Uncertainty reigns for Hornets at No. 3 spot in draft

Memphis center James Wiseman is one of three players — along with guards LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards — who will be available to select when the Hornets pick third overall in Wednesday’s NBA Draft. (Craig Mitchelldyer / AP Photo)

The NBA Draft takes place Wednesday, five months later than usual thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc on the season. The extra waiting time for the prospects near the top of the draft hasn’t done much to clear up the uncertainty about who the Charlotte Hornets will be choosing, however.

The Hornets have the No. 3 pick in the draft, after Minnesota and Golden State. It’s the highest they’ve chosen since 2012, and there are three players in the top tier of draft prospects — James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards — so it appears that the Hornets will be getting one of those, albeit, likely, the lowest rated of the trio.

That’s where the certainty ends.

There is no consensus on which player is rated the highest — or lowest. There are mock drafts released this week by major outlets have each of the three players going first overall, and each of the three sliding to Charlotte.

The scrambled offseason is partly to blame. Opportunities to evaluate players through interviews and the annual Combine were limited compared to previous seasons. The Combine was done virtually, and many teams limited their contact with prospects compared to other drafts.

The pandemic also cut short the NCAA season, but that has minimal impact since none of the three would have participated in March Madness anyway. Wiseman left school in December amidst NCAA investigation, Ball has been playing professionally overseas and Edwards’ Georgia team finished with a 16-16 record.

There’s also the question of a trade. With star players, most notably Chris Paul and James Harden, either getting dealt or rumored to be on the block, it’s possible the Hornets roster could get a makeover on draft night, with veterans getting shipped out.

The most likely trade target is Russell Westbrook, who, like Harden, wants out of Houston. The Ringer proclaimed Charlotte as Westbrook’s most likely landing spot. The outlet said owner Michael Jordan is interested in trading for the All-Star, and the Hornets would be able to put together a package of players for Westbrook that would allow Charlotte to hold onto the No. 3 overall pick.

Here’s a look at the three players Charlotte could see when they’re on the clock on Wednesday night.

LaMelo Ball, guard, Australian pro league

Mocked No. 1 by CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish
Mocked to Charlotte by NBC Sports

Since the Hornets have very little control over who drops to them at three, this pick may determine whether the team pulls the trigger on Westbrook. Charlotte doesn’t need two elite scoring point guards. If Ball falls to the Hornets, they likely will pass on the Westbrook trade — or pull off a second blockbuster, swapping picks with another team near the top of the draft. If Ball goes in the first two, look for the commissioner to come out with the “We have a trade,” line that’s a draft night staple.

Like Westbrook, Ball is a tall point guard, at 6-foot-7. He can also score at will and has an all-around game. He had back-to-back triple-doubles in the Australian NBL, where he played instead of college, and once put up 92 points in a high school game.

James Wiseman, center, Memphis

Mocked No. 1 by The Athletic
Mocked to Charlotte by Slam Magazine

The center position isn’t considered as valuable as it was in the days of Shaq and Yao. Still, Wiseman is an intriguing talent who could bring the new-age center back into vogue. Unlike the fixtures in the paint of a generation ago, Wiseman is an athletic 7-foot-1 and can run the floor and finish in transition, as well as knocking down outside shots.

He’s added 15 pounds of muscle since his last game, which, on draft night, will have been 364 days ago.

“I mean, I can’t wait,” Wiseman said. “For me, it’s been a long process, a long journey. I’ve been working out for nine months. I’m super-ecstatic and I’m super-excited to get this ball rolling and I’m ready for this season to start.”

Former NBA player and Memphis assistant Mike Miller said, “The talent screams at you. I think he’s one of the safest and most-talented players in this draft.”

Anthony Edwards, guard, Georgia

Mocked No. 1 by Yahoo
Mocked to Charlotte by CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish

The shooting guard was the top freshman in college basketball last season and has the potential to be a scoring machine in the NBA.

“He’s just scratching the surface, he really is,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said.

The Hornets have been cagey about their interest in Edwards. He said that the team had “no contact” with him prior to his in-person workout for Charlotte, which was held in Atlanta. Then, Michael Jordan was a surprise unannounced visitor to the workout.

The verdict

Wiseman seems the most likely to fall to three, but it’s far from a sure thing. While the Hornets will have to wait and see what happens early in the night, look for the rest of the league to wait and see what happens after they pick, when trade negotiations could get consummated. It will be a long night for Hornets fans and veterans as we wait to see what their roster looks like when the dust settles.