2020 NBA Draft: Hornets make 3 picks and acquire another player in a trade

By Richard Walker

Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said shortly after using the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft to choose LaMelo Ball that he didn’t have any certainty how the draft would go.

“Going into the draft this evening, we did not know who would go first, second or third,” Kupchak said by zoom news conference on Wednesday night. “We were happy – very happy – that LaMelo Ball was there when we drafted number three.”

A 6-foot-7, 181-pound point guard, LaMelo Ball forsook his some of his high school career and his commitment to play collegiately at UCLA to play internationally in 2017.

“If he loves the game as much as he says he loves the game, we feel like he’ll have a successful NBA career,” Kupchak said of his newest player. “He’s a very young talented player who plays the kind of pace that we like to play. He has a flair to his game that maybe has some entertainment to it, maybe more so than some other players. That’s not why we drafted him. We drafted him because of his size and length and the way he can handle the ball and the way he pushes the ball.”

The Hornets used the No. 32 pick on Duke freshman Vernon Carey, Jr. Carey was the 2020 ACC freshman of the year and All-ACC first team after averaging 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Charlotte also traded away a 2024 second round pick to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire rights to No. 42 pick Nick Richards of Kentucky. A 6-foot-11 center, the Jamaican-born Richards averaged 14.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season for the Wildcats.

And with the No. 56 pick, the Hornets chose three-time All-Colonial Athletic Association selection Grant Riller of the College of Charleston.

The younger brother of NBA guard Lonzo Ball and G League guard LiAngelo Ball and son of former Carolina Panthers player LaVar Ball, LeMelo Ball has been considered a NBA prospect since he starred for Chino Hills, Cal., High School.

LaVar Ball was a member of the 1995 Carolina Panthers practice squad but never played a regular season game for the franchise – and an injury with the Panthers ended his career and led to him becoming a personal trainer. LaVar Ball, a former Washington State basketball player, said in a March 2017 interview with USA Today of his basketball talents: “Back in my heyday, I would kill (Hornets’ owner) Michael Jordan one-on-one.”

Lonzo Ball just completed his third NBA season as a guard with New Orleans Pelicans. A No. 2 overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2017, Lonzo Ball and LaMelo Ball are the first brothers to be chosen among the top three picks of the NBA draft.

LiAngelo Ball played in one game for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s G League team the Oklahoma City Blue.

LaMelo Ball played for the Illawara Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League last season. He was named rookie of the year after averaging 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals in 12 games. He became the youngest player in league history have a triple double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists against the Cairns Taipans.

He also played professsionally in Lithuania’s LKL in 2017-18 and in the Junior Basketball Association created by his father in 2018.

In LaMelo Ball’s freshman year of high school in 2015-16, he and brothers Lonzo Ball and LiAngelo Ball helped Chino Hills win a California state championship. As a sophomore in the 2016-17 season, LaMelo Ball had a 92-point game that ranks as the second-highest single game scoring total in that state’s history.

Since the Hornets’ two highest-scoring players off last year’s 23-42 team were guards Devonte’ Graham (18.2 points per game) and Terry Rozer (18.0), some might wonder how Ball would fit in on the team.

Kupchak has no such concerns.

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” Kupchak said. “First of all, LeMelo is not going to be given minutes because he was drafted No. 3. The minutes he plays, he will earn.”

Kupchak added that the NBA game has changed over the years to the point that three ballhandling wings like Graham, Rozier and Ball being on the floor at the same time isn’t that unusual.

“There’s no rules about who will play and who won’t play,” Kupchak said. “He’s a piece that we’re excited about having. When he gets here, he will work. And that’ll take care of everything.”

Previous top three draft picks in Hornets’ history have been No. 1 overall selection Larry Johnson (1991), No. 2 overall selections Alonzo Mourning (1992) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012) and No. 3 overall selections Baron Davis (1999) and Adam Morrison (2006).

Kupchak and coach James Borrego have spent the last two seasons trying to rebuild a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2002.

LaMelo Ball told media after his selection that he had followed the Hornets from afar and had some familiarity with some of the team’s players.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “I’ve been seeing them (Hornets players) since I was young. I saw Miles (Bridges) at Michigan State and played against P.J. (Washington) in high school. It’s going to be exciting. They’re high flyers and we have a young team. I feel like it’s going to be nice. I love to get up and down (the court). If that’s the playstyle, it definitely fits.”