CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — There was plenty of debate in the weeks leading up to the NBA draft over whether the Charlotte Hornets preferred Alabama’s Brandon Miller or the G League Ignite’s Scoot Henderson with the No 2 pick.
In general manager Mitch Kupchak’s mind there was never a debate.
“Brandon was our favorite all along,” Kupchak said. “There was a lot of spirited discussion in the last three days, which I welcome. ... But I think he’s the player that is the best player.”
Miller gives the Hornets an athletic 6-foot-9 wing with a smooth shooting stroke who can knock down shots from the perimeter. He averaged 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season for the Crimson Tide, who entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed before making an early exit.
But the Southeastern Conference’s player of the year as a freshman comes with some baggage.
Miller is tied to a case that led to former Tide player Darius Miles and another man being indicted on capital murder charges. A police investigator testified in February that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun that night. Miller hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing, though the ongoing case brought intense scrutiny during the second half of the season for Miller and the Alabama program.
Kupchak said the Hornets conducted an extensive background check on Miller, including a trip to Alabama about two weeks ago.
“We are comfortable with Brandon on and off the court,” Kupchak said.
Miller has said he can’t discuss the case.
On much a lighter note, Miller made news last week when he said he considered Paul George his personal GOAT, or the greatest of all-time.
He didn’t back off that Thursday night even after being drafted by outgoing Hornets majority owner and six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan, considered by many the best player ever.
“I think I made it clear that Paul George is still my GOAT, but Mike is definitely up there when in his prime,” Miller said with a laugh. “Mike does everything. We wear his shoes and he jumps from the free throw line. But Paul George is my GOAT.”
Miller appears to be a better positional fit for the Hornets than Henderson, who would have joined a crowded backcourt that includes LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, last year’s leading scorer.
As a wing, Miller has a good chance to see significant playing time.
Gordon Hayward, who has struggled with injury issues, is in the final year of his contract and it’s unclear if the team will try to re-sign restricted free agent Miles Bridges, who missed all last season while dealing with a domestic violence case. Bridges will serve a 10-game suspension to start the season after pleading no contest last November and being sentenced to serve three years of probation.
Miller feels he should benefit from playing with Ball, who is an above-average ball distributor.
“Melo is my guy,” Miller said. “I think with Melo, as good of a point guard as he is, I just kind of fill in the place (on the court). And I know he is going to be the big brother for me away from home.”
The 20-year-old Miller is also considered a much better shooter than Henderson, addressing an area of concern for Charlotte.
The Hornets finished 29th in the league last season on 3-pointers at 33%. Miller shot 38.4% from beyond the arc at Alabama. Henderson shot just 27.5% from deep last season for the Ignite, although the 3-point line is deeper in the G League.
At the Spectrum Center in downtown Charlotte, the Hornets’ decision to take Miller over Henderson was greeted with a mixed reaction by about 5,000 fans gathered for a draft party.
Before the pick, fans cheered loudly when Henderson was shown on the big screen.
Miller joins a Hornets team that hasn’t reached the postseason in an NBA-worst seven straight seasons and finished with the fourth-worst record in the league last season at 27-55. Charlotte managed to move up two spots in the lottery, barely missing out on the No. 1 pick and Victor Wembanyama.
Kupchak said a handful of teams showed significant interest in trading up to the No. 2 spot, but added “we never got to the point where we seriously considered moving the pick.”
The Hornets selected 19-year-old guard Nick Smith Jr. from Arkansas with the 27th overall pick. Smith had been projected as a potential top-five pick before a knee injury caused him to miss 19 games last season.
Charlotte also added James Nnaji, a 6-foot-11 center from FC Barcelona, and UCLA guard Amari Bailey in the second round.