It might be hard to wipe the smiles off the faces of the Charlotte Hornets' brass for a few days.
After beginning the evening by trading for Mason Plumlee, GM Mitch Kupchak filled two key needs by selecting University of Connecticut guard James Bouknight 11th overall and acquiring another first-round pick to pluck Texas center Kai Jones off the board at No. 19 in Thursday night's NBA Draft. League sources confirmed the Hornets traded a future first-round pick to the New York Knicks for Jones, an athletic big man who hasn't played organized ball for very long and is supposed to have a huge upside.
In the second round, the Hornets went for depth up front with the 37th pick and selected Auburn product JT Thor, a 6-9 power forward with a 7-3 wingspan. At No. 56, they selected 6-5 Florida guard/forward Scottie Lewis.
Bouknight addresses one of the team’s biggest needs, providing them with more scoring on the wing. He was expected to be off the board long before the Hornets were on the clock, leaving Kupchak thrilled he fell into their lap outside of the top 10 picks.
“We are surprised," Kupchak said. "It seems to me I say something like that every year, that somebody gets to you that you didn’t think would get to you. So yeah, he did come down to us a little bit further than I thought he would. So that's a good thing. We got a player that we thought we rated much higher. Coincidentally, he does fill a need in the backcourt, so that’ll help us. That’s not by design. We really wanted to take the best available talent, but that’ll help us.”
Bouknight thought he would be gone long before Charlotte was on the clock. The competitor in him wasn't pleased.
"I was kind of upset I was sliding," Bouknight said. "I'm not going to even lie. But when I heard my name get called, my heart dropped. I didn't even know what I felt. I was like,'Is this even happening? Is this real?' I'm here, I'm in the league now. It was different. Smile, cry. I didn't know what to do."
Bouknight said he believes his best pre-draft workout happened in Charlotte, in part because of his comfort level with the environment and everything the Hornets had him doing. He's excited to be with a somewhat youthful core, allowing him to grow along with the likes of LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges & Co.
"It's a blessing," Bouknight said. "When I went up on my visit, I got to speak to the staff and front office, and they are great people. They really care. They are really invested in the organization and they are really invested in winning. And I think I'm going to fit right in. Having a young group, being a young player, trying to make the playoffs and just tying to put it all together, I think we are going to be a real special team."
Kupchak thinks Bouknight can play a trio of positions, including point guard and shooting guard as well as some small forward. So he slides well into the Hornets' philosophy of having players who can flourish in more than one spot.
“He’s not an A-1, but he’s athletic enough with all the switching today he can guard some of the ones that we play against," Kupchak said. "I think more naturally he would be a wing, which is in today’s game is a 2-3 or 3-2. I guess with his shoes on — which is how you play the game, right? — he’s about 6-5, which is a good size for a wing. It may be short for a wing, but for a two guard it’s a good size. But as I mentioned he’s an excellent athlete. He moves his feet well, he can probably guard three positions and I would imagine at least starting out he would play the 2-3."
Others were interested in jumping up and snagging someone they had their eyes on. However, Kupchak held firm and instead opted for Bouknight's services.
"Yes there was as much demand for that pick this year as I’ve ever seen in my years," Kupchak said. "And unfortunately the last six or seven years I’ve been drafting high picks and that’s not by design. That’s not my thing. I’d rather draft in the late 20s, right? But this year the demand for No. 11, I’d say the last 20 minutes, was pretty much off the charts. A lot of temptation, but we were very happy we stayed where we were, got the player that we got.”