Matas Buzelis or Ron Holland could be worth the Hornets' long-term investment

Two former five-star recruits ended up in a unique situation last season. Are Matas Buzelis or Ron Holland worth a top-six selection?
Team Detlef forward Matas Buzelis, right, of the G League Ignite celebrates with a teammate after hitting the winning shot during a Rising Stars semifinal game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Feb. 16, 2024 in Indianapolis.
Team Detlef forward Matas Buzelis, right, of the G League Ignite celebrates with a teammate after hitting the winning shot during a Rising Stars semifinal game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Feb. 16, 2024 in Indianapolis. / Grace Hollars / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Charlotte Hornets are closing in another important moment in franchise history. Securing the No. 6 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, Charlotte has a major decision to make for which prospect will potentially join their long-term core alongside LaMelo Ball, Brandon Miller and Mark Williams.

Slipping three spots in the lottery, Charlotte is now out of range for top prospects Alex Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher, but in a year like this there is still an opportunity to hit a home run. The Hornets are now in prime position to be selecting one of the G League Ignite wings with extremely high two-way upside: Matas Buzelis or Ron Holland.

Both former five-star recruits in high school, Buzelis and Holland are officially the final prospects that will go through the NBA’s Ignite initiative. The 2023-24 season was the Ignite’s final season as a program, which was announced earlier this offseason. Due to a certainly unique environment, one that seemed rather dearth of talent around them, Buzelis and Holland carried unique roles for this team.

First, let’s start off with Buzelis. A 6’10” wing with elite athleticism, Buzelis has a lot of untapped upside but is relatively raw still across the board. For the Ignite, Buzelis averaged 14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while carrying a near-league average 54.6 true shooting percentage.

When diving into Buzelis’ tape, there’s some wow moments but also a lot ‘what exactly are you doing here’ sequences as well.

Advertised on the high school level as a connector in the playmaking category, Buzelis finished with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, a usually damning statistic for future development in that area. Another facet of Buzelis’ game, perimeter shooting, was supposed to be a strength but he finished at a horrific 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Again, the Ignite’s roster construction wasn’t good on any level, but a prospect like Buzelis should have shined through way more often than he did. And when I’m starting off with the negatives more than the positives, it’s a hint as to why his fit with Charlotte might not actually be that snug.

What is the ceiling upside of Buzelis? The defense as a versatile secondary rim protector is there, as is the slashing and finishing around the basket due to said athleticism, but is there anything else currently in his tool bag offensively? That’s the real worry for the 19-year-old.

Meanwhile, Holland, another former No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 high school class, was more of the aggressor on the offensive end alongside Buzelis. During his lone season with the Ignite, Holland averaged 19.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals showcasing a real two-way upside as a wing-stopper on the next level.

The one major positive with Holland that stood out throughout his game tape was his motor, which truly never turned off throughout a game. For a team like Charlotte, who is desperately in need of defensive infusion, Holland would provide that in spades.

Similarly to Buzelis, though, Holland might have even more questions on the offensive end. Overall, Holland shot a ghastly 24 percent on threes, which is so concerning for a three or four in the pace-and-space NBA. Holland’s freakish athleticism and ability to read-and-react as a cutter often popped, but, again, that defense better be immediately translatable to suffice a No. 6 overall selection on him.

The draft ranges for Buzelis and Holland are all over the board. Buzelis could go as high as No. 3 overall to the Houston Rockets or slip past Charlotte altogether, if they don’t think the fit is strong enough. Holland, on the other hand, has even more variance from draft pundits with some seeing him as a late-lottery prospect instead of top-six.

In this draft, described as one of the weakest in terms of star power in the last 25 years, scouting departments need to ace their pre-draft intel on these prospects. Buzelis and Holland fit right into this, because the environment on G League Ignite was historically poor. What would happen if either prospect was placed into a top-flight NCAA program? Stocks for both might be off the charts right now.

Basketball scouting is all about trusting your instincts. When watching Buzelis and Holland within the Ignite’s program, it’s fair to say they could accentuate their strengths within a different environment. However, with those higher usage roles, they displayed a lack of development as efficient offensive creators.

Buzelis and Holland truly are mixed bag prospects, and if Charlotte views them as the ideal complimentary piece alongside Ball and Miller, don’t be surprised if either is selected at No. 6 overall. There’s no denying the significant risk with either one, though.