We felt like we needed guys who could create their own shot and we got that in Austin,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “I’ve talked about length forever and we got athleticism and length in the best player in the draft in Anthony. And then Darius was a bit of a bonus. Dell and his staff felt like he was a top-30 talent if I’m not mistaken.”
Even at 19 years old, Davis was the golden ticket in this draft.
The 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward earned AP Player of the Year honors and was the Final Four’s most-outstanding player after leading Kentucky to the national championship in the Superdome.
He led the nation in blocks (4.65 per game) and set an NCAA freshman record with 186 blocks this past season.
On a team of that had six players drafted Thursday night, Davis led the team with 14.2 points per game, 10.4 rebounds per game and field-goal percentage (62.3 percent).
Davis also was the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
He won’t come to New Orleans with any preconceived ideas of what he plans on being as a professional basketball player. Instead, he’s going to allow Williams to decide what he’ll be.
“I’m not sure what my coach needs me to do,” Davis said. “He might want me to play like the way I played at Kentucky. I’m not sure. If he wants me to do something different, or if I have any weaknesses, make it my strength.
“I’m ready to just go there and have fun.”
It didn’t take long for at least one of Davis’ future teammates to take to social media to express his thoughts on the pick.
Jason Smith, who has been the most visible Hornet this offseason, tweeted, “Everyone follow the newest Hornet @AntDavis23 Such a bright future in the N.O. #FearTheBrow.”
The selection of Rivers at No. 10 could be the key to sustained success in the future for New Orleans, however.
Some mock drafts had Rivers going before the 10th pick; that he fell to New Orleans was just another positive roll for the Hornets this offseason.
“I wouldn’t say shocked,” Demps said. “We were really hoping to get him. We really enjoyed him here on our visit. We also talked to him in Chicago. We’ve been following his whole career.”
At Duke, Rivers (6-4, 200) became just the seventh freshman to earn all-ACC honors. He ranks in the top five in Duke history for a freshman in points (527), points per game (15.5), free throws (121) and free-throw attempts (184).
Questions abound about whether Rivers can play point guard; he played shooting guard at Duke. But Demps said he would leave that decision up to Williams and, Thursday night, Rivers said he can play both.
“There are things at both positions that I can get better at, but I think that is something I can transition to in New Orleans and I’m real excited to do that,” Rivers said.
Williams wasn’t ready Thursday night to divulge his plans for Rivers.
“Right now I want to make sure he’s comfortable just playing in a game,” Williams said. “I don’t want to label him as a point guard or a two-guard. He’s a guard.”
As for Miller (6-8, 225), the Hornets pick up a player who, as a senior, earned the SEC’s Sixth-Man of the Year award playing at Kentucky.
He averaged 9.9 points and 2.8 rebounds as a senior off the bench for the national champions. He did this after starting 37 of 38 games as a junior.
He’ll be expected to do much the same with New Orleans.
“He won’t be a superstar,” Demps said. “I don’t want to put too much on it right now, but I’d just like to see him come in, fit in, get into the system.”
Demps added, “To be able to get Darius Miller, we didn’t expect that.”