This morning I reached out to Ben Swanson (@CardboardGerald), managing editor of the SB Nation Charlotte Hornets blog At the Hive (formerly called Rufus on Fire). I asked him a few questions about new draft pick Noah Vonleh, last year's 4th overall draft pick Cody Zeller, and the general consensus about the team as they transition from the Bobcats back to the Hornets this offseason. Below are his answers:
1) Before the draft, I guessed that Vonleh would likely be picked somewhere between 4th and 8th. Instead, he fell into Charlotte's hands with the 9th pick. How are Hornets fans feeling about with the Vonleh selection the day after the draft?
The overall reaction has been extremely positive. For a talent like Vonleh to fall into their lap was surprising and they jumped on it to get the best talent available. He's got a ways to go to develop into a great NBA player, but his solid base skill set has given fans a lot to be happy about for the future.
2) There was a lot of talk that the Hornets would draft a shooter with the 9th pick. However, they went with Vonleh and instead took a shooter at the 26th spot with P.J. Hairston. I know coach Steve Clifford recently said that the team needed to get bigger, so do you think this was Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho's plan all along, or did they feel that Vonleh was a can't-miss prospect that couldn't be passed up?
Who knows what their plan was, but the original thinking was that Vonleh wouldn't be on the board at No. 9. Regardless, I think he was rated highly on their boards and they were probably very happy to grab him where they were. His potential could come back to make him even more valuable than where they took him. Given that they now have three top-seven picks in their frontcourt, it's not the most natural fit but it seems clear they couldn't pass up on his talent.
3) Vonleh impressed scouts in pre-draft workouts with his 7-4 wingspan and his potential to anchor a team's frontcourt for years to come. At IU, we saw some of this potential, as he averaged almost a double-double over 26.5 minutes per game. Where do you see Vonleh fitting in on an already loaded Hornets frontcourt?
Immediately he should give them a very talented rebounder and a smart defender in the post that can protect the rim. They were a good rebounding team already last year on the defensive end, but he should help a lot on the offensive end. His jump shooting needs some reps, and he'll get them, no question, this season. The Hornets need shooting in their starting lineup to help space the floor for their other offensive weapons so expect Vonleh to see plenty of looks from the elbow or further out. This assumes he starts, which is far from a foregone conclusion. They could very well sign Josh McRoberts or someone else and let Vonleh develop off the bench until he's ready to move into the starting lineup somewhere down the road.
4) Cody Zeller is still beloved in Indiana, and lots of Hoosier fans have been tracking his progress in Charlotte. How have you seen Zeller develop during his rookie season, and what has he learned playing alongside Al Jefferson and having Patrick Ewing as an assistant coach?
As fans who have followed his rookie season can attest to, Zeller's rookie season started off very slowly. It picked up a lot after the All-Star break when the then-Bobcats got their best offensive performances thanks to better team shooting. Better spacing gave Zeller more room to work with when driving to the rim. He's a decent ballhandler when facing up and taking a couple steps, but has trouble finishing at the rim sometimes because he lacks ability to finish through contact. He needs to get a bit stronger to help in this regard, but the biggest thing is improving his jump shot, I'd say. He was a poor shooter, as you can see. If he could hit those jumpers from the top of the key, he'd have a much bigger impact. Working with Jefferson and Ewing has to be a plus for Zeller. There's probably no one better in today's game to model your post offense after than Jefferson, whose footwork mystifies defenders. Ewing was one of the best players in recent history and could teach Zeller a thing or two about working out of the triple threat position as a big man, which should be Zeller's bread and butter to create offense.
5) Do you see Vonleh and Zeller eventually playing together for the Hornets, or will their roles overlap?
I bet they'll be on the floor together at some point, and as far as a frontcourt pairing, it's not out of the realm of possibility. Zeller's got good size to play center at seven feet tall and Vonleh can fill the shot-blocking role from the power forward spot. It's not the most intuitive partnership, but it could happen. Zeller didn't really work out of the post last season, so if Vonleh becomes a good post player, they could play together without too much overlap. It all depends on how well their offensive skills develop: post-ups for Vonleh, jump shot and finishing through contact for Zeller.
6) Finally, how excited are fans in Charlotte about the name changing back to the Hornets, along with the return of the teal and purple and Hugo the Hornet? Are those teal Starter jackets being sold again? And will Grandmama make a return?
It's been really crazy. I went to the playoffs when they played Miami, and it was just a very weird experience because half the home fans were wearing Bobcats gear and half were already sporting Hornets attire, which made it seem like there were three teams playing. And it looked like the arena's lower bowl was pretty full for the draft party last night. So fans are definitely excited to cheer for the Hornets, which has been a long time coming. The name just fits. It's unique, has local history and the colors are immediately identifiable. It doesn't look like the classic Hornets starter jacket is on the market quite yet, but they could easily add it to the current collection. As for Grandmama, I'm not so sure. They've reached out to many of the original Hornets as ambassadors, but Larry Johnson has not yet made an appearance to my knowledge. But they did bring out former Bobcats mascot Rufus clad in a Grandmama outfit.
Thanks again, Ben, and best of luck to Vonleh in Charlotte.