Hornets 2021 NBA Draft: Team adds 5 players, including highly-rated UConn guard and Texas center and acquires former Duke standout

By Richard Walker

The Charlotte Hornets entered the offseason knowing two centers and two shooting guards were potential free agent departures.

James Bouknight (2) drives to the basket for Connecticut. In the background is former Ashbrook High standout Isaiah Whaley (5)

On Thursday, the team found replacements at both positions.

A pre-draft trade with Detroit brought in former Duke center Mason Plumlee from the Detroit Pistons and the No. 37 overall pick in the draft.

In that draft, the team selected guard James Bouknight with the No. 11 overall pick, acquired the rights to the New York Knicks’ No. 19 overall pick Kai Jones, a 6-foot-11 center from Texas, 6-10 J.T. Thor from Auburn at No. 37 and shooting guard Scottie Lewis from Florida at No. 56.

Bouknight was projected as high as a top five selection in most mock drafts.

“We are surprised (he fell to 11),” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “He did come down to us further than I thought he would. That’s a good thing. We got a player that we thought we rated much higher. Coincidentally he does fit a need in the backcourt.”

A 6-foot-5 guard out of Connecticut, Bouknight averaged 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 31.7 minutes per game in 15 games during the 2020-21 season. He missed eight games with a elbow injury but was named to the All-Big East team as being chosen NABC District I Player of the Year.

In his two seasons at UConn, Bouknight averaged 15.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 27.9 minutes in 45 games. As a freshman, he was named third team all-conference and all-freshman team.

Bouknight also joins select company as UConn first-rounders by the franchise; Charlotte has previously selected Scott Burrell (No. 20 overall in 1993), Emeka Okafor (No. 2 in 2004) and Kemba Walker (No. 11 in 2011) from that school.

Before the draft, multiple reports confirmed the team acquired Plumlee and the No. 37 pick in the draft from the Detroit Pistons for the No. 57 pick in the draft.

Plumlee, who has two years left on a three-year, $24 million contract, is an eight-year NBA veteran who averaged 10.4 points and 9.3 rebounds last season for the Pistons.

A graduate of Asheville Christ School, Plumlee helped Duke win the 2010 NCAA title. After being selected No. 22 overall by the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s played for the Nets, the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets and Pistons.

Multiple sources also confirmed the team will send a future protecgted first round pick to the Knicks for the No. 19 pick in the draft.

Reports had been circulating recently that Jones was coveted by the Hornets; The team had Jones in on July 18 for a one-player workout.

A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Jones was got encouragement from fellow native of Bahamas (and former No. 1 overall pick) Deandre Ayton to play basketball in 2017.

After playing high school basketball at Orlando, Fla., Christian Prep with future North Carolina standout Nassir Little, Jones spent one year at Brewster, N.H., Academy, and two seasons at the University of Texas. Jones averaged 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds as a freshman in the 2019-20 season and 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds this past season.

Thor is a native of Nebraska who grew up in Alaska and played high school basketball in West Virginia and Georgia before playing one season at Auburn. A four-star high school recruit, Thor averaged 9.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 23.3 minutes in 27 starts for Auburn last season.

Lewis, a 6-5 Bronx, N.Y. native, was a five-star high school recruit out of Tinton Falls, N.J., Ranney School that played two seasons at Florida. Lewis averaged 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.4 steals in 51 games (31 starts) during his two-year college career that included being named to the 2020 All-SEC freshman team.

The Hornets also selected 7-1 Serbian Balsa Koprivica out of Florida State, but his rights will be conveyed to the Pistons in the Plumlee trade.