Michael Jordan has one last shot to get things right before relinquishing control of the Charlotte Hornets.
His decision Thursday night should be clear: Draft Scoot Henderson.
When NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum pulled Charlotte's card out of the No. 2 envelope in last month's NBA Draft Lottery, the sting of disappointment landed across the collective franchise faithful. The Hornets along with the rest of the NBA's lottery dwellers not named the San Antonio Spurs missed out on the chance to draft generational talent Victor Wembanyama.
But that doesn't make the Hornets lottery losers. By drawing the No. 2 card, they earned the right to select a player in Henderson widely lauded as a No. 1 overall pick in a draft that doesn't include Wembanyama. As far as consolation prizes go, this one ranks as exceptional.
But the mere fact that the Hornets secured the second pick raised immediate questions. All of a sudden, Henderson wasn't the sure thing at No. 2 that he was moments before. The Hornets already have a ball-dominant star in the backcourt in LaMelo Ball. Can he coexist in the same backcourt as Henderson, an explosive athlete with All-NBA upside as a scorer and distributor?
Would Brandon Miller — a 6-foot-9 wing with his own high-end upside — make a better fit? Well, yes. Of course he would. But in the long-standing draft debate of selecting talent vs. need, talent in the increasingly positionless world of the NBA should win out — especially when the stakes are as high as the No. 2 pick. And while Miller shot up NBA Draft boards after a tremendous freshman season at Alabama, few view his potential on Henderson's level.
The upside here for the Hornets is having the best backcourt in basketball. We all know what Ball brings to the table. When healthy, he's already established him as an All-Star — a 6-7 point guard with exceptional playmaking talent, basketball IQ and a scoring ability that's exceeded his pre-draft hype.
Henderson doesn't bring the same size at 6-2. But scouts and analysts love almost everything about his game that includes high grades in athleticism, scoring, ball-handling, passing and leadership. That he's developed these traits in a professional setting that mimics the NBA with the G League Ignite makes him that much more appealing.
Henderson's drawn comparisons to Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook and a pre-injury Derrick Rose. If this is truly his potential, you don't pass on that kind of talent in the name of fit. Doing so amounts to playing with scared money for a franchise rife with draft mistakes.
The Hornets haven't been relevant since their 1990s heyday featuring Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning — and that was technically a different franchise. Since the NBA returned to Charlotte as the Bobcats and eventually, again, the Hornets, the team has produced a who's who of draft busts featuring Adam Morrison (No. 3, 2006), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 2, 2012) and Frank Kaminsky (No. 9, 2015; four picks ahead of Devin Booker).
Some of the Hornets' most notable draft mistakes have arrived under Jordan's stewardship. The team has mired among the dregs of the NBA since he bought the franchise in 2010. Landing Ball with the No. 3 pick in 2020 provided a path upward. The opportunity to pair him with another elite backcourt talent in Henderson oozes with potential to make a long-forlorn franchise relevant again.
Would doing so be a sure thing? No. But nothing in the world of NBA scouting is. Each lottery pick is a roll of the dice with the potential to change the course of a franchise. And in this case, the bold move with the biggest upside is taking a chance that like talent can coexist. It would certainly be an experiment, but one well worth embarking on.
Word definitely is spreading among teams in the lottery that Charlotte is still strongly considering Scoot Henderson at No. 2, particularly with support from new ownership. General manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters this week Michael Jordan has final say over the selection.
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) June 22, 2023
It's up to Jordan to make the call as he runs Charlotte's draft in his last significant role as the team's outgoing majority owner. If he gets this right, his parting shot could go a long way in improving his reputation as an NBA executive who is most certainly not the GOAT.