Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t initially Kentucky coach John Calipari’s choice to start at point guard last season. But he ended up the Wildcats’ best NBA prospect by season's end. Jeff Roberson AP File Photo
Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t initially Kentucky coach John Calipari’s choice to start at point guard last season. But he ended up the Wildcats’ best NBA prospect by season's end. Jeff Roberson AP File Photo

Charlotte Hornets

For Charlotte Hornets, is point guard depth a burning draft need?

May 18, 2018 11:37 PM

CHICAGO

Should the Charlotte Hornets address point guard with the 11th pick in next month’s NBA draft?

And if so, would Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Alabama’s Collin Sexton be a better choice at that spot?

We’re a long way from a conviction on who will be available after the first 10 picks are made June 21. But based on the talent available, it’s likely the stronger positions at that juncture will be small forward (maybe a Miles Bridges from Michigan State or Kevin Knox for Kentucky), shooting guard (what about Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith?) or the point.

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Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker became the team's all-time leader in points scored on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC. Walker finished with 21 points.

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Which begs the question: How much do the Hornets need a point guard?

Here are the circumstances: Kemba Walker is the Hornets’ best player and a two-time All-Star. He’s obviously in the top third of the point guards in the NBA. He just turned 28 and completed his seventh NBA season; barring an injury no one can predict, he should have multiple seasons left in his NBA prime.

However, Walker is also a season away from becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Based on recent performance and what other elite point guards make, he’s due for a huge raise from his current annual salary of $12 million. He has said twice to the Observer that he wants to make sure the rest of his career is meaningful as far as playoff appearances.

So, while Walker truly loves Charlotte, it’s no given he’ll be here long term. And there is no certainty he can be replaced by the players currently on the roster.

Malik Monk played part time at point guard his rookie season and will certainly play some point guard the rest of his career. That’s partially a function of his 6-3 height. But it’s no given his future is primarily at the point or whether that’s the best use of a player whose primary talent is scoring.

That’s where this discussion winds back to Gilgeous-Alexander and Sexton. They are both point guards, both likely top-15 selections. But they are different, both physically and in skill set. Would one be a better fit than the other? Would either be a great fit for the Hornets?

The argument for Sexton

Sexton, a high school star in Atlanta, chose Alabama primarily to play for Avery Johnson, a former NBA point guard and NBA coach. Sexton averaged 19.2 points, shot 45 percent from the field and got to the foul line 7 ½ times per game.

At Alabama, point guard Collin Sexton was explosive and sometimes spectacular in the pick-and-roll, which is core in most any NBA offense.
Charles Rex Arbogast AP Photo

As those statistics suggest, he was explosive and sometimes spectacular in the pick-and-roll, which is core in most any NBA offense. Johnson featured him and refined him; all those trips to the foul line show how hard he is to guard. In that way, he’d be similar to what Walker has become so good at. Except …

Sexton shows up in the NBA having made just 33.6 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Walker didn’t become a top point guard until he dramatically improved his 3-point shooting two summers ago. That changed how teams have to guard him; you can’t just duck under picks anymore, not worried that opens Walker to swish a 3.

A team drafting Sexton knows it is projecting that Sexton will improve his jump shot. He said Thursday at the draft combine that is his priority. The results are still to be learned.

The argument for Gilgeous-Alexander

Remember the reasoning on signing Michael Carter-Williams as a free agent last summer? That Carter-Williams' long arms and 6-6 height would be a great complement to the 6-1 Walker and be a strong pairing with Monk off the bench?

That reasoning wasn’t flawed; Carter-Williams’ dimensions would have helped this team more, but he had a horrible shooting season and was hurt a lot.

Gilgeous-Alexander has those dimensions, and he used them well defensively, not only guarding the ball-handler but in a help-defense manner.

Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t initially Kentucky coach John Calipari’s choice to start at point guard last season. But he improved so steadily, and became so much more of a scorer off the drive that he ended up the Wildcats’ best NBA prospect by the end of the season.

Bottom line

Either of these guys would add depth at the most important position in the NBA. Sexton is probably more ready to play now for his pick-and-roll value and because Gilgeous-Alexander needs to add muscle to a thin frame.

But in the long run, Gilgeous-Alexander may impact the game in more ways, and his length is so valuable in a league of increasingly switching defense. Probably more of a gamble but potentially more of a prize.