Charlotte Hornets’ Familiarity with Duke, Unc Shouldn’t Breed a Favorite for Pick

If you’re a college basketball fan in the Carolinas, you know Duke’s Luke Kennard and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson. You like Kennard and Jackson…or at least you respect them for what they accomplished at their schools 10 miles apart.

But is that reason enough for the Charlotte Hornets to use the No. 11 pick on either one in Thursday night’s draft? I’m not so sure.

If Kennard or Jackson is legitimately the next best player on the Hornets’ draft board, then fine. Each has a solid college resume. But familiarity bias shouldn’t factor in this assessment, either from the front office or the fan base.

In the lead-up to the draft, the question I’ve been asked most is, “Should Kennard be the Hornets’ pick?” I get that. I watched plenty of Duke basketball last season, and he’s entertaining.

After Kennard worked out for the Hornets Sunday, I asked him if his game is reminiscent of any established NBA player. Kennard mentioned San Antonio Spurs sixth man Manu Ginobili, and I can see that comparison. Kennard is offensively creative in somewhat the style of Ginobili and they are both lefthanded.

Kennard has a knack for scoring in a variety of ways, and that’s always appealing. But these days in NBA basketball there is a premium on switching defenses. That would require the 6-6 Kennard to defend not only shooting guards, but sometimes point guards and small forwards.

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, a possible lottery pick, was one of six participants in Sunday’s Charlotte Hornets pre-draft workout.

Diedra Laird dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Kennard will have to be somewhat hidden on defense to succeed in the NBA. That would be a challenge for a Hornets team that already took a step backward defensively last season. Kennard says he’s a better athlete than he’s reputed to be. We’ll see. That athleticism will be tested at the next level.

As for Jackson, projected as a 6-8 guard-forward, I think he’ll be more of a defender than Kennard. But in the NBA, where shooting range defines a team’s ability to space the floor, wing players are supposed to make 3-pointers.

In three seasons behind the college 3-point line (four inches closer than the NBA line), Jackson made 34 percent of his attempts. He improved some his final season at North Carolina, making 37 percent.

Shooting is something players can improve as pros, but 3-point accuracy is at a premium in an NBA extensively using 1-in/4-out sets, where everyone but the center is expected to spread the floor. Jackson is just OK at that.

I’m not saying Kennard and Jackson won’t be solid pros. They have size and skill, they’ve spent multiple seasons with great coaches and they’ve been tested at the highest level of college basketball.

But so have a lot of other players in this draft, from the SEC or Pac 12 or Big 12. The fact that these guys played up Tobacco Road shouldn’t put a finger on the scales of the decision for the 11th pick.

Think back to the 2005 NBA draft. The then-Bobcats were fortunate enough to have two lottery picks (top 14). They chose Tar Heels with both those picks, selecting point guard Raymond Felton fifth overall and Sean May 13th.

How’d that work out? May totaled 115 games over four NBA seasons. He’s now retired as a player, working with the North Carolina basketball staff. Felton has bounced around seven NBA rosters. He totaled 45 starts in his last three seasons.

If drafting Felton and May were mistakes that had nothing to do with their college affiliations, then fine; there have been plenty of fine NBA players from North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

But I remember an hour before that 2005 draft getting a call on my cell phone from a national draft expert. He was incredulous to hear the Hornets intended to use the fifth pick on Felton.

If Kennard or Jackson deserves to be the pick, then grab him. Just be sure that decision is for the right reasons.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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