The Charlotte Hornets were one of the biggest winners of the NBA Draft last Thursday, landing Indiana Hoosier standout Noah Vonleh at number nine and former Tar Heel turned Dallas Legend P.J. Hairston in a trade with the Heat, who picked him at 26. So, of the two first round picks, who will have a better season for the now-playoff-contending Hornets?
Vonleh comes into Charlotte as a 2nd, possibly 3rd string power forward for the Hornets. Despite his massive upside, Cody Zeller and the possible return of Josh “McBob” McRoberts leave Vonleh out of the running for starter. I strongly disagree with the move to bring back McRoberts as a starter, as it would just stunt Vonleh and Zeller’s growth, but Charlotte management seems to disagree.
Still, Zeller’s breakout final third of his rookie season has Charlotte coaching staff high on him, as they should be. Also, everyone in the Charlotte office knows that Vonleh is a project. Vonleh will be a star, but chances are we don’t see that stardom until next season. His production will likely be limited in his first year, but don’t get me wrong. Vonleh is not anything close to the (possibly failed) project Bismack Biyombo was (is).
Vonleh will likely dazzle teams, scouts, and analysts in his scarce playing time with his massive hands, quick feet, post moves, and outside touch. He will definitely have an impact on the game night in and night out, much like Zeller did towards the end of last season.
Despite not getting the playing time he deserves this season, I predict Vonleh to still produce solid numbers under Steve Clifford and put himself in the pole position for starting power forward next year. I would say Vonleh puts up numbers around 7.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG in around 21 MPG.
Hairston also finds himself buried on the depth chart, but the guys in front of him are in different situations compared to Vonleh’s competition of Cody Zeller and Josh McRoberts. Gary Neal and Gerald Henderson find themselves both on very tradeable deals, and trading one or both of them actually may seem like the best move for Charlotte.
With a guy like Hairston who has so much talent as a pure scorer, the one dimensional games of Henderson (midrange shooter) and Neal (three point specialist) seem ill advised to be the starters. It is entirely possible that Hairston sees little time behind them, but I project Charlotte to trade Henderson, play Neal at backup point guard a bit, bring Hairston off the bench as the sixth man and sign Lance Stephenson to start at two guard.
That scenario may be a bit of a pipe dream, but the point is, Hairston is going to see time at Charlotte’s two guard position, somehow, someway. A lot of time. Much more than Noah Vonleh.
I would not be surprised if Hairston, in 29 MPG, puts up 14.3 PPG, shoots 35% from the field, earns an all NBA rookie first team nod, and becomes a clutch late game asset for the Hornets.
So, from my stat predictions, you can see where I stand. Draft order aside, I feel Hairston will have a much better rookie year, as his talent does not need as much developmental time as Vonleh does. I am super high on Vonleh, I just expect his gradual improvement to take more than a few summer league games and some 20 minutes a night to actualize.
So, all in all, Hairston will likely have the more successful rookie showcase, but Vonleh will probably be the better player and have the better career when it is all said and done. Either way, I am happy to call them both Hornets.