The Missing Piece: Draft Tiers

Published: January 12, 2013

In the last few pieces we have focused on veterans who could step in right away, take the Hornets to another level, and save Monty the frustration of having to introduce teenagers to the fundamental parts of the game and the NBA lifestyle. Monty has stated in the past that he would prefer to coach rather than teach, and that with young guys you are going to do a lot more teaching than coaching. There are benefits of bringing in players fresh out of college, however, as they are more likely to be devoid of the bad habits that NBA players tend to form if not coached properly once they get into the league. In addition, the draft is probably the only place that the Hornets could get an ‘A or B level’ player, seeing that those guys rarely hit free agency, and even more rarely flock to a small market.

In this edition, we take an early look at the 2013 NBA draft and what might be available to the Hornets if they look to add their Missing Piece by going in that direction. As of today, the Hornets have the fourth worst record in the NBA, meaning they would have a 11.9% chance at the top pick, a 38% chance at a top three pick, and a 83% chance at a top five pick if the lottery were to be held today. Of course, with the return of Eric Gordon, the Hornets figure to lose some ping pong balls should he stay healthy. They are currently 4th now, but are only 3.5 games behind Philadelphia, who has the 11th worst record in the NBA. One decent winning streak puts the Hornets at the end of the lottery. With that in mind, we check out the different tiers in the upcoming draft to get an idea of where the Hornets would need to pick in order to have the best chance at a true difference maker; a ‘Missing Piece.’

Tier One

Tier Definition: Superstar, franchise changer, #1 guy on a serious championship contender, First Ballot Hall of Famer if healthy

Examples (in prime): Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaq, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose

2013 class: Nobody

In this class, nobody has the potential to reach this elite status. In past drafts, Anthony Davis was in this category, as was Greg Oden and Kevin Durant but most drafts lack this kind of difference maker. These guys normally are easy to identify coming out nowadays, so they usually go #1 unless there are multiple Tier One guys in a draft (Oden and Durant). In the past, some of these guys slid because of a new circumstance (coming out of high school or International) but now NBA scouting is more advanced and these kids are identified in their sophomore or junior year of high school. For example, there are two potential Tier One guys in the 2014 draft- Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, but it doesn’t look like there is one in this class.

Tier Two

Tier Definition: Perennial All-Stars, Stars/Superstars, #1 guy on a fringe playoff team/solid playoff team, #2 guy on a title contender, likely Hall of Famer

Tier Examples: Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Tony Parker

2013 class: Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel

Of this group, Shabazz Muhammad will likely make the most immediate impact in the NBA and he might even be the best long term prospect in this class. His outside game is already NBA ready, with a smooth stroke from deep and a solid mid-range game. His is terrific in transition as well, as he can get to the basket and finish at an elite level. He also has tremendous upside as a defender, but his game is kind of limited to scoring and on-ball defense. His defensive rebounding is terrible and the word assist is not in his vocabulary (0.8 per game). Don’t expect steals or blocks either. He projects as an Eric Gordon of small forwards- terrific scorer and defender who is a bit undersized and doesn’t give you much else. Still, those two things he does give you are exceptional.

Anthony Bennett is an undersized power forward in the mold of Larry Johnson. He range extends out to the three point line and he is a load in the post, but because he is only 6’7″, that skill might not transition to the pros. He should still be a terrific rebounder because he actually has a great wingspan for his size (7’1″) and he has off the charts athleticism. He is at his best in transition, where he converts at a 74% clip as he is able to both finish with touch and power at the basket.

Nerlens Noel is not Anthony Davis, but he is special in his own right. Defensively, he shows many of the same attributes that Davis showed at Kentucky as he is able to make high impact defensive players without getting into foul trouble very often. His measureables are almost identical to Davis as well, and like Davis he seems to really understand the game on that end of the court. The difference between the two is on the offensive end where Noel is much more raw and does not possess the jump shot, free throw shooting, passing ability, or ball handling that Davis showcased in college. He is a long ways away on that end, but still ahead of a guy like Larry Sanders coming out of school. He could have a Sanders or Marcus Camby type of defensive impact in this league, with the potential to have a much better offensive game than either of those two.

Ben McLemore probably has the highest offensive ceiling in this draft, as he possesses the ability to attack the rim and hit from deep at an elite level. His stroke is as pure as Bradley Beal’s, last year’s #3 overall pick, but with better results as he is shooting 40% from deep and 88% from the line. His speed and explosiveness is reminiscent of Derrick Rose in college. That is his ceiling- Derrick Rose’s open court and penetration game, mixed with Ray Allen’s jump shot. His lack of elite ballhandling skills might keep him from ever reaching that ceiling, but if he does- look out.

Tier Three

Tier Three Definition: Quasi All-Star, #3 option on a title contender, #1 guy on a fringe playoff team, on the scouting report but not at the top of it

Tier Examples: David West, Luol Deng, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Steohen Curry, Jrue Holiday,  David Lee, Rip Hamilton, Danny Granger

2013 class: Cody Zeller, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Otto Porter, Marcus Smart

Most people would be surprised that Cody Zeller isn’t in the 2nd tier, but my tiers are ordered by potential ceiling and Zeller just does not have quasi-superstar potential. Zeller runs the floor great for his size, has soft hands, and has fantastic IQ on both ends of the court, but his short wingspan and overall poor frame prevents him from realistically being able to get to that elite level. I have seen LaMarcus Aldridge thrown around as his ceiling, and while I still think that is a little high, something in that range is attainable because Zeller is incredibly productive on the offensive end of the court. He has a post-up game, good passing instincts, a face up game, and he rarely turns the ball over. Defensively, he makes high impact plays without fouling and is incredibly active. When you look at some of the bigs in the tier examples above, he fits perfectly in this group, and while he doesn’t have an incredibly high ceiling, he does have a very high floor.

Alex Poythress is an absolute beast and is the closest thing I have seen to Karl Malone in transition since the Mailman retired. Despite being just 19, he already has an NBA body and when you combine his strength with his speed, you have a locomotive that nobody wants to get in front of when he gets the ball on the break. Poythress plays with a lot of the same energy that his predecessor Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played with, but he is not as good of an all-around player at this point. His outside shot is slightly better than MKG’s, but he doesn’t attack the defensive glass as much and his on-ball defense is not as good. What he does possess, however, is the ability to slide over to power forward and hold his own, much in the same way that LeBron and Melo can move to that position because of their bulky frames. In all likelihood, he is a guy who is two years away from making a real impact on this stage, but he could be worth the wait.

Otto Porter is the other small forward in this tier, and while he might have a slightly lower ceiling than Poythress, he has a greater likelihood of making an impact as early as next year. Porter has a fantastic mid-range game and sees the court really well as a facilitator on the offensive end. He also has tremendous length and plays with a lot of energy on the defensive end, much like a young Andrei Kirilenko. Like AK47, however, he has a thin frame and this might get him pushed around early in his career. He also doesn’t finish at the rim as well as some of the guys on this list, due in part to his size. But if you are looking for a stat sheet stuffer that can be in that Kirilenko or Josh Smith mold, this is your guy.

Marcus Smart and Archie Goodwin are both super talented freshman who play a style somewhat similar to how Russell Westbrook plays with the Thunder. They are not quite point guards, not quite shooting guards; Instead, they are part of this new breed called “attacking guards.” Like Westbrook, both have the ability to get their own shots at will or set up for others, due in large part to their tremendous athleticism and overall size. Of the two, Goodwin is slightly more polished but Smart might have the higher ceiling due to his powerful frame. Smart is a potential triple-double waiting to happen anytime he steps on the court. Actually, a quadruple-double possibility when you see his tendency to rack up steals as well. Meanwhile, Goodwin is a more advanced perimeter scorer at this stage and plays much more under control. Either way, there are tons of things to like about both of these young men.

Best of the Rest

Alex Len, Isaiah Austin, CJ McCollum, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams

None of the point guards (Burke, McCollum, MCW) are elite prospects. They all have some exceptional attributes along with some major red flags. CJ McCollum is a tremendous scorer who just recently suffered a terrible foot injury that might keep him out until the tournament. While he can score at will, he hasn’t shown that he can be a quality distributor on the next level, and his small frame makes him a potential defensive liability. Michael Carter-Williams, on the other hand, is perhaps the best pure point guard in college basketball and his length and quickness makes him a nightmare for opposing teams when he jumps passing lanes. He is  rail-thin as well, however, and his half court offense leaves a lot to be desired. He is not Kendall Marshall bad, as far as getting his own points in that setting, but he is close. Finally, Trey Burke is perhaps the most talented and productive of all the point guards in this years’ class, but his measureables (6’0″, 180) limit his ceiling to a degree. If you are a special player like CP3, you can still thrive in this league of 6’4″ point guards, but scouts see guys like CP3 as the exception, not the rule. Burke really is fantastic at pretty much every aspect of the game, but his size could hurt him at this level.

Alex Len and Isaiah Austin are two guys who might get drafted higher than they deserve to be based on their potential. Alex Len is the more polished of the two and is a real 7-footer with a solid frame. He has a solid face-up game and he changes a lot of shots on the defensive end. Because of his high motor, he is an above average offensive rebounder, but his lack of elite atleticism hurt his on the defensive glass. He is a slightly better prospect than Meyers Leonard was coming into last year’s draft and has a similar ceiling/floor. Isaiah Austin, meanwhile, is a rail-thin 7-footer who plays more like a guard than a big man. His range extends all the way out to the college three and he can handle the ball extremely well for his size, but there isn’t much of a post game to speak of and defensively he rarely makes high impact plays despite all his size and length.

Honestly, Who Knows?

Rudy Gobert, Dario Saric, Willie Cauley-Stein

There are some guys that are just impossible to project no matter how much you look into them. Rudy Gobert and Dario Saric are both international bigs and the track record with those guys are so spotty. They are playing such a different game that you really don’t know how they are going to respond when they get to the NBA. All you can really go on is measureables and skill set, but you never know how they will translate specifically. Darko over Melo, Bosh, and Wade – need I say more? As for Willie Cauley-Stein, he might become a better NBA player than his teammate Nerlens Noel or he might be out of the league in three years. He was the nation’s #1 wide receiver recruit before a growth spurt shot him up to 7-feet tall and switched his focus to basketball. He is incredibly raw, but he is tremendously athletic and has exceptional hands for a big man. His ceiling is limitless, but in some ways, so is his floor.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on For past issues in this series, click here


  1. JJacob

    January 12, 2013 at 10:00 am

    I really like Trey Burke. I don’t think his size will make too much of a difference in the league because of how skilled and talented he is. I think he’s the best point guard in the draft because he has the most well rounded game.

    On a side note…

    “Heard a Reno rumble or two that the Hornets will make shooting guard Eric Gordon available between now and the Feb. 21 deadline, but that was emphatically denied by one well-placed source. Also heard that it’s actually the Hornets who’ve been getting calls from interested teams, but the latest signals emanating from New Orleans suggest that the future Pelicans have no intention of moving him. The reality is that Gordon is likely to be subjected to trade speculation for the foreseeable future after his very public lobbying last summer to convince New Orleans not to match the max offer sheet he got from Phoenix. Bear in mind, though, that the Hornets are 10-4 in the mere 14 games that Gordon has played as a Hornet, rusty as he has looked in a lot of them. Which makes keeping the roster as is worth exploring, no?”
    -Marc Stein

  2. Michael McNamara

    January 12, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Per Trey Burke, I agree that you dont completely dismiss a player because of size but you have to factor it in , especially when you consider the direction that the PG position is heading. On top of that, how about specifically for the Hornets? Gordon is one of the shortest SG’s in the league. Can you get by with what would be undoubtedly the smallest backcourt in the league?

    Look at the teams you are going to have to play for the next 5-10 years in the Western Conference. Westbrook and Lamb are both big, long guards. Curry and Thompson are oversized as well. Lillard is a big point guard, and on and on. A Burke/Gordon backcourt would be giving up 3-4 inches at both positions every night.

    Per “the rumble”. That discussion is for another time and another day IMO

    • JJacob

      January 12, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      Honestly, I didn’t even figure Gordon’s lack of height with Burke’s lack of height into the equation. It would be a liability, and Monty has expressed that he values length on the court. He may not be the best fit on this team, but someone is going to get a good point guard.

    • Nola Moondog

      January 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      Unless we win the shabazz pick, or get high enough to get Mclemore, I just don’t see a player that would work better than Burke. Yes, the size would be a issue, but if we have a post 5 pick, and Burke is still there, can we really pass him up?

      He check all the boxes that you want a PG to have. Vision, Range, Handles, and leadership. He is short, but after watching him play twice so far (yeah, need to see more games), ill say he has some looong arms.

      How often do you see production, athleticism, and leadership come out at the point an not be a consensus top 5? I say take him, and figure out how to play him with Gordon later.

    • lsutigers33

      January 13, 2013 at 10:06 am

      Mike, don’t count out smart. He needs to continue to get the jumper, but his game is more nba ready than college. Watched him all through HS and he is a great leader and can see the court really well

      • Michael McNamara

        January 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

        Not even close to counting out Smart. I got him in the tier that includes possibly All-Stars

  3. da ThRONe

    January 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I been on the Burke bandwagon early in his career last year and he has done nothing but gotten better at every area of basketball.

    I do agree he doesn’t fit with Gordon, yet I’m still hoping we trade EJ.

  4. CoReMeGa

    January 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Nice write up on all of the prospects!

    I would love to see us trade our pick however for a veteran SF, since it’ll probably be in the 8-12 range. I think we took a project this year in Rivers and really believe that he’ll be worth the risk! We have the 2nd youngest team and as you said Monty doesn’t want to teach, and we should be investing all the development time into our 2 young guys from this year (3 if you think Roberts sticks around).

    A guard rotation of Gordon, Vasquez (6-6) and Rivers gives the Hornets good size in the backcourt!

  5. mateor

    January 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Now that’s what I am talking about…youth. I feel like I am in the minority here, but I believe in getting players that will get better, not worse. Veteran free agents are free agents for a reason, especially with this CBA.

    • Michael McNamara

      January 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      I gotta write 35 or so of these a year, so there will be a balance of youth, vets, FA, trades, etc. Just to give us a well-rounded base of knowledge on all available options.

      It will get more “youth heavy” after the trade deadline approaches and as the draft gets closer. That is, if we still have our pick after the trade deadline of course

      • mateor

        January 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm

        The only way we move that pick is if it goes with Eric Gordon.

        Calling it right now.

  6. Will

    January 12, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I don’t watch college basketball really until the tournament starts but the description of Otto Porter sounds like a great fit for this team. I love the rebounding and length of Aminu but it’s frustrating that I have a better shot than him. If he could add a decent shot to his arsenal, he’d be better. Porter sounds he could be that type of player.

    Still, it might be wise to sell high if the right situation presents itself whether it be now, at the deadline or on draft day. It’s good to remember that the draft is decided by a lottery. Even if we end up with a good chance of getting the top pick, nobody knows where it’ll really land. Of course, it could rise higher than it’s expected spot, but it seems to me that minimizing the risk of blowing the draft might be a wise move.

    Trading for a vet would limit our ability to go after free agents, though, whereas a rookie really wouldn’t. It’s a tricky situation but that’s why Dell and Monty get paid. They have, in general, made smart moves as highlighted on this site, so I’m sure that whatever happens, they’ll have the long-term success of the team in mind.

  7. Eli

    January 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Before the Hornets move up any higher in the standings, lowering the value of our pick, would you consider taking on a bad contract for a better pick?

    Ex. Our 1st for SAC 1st + C.Hayes or Our 1st for PHX 1st + C.Frye

    If no, what if you could GUARANTEE that the pick we would receive would be in the top 3? (I obviously know that a guarantee is not possible)

  8. Michael McNamara

    January 12, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Here’s some food for thought:

    What about a Euro stash in the late lottery?

    Saric and Gobert are both guys that could be taken in the lottery and could definitely use some seasoning. Keep Aminu for another year or two and see if he contines to progress, bring in some wings like Corey Brewer and Gerald Henderson to add depth. Continue to develop Rivers. If you do all that, there are no minutes for a rookie anyway.

    Draft an International guy with a high ceiling and let him stay over there so that his rookie contract clock does not start. Then as we have to possibly lose guys due to contract demands, we move them or let them go and bring over a more polished young guy on a contract that will be dirt cheap for the next 4 years.


    • Nola Moondog

      January 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      Gobert could allow the team to move Lopez next season, and bring him in after stashing for a year. Haven’t a clue what saric is about? He’s a SF, but dose he have range?

      • Michael McNamara

        January 12, 2013 at 7:01 pm

        Decent range for his age, but not great.

        Think more Toni Kukoc. Could be another ballhandler/playmaker on the wing who can take some pressure off Gordon

    • 504ever

      January 13, 2013 at 4:18 am


      I have a slightly different take than your post above, but it feels similar. My idea here is the Hornets will follow a philosophy similar to the Saints, since Benson owns and manages both teams. I suspect the Hornets will fill their holes in free agency, or plan to, because they have enough cap space, and draft best player available a la the Saints’ FA and draft model.

      So that means the Hornets add a more offensive SF to compliment Aminu (it definitely looks like Aminu stays after this recent win streak with Aminu and Gordon starting) and get a quick pure PG. I expect them to spend more money on the SF, but not break the bank on either. Depending on who it is, I could see a SF salary around $4-5M/year and possibly higher if we get a shot at a Ryan Anderson quality SF which I doubt will happen. I am on the Budinger or Brewer bandwagon for SF. In this scenario I am thinking the Hornets sign a cheaper PG like N.O. native D.J. Augustin. Augustin is clearly not playing well in Indy, and could revert back to his better, prior form in N.O. I could see Augustin coming off the bench in N.O. to play significant minutes with the starters, as a change of pace PG, and with the 2nd team. (That leaves Rivers free to develop into a Vasquez like player, a “tweener” who is part SG and part PG, which is where I see his size and skill set taking him.)

      Both Brewer (age 26) and Augustin (age 25) are unresricted FAs who might be attracted to a Hornets team with a developing mid 20s aged core that can grow together for a while. Another possible PG alternative could be same age, restricted FA Jeff Teague. But, like recently traded, same age, restricted FA Budinger, we need his current team to cut him free or sign and trade him. (Also, Teague will command more money than Augustin and will be looking to be the starting PG in N.O., as he is in Atlanta.)

      Then I add in your Euro-stash thought on who we draft to complete the picture.

      By the way, loved this article.

      • Michael McNamara

        January 13, 2013 at 9:25 am

        I pretty much agree. My personal realistic offseason best case scenario goes:

        Re-sign Aminu to a deal where only the first is guaranteed for 3 yrs/11 million
        Sign Brewer for 3 years and $15 million
        Gerald Henderson for 4 years and $20 million
        Mosgov for 2 year and 7 million
        Draft Gobert or Saric to stash


        That team is competative and has room for growth. Meanwhile I got a potential stud ready to come in for super cheap in 2 years if I cant re-sign some guys or if Brewer or Aminu dont live up to their deals

  9. lsucpolk

    January 13, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Hypothetically speaking, if Nerlens is available, do we take him? What kind of front court combo would he and Davis be? Who would be moved in order to make room for him? Lopez would seem to be the odd man out. His stat line from yesterday, according to a poster…

    0 TO;s

    • Michael McNamara

      January 13, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Noel is at least a year or two away from really contributing in this league IMO, but if the Hornets sneak their way up to a top 3 pick, you gotta consider him especially if Shabazz if off the board.

      As for how he and Davis would fit, they could be a terror on defense but neither has a post up game on offense. It would be a stretch

  10. houp garou

    January 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    nice article, no mcadoo?

  11. geauxtigers1989

    January 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Very good article. My personal top 5 would be:

    1. Muhammad – best talent at our position of greatest need.

    2. Noel – would provide a great rebounding and interior defensive presence. I’m sure Monty could find a way to make him work with Davis.

    3. McLemore – Don’t know how he would fit in with Gordon already here, but again, I think Monty can figure it out

    4. Len – good size and well rounded skill set.

    5. Smart/Porter – both of these guys can do a little bit of everything, which is always good.

  12. Pingback: Looking to the Future: International Imports | New Orleans Hornets |

  13. Brow Down a Rivers

    January 24, 2013 at 3:17 am

    I was all for trading our pick for a veteran player, but after looking at the talent, I’ve changed my mind. This draft is heavy on positions the Pelicans(is it too early, lol) need! Small forward and point guard, with some center as well. So I made my big board and noticed we are guaranteed to get a decent player..if they all come out early. Now some players I have rated higher, but based on our needs I rated them this way.

    1. Shabazz Muhammed SF UCLA 6’6″ 225
    2. Ben McLemore SG Kansas 6’5″ 195 don’t care that he is a shooting guard..he is just too talented to pass up..if we would of had a chance at Derrick Rose I would of took him even though we had CP3..and made it work lol
    3. Nerlens Noel C Kentucky 6’11” 215
    4. Alex Poythress SF Kentucky 6’7″ 215
    5. Otto Porter SF Georgetown 6’8″ 200
    6. Alex Len C Maryland 7’1″ 225
    7. Marcus Smart PG Okla. St. 6’4″ 225
    8. Michael Carter-Williams PG Syracuse 6’5″ 175
    9. Anthony Bennett PF UNLV 6’8″ 240
    10. Cody Zeller C/PF Indiana 6’11” 210
    11. Archie Goodwin PG/SG Kentucky 6’5″ 195
    12. Isaiah Austin C Baylor 7’0″ 215
    13. Trey Burke PG Michigan 6’1″ 175
    14. CJ McCollum PG Lehigh 6’3″ 190
    15. Rudy Gobert C/PF France 7’1″ 220
    16. Dario Saric SF Croatia 6’10” 223
    17. Willie Cauley-Stein C Kentucky 7’0″ 220
    18. Tony Mitchell SF North Texas 6’8″ 220
    19. Glenn Robinson III SF Michigan 6’6″ 210
    20. James Michael McAdoo PF/SF UNC 6’9″ 223

    I would be happy with anyone of those picks, but more than likely we would end up with a choice from around 11 with Goodwin on down to whoever is available.

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