Sports

Why Hornets drafted Mark Williams, traded Jalen Duren


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Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak discusses the teams two first round draft picks in the NBA draft on Thursday, June 23, 2022 at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC. The Hornets selected Jalen Duren with the 13th pick and Mark Williams with the 15th pick. The team then traded the 13th pick Jalen Duren for multiple future draft picks.

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Mitch Kupchak knew that the Hornets needed a center. He also had an inkling that when the team got to its second first-round pick, No. 15 overall, that one of the three big men the team wanted would be available.

Charlotte ended up selecting two centers with their top first-rounders — trading Jalen Duren (No. 13 overall) to the New York Knicks and keeping the one they had “ranked number one,” in former Duke center Mark Williams with the 15th overall pick.

The 20-year-old Williams played two years at Duke and in his sophomore season started all 39 of the team’s games, averaging 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. He was named the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

“It’s an area that we need help in. We’re hopeful that he continues to develop at a rapid pace,” Kupchak said. “He’s a good athlete, great length.”

Williams has a standing reach of 117 inches, higher than elite NBA rim protectors such as Rudy Gobert. Kupchak said the center could almost touch the rim flat-footed but said that Williams needed to gain strength to improve his rebounding skills.

“He has a lot of work in getting stronger and I don’t have any doubt that he’ll work hard and get in the weight room,” the Hornets executive said. “He’s a good rebounder, I wouldn’t say that he’s gonna be our rebound monster right now, but I think if he gets stronger, I think he can become an excellent rebounder.”

Kupchak envisioned how Williams and Hornets star point guard LaMelo Ball would fit together in the pick and roll, saying that the center could create space at the top of the key for Ball to operate in.

He also said that Williams, who led college basketball in dunks a year ago according to Jonathan Givony, could be a logical lob threat for Ball.

“Certainly having a guy that can throw (Williams) a lob, we’ve got a 6-7 point guard that can typically look over defenders and make that pass,” Kupchak said. “(Ball) can penetrate and if they collapse on him you can throw the ball up.”

Williams improved drastically from his freshman to sophomore seasons, increasing his minutes per game, points per game, blocks per game, rebounds per game, blocks per game and field-goal percentage.

He became much more aggressive protecting the rim and improved his ability to run the floor, Kupchak said.

“Big men, we have to run baseline to baseline so it’s a lot harder for us,” Kupchak, who’s 6-9 and played power forward and center in the NBA, joked.

While the team couldn’t explicitly talk about the Hornets’ trade of the No. 13 pick because the deal wasn’t official at the time, Kupchak hinted at the team’s rationale for moving out of that spot.

Charlotte traded that pick, which ended up being Duren, for a conditional first-round pick and four second-rounders.

“We didn’t feel using both picks was prudent,” he said.

He explained after taking three rookies last year, bringing in two more and having five players under the age of 21 would hamper the team’s goal of taking a step forward.

“I don’t know if that means 43 wins to 45 wins or 47 wins,” he said. “But we don’t want to go backward developing players … I think we’re at the stage where we want to make a jump.”

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