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Versatile and athletic best describe Charlotte Hornets' 2020 draft class
Picks are accomplished on courts at home, abroad
 
Published Friday, November 20, 2020 6:26 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY
Charlotte Hornets top draft pick LaMelo Ball was taken third overall in Wednesday's NBA draft.

The Charlotte Hornets went for versatility in the 2020 NBA Draft.

They finished with four players, including a marquee name in guard LaMelo Ball, whom Charlotte selected third overall, followed by second-round picks center Vernon Carey Jr. of Duke and College of Charleston guard Grant Riller at 32nd and 56th respectively. They also acquired Nick Richards (42nd overall) from New Orleans in exchange for a second-round pick in 2024.

The Ball name is well known in the NBA. His older brother Lonzo plays point guard for New Orleans and his father Lavar Ball claimed in recent years he would beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. Jordan happens to be the Hornets owner.

“I don’t think [the matchup] is going to happen, and I think we know how it would turn out, to be honest,” LaMelo said. “That is my pops and my boss, so I’m on both sides now.”

Antics aside, the 6-foot-7 guard promises to draw at the box office—pandemic permitting—and has the potential to play both guard positions as well as small forward. While he enters the league with a reputation as a productive passer, Ball intends to develop each aspect of his game.

 “I pretty much want to work on everything, not really bottle cap anything, so I can just be an all-around player,” he said.

Said Hornets head coach James Borrego: “To me what the league is nowadays is playmakers, at the guard spot, at the wing spot. Guys that can make plays for others, make the right play. [Ball] makes it look effortless, he’s a hell of a talent. I’m thrilled to have him, and I think he fits our style of play. …I think it’s a heck of a pick for our franchise, for our organization, for our city.”

Ball played abroad the last two years, most recently in Australia’s National Basketball League with the Illawara Hawks, where he earned the Rookie of the Year award by averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, seven assists and 1.7 steals per game in 12 games. Ball ranked second in the league in assists and steals and became the youngest player in NBL history to produce a triple-double, with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists versus the Cairns Taipans.

Then he wrote his name in the NBL history books again, becoming the fourth player in league history and first since 2005, to record back-to-back triple-doubles (25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the New Zealand Breakers). He also played in eight games for Lithuania’s LKL, averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 assists in 2017-18 before returning stateside to the Junior Basketball Association in 2018, winning the championship with the Los Angeles Ballers and earning All-Star accolades. There he averaged 39.6 points per game, 14.6 boards and 11.5 assists. The league was established by his father.

“I’ve been all over the world,” Ball said. “All the spots I went to, I feel like I learned something. It definitely helped a lot.”

Said Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak: “To play against grown men in Lithuania and in Australia, that tells you something. “To those guys, it’s not like it’s a pick-up game. They all are playing for money, they want to win a spot, they want to win a game, so they’re playing for real.”

Carey comes to Charlotte from Duke, where he played a single season. There the 6-foot-10 center/power forward earned U.S. Basketball Writers Association Freshman of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, All-America second team, All-ACC first team and all-freshman. He produced 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while finishing second in the conference with 15 double-doubles. From the field he shot 57.7% and 38.1% from the three-point line.

Carey was the only ACC player to rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage, which he led the conference in, scoring (third), rebounding (fourth) and blocks (sixth). His biggest adjustment has been dropping weight—30 pounds to be exact. He went from 270 in college to 240 now.

“Just eating better, that was one of the things [I did to lose weight], and hiring a chef after finishing the season—that’s it really,” Carey said. “Me losing the pounds definitely increased my athleticism, mobility to guard guards and switching, things like that.”

Carey said he will give himself a day or two to adjust to the pace of the professional level, but after that it is time to lock in, as preseason starts on Dec. 11, followed by the regular season on Dec. 22.

“Just gotta get going, because the season is about to be here,” he said.

Charlotte went for another big man in Richards, who spent three seasons at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 center left the Wildcats ranked third in program history in career field goal percentage at 62.8%. Last season he averaged 14 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, earning All-SEC first team and SEC all-defensive team. He led the SEC and was fourth in the nation in field goal percentage at 64.4%. He also ranked second in the SEC in blocks and third in rebounds.

Amid the pandemic, he has been working out four times per day.

“Twice on court, [and] sometimes I would go in the weight room with my strength coach and just get in there for another hour,” Richards said. “That’s basically my schedule for about six days a week.”

Richards joins former Kentucky teammate forward P.J. Washington, which he believes will help in adjusting to the team and the city.

Riller, a 6-foot-3 guard, earned All-Colonial Athletic Association first team selection over his last three seasons, as well as earning a spot on the all-rookie team. He left the Cougars ranked second in program history with 2,474 points (third in league history). He averaged 18.7 points per game, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists over his career with the Cougars. Last season he scored 21.9 points per game. 

Coming from a mid-major program, he knows what it is like to be the underdog, and has no problem with it.

“[Charlotte] is getting a guy who can do a lot with less,” Riller said. “In college, I had a lot on my plate. A lot of the time, you could see certain things that you probably won’t see in the future. I think I bring a lot to the table that I did in college—a guard that puts a lot of presser on the defense, is good in transition, is an exciting type of player, but more importantly I think Charlotte is getting a good human and a very good teammate that will represent the team and the city well.”

 

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