On June 23, the Charlotte Hornets swung a draft-day trade, flipping their 34th and 39th picks to move up to 31st to acquire James Nnaji. At 18 years old, Nnaji boasts NBA-ready athleticism but is still an incredibly raw big-man prospect, having only risen to prominence with his performances for Barcelona last season.
However, it would appear that Hornet’s fans may not get the opportunity to see their young prospect in action this summer. Recently, Gerard Solé, who covers Barcelona as a play-by-play announcer for DAZN sports, spoke with Sports Illustrated’s James Plowright to discuss Nnaji’s immediate future.
"“What I was told is that he’s not thinking right now 100% to leave Barcelona. He’s evaluating his situation with his agent,” Solé said. “It’s not guaranteed that he’ll play in the Summer League, but he wants to play, and Barcelona will probably allow him to play.”"
After making moves to acquire Nnaji in the NBA Draft, the Hornets will likely want to get a closer look at their new big man prospect, which would entail him making the trip to Las Vegas this summer. There’s no guarantee that Nnaji will join the Hornets roster this year, as he could stay in Spain to continue developing in one of the best leagues in Europe.
As such, any time the young prospect can spend with the Hornets coaching staff will be incredibly valuable to their evaluation of his current talent level and what he needs to improve on before making the move across the Atlantic.
Last season, Nnaji participated in 27 regular-season games for Barcelona in the Liga ACB, averaging 4.9 points and 3 rebounds. The explosive big man also saw the floor on 15 occasions during EuroLeague competition, where he averaged 2 points and 1.2 rebounds.
By leaving Nnaji to develop in Europe, the Hornets will have team control for one of Europe’s best big men prospects. Nnaji already has the physical tools needed to compete at the NBA level; now it’s about fine-tuning his game and developing his skillset.
Furthermore, European players usually have a buyout in their contract should an NBA team draft their rights and wish to bring them to the United States. Both the team and the player would need to pay the buyout in order for the player to be allowed to change teams legally.
Hopefully, we will see Nnaji in Las Vegas, and perhaps he will make the move to the NBA in the near future – if not this season.