Hornets draft LaMelo Ball with No. 3 pick, add 2 big men

CHARLOTTE — LaMelo Ball is thrilled to have a chance to play for the Charlotte Hornets. But the 6-foot-7 point guard is more excited to play for one of the greatest basketball players of all time in Michael Jordan.

’'Man, straight blessing, for real,’' Ball said of the six-time NBA champion and current Hornets owner. ’'I don’t even have enough words to say, I’m just blessed.’'

The Hornets selected Ball with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft, giving Jordan’s team a player with immediate notoriety and a rookie who can help put fans in the seats once the coronavirus subsides. Ball has amassed more than 5.6 million followers on Instagram -- which is 600,000 more than last year’s No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

His father, LaVar Ball, was on the Carolina Panthers practice squad in 1995 during the team’s inaugural season.

’'He’s a very young talented player who plays the kind of pace that we like to play,’' Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said. ’'He has a flare to his game that maybe has some entertainment to it, maybe more so than some other players. (But) that’s not why we drafted him. We drafted him because of his size and length and the way he can handle the ball and the way he pushes the ball.’'

Charlotte later addressed its lack of size by selecting 6-10 center Vernon Carey Jr. from Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year, with the 32nd overall pick in the draft.

The Hornets then traded their second-round pick in 2024 to the New Orleans Pelicans to acquire Kentucky 7-foot center Nick Richards, the No. 42 overall pick, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to the Associated Press on Wednesday night on the condition of anonymity because the details of the trade have not been announced, though the Hornets later tweeted about the move.

Charlotte also drafted guard Grant Riller from the College of Charleston with the 56th overall pick.

Coach James Borrego said he can foresee Ball on the floor at the same time with Charlotte’s current starting backcourt of Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier, the Hornets’ two leading scorers last season. Graham averaged 18.2 points per game in his second season, while Rozier averaged 18 points per game after coming over from the Celtics.

Ball said he’s all for that.

’'I feel like I fit anywhere,’' Ball said. ’'It is positionless basketball. I feel like I can get it and go.’'

Kupchak said he envisions Ball playing some point wing alongside four other players who are 6-7 or shorter.

Ball is most comfortable with the ball in his hands and brings exceptional ball-handling and court vision to the NBA after averaging seven assists per game last season for Australia’s Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League. He finished 17th in the NBL last season in scoring, averaging 17 points per game although he only played in 12 games.

Ball first earned national attention during his freshman year at Chino Hills High School in California where he won a state title playing alongside his older brothers LiAngelo and Lonzo, who now plays for New Orleans Pelicans. Ball left to play professionally overseas after his junior season of high school, first playing in the Lithuanian league and later for the Hawks.

Lonzo and LaMelo are the first brothers to be selected in the top five.

’'I feel like I was born to do this,’' Ball said.

Dallas Mavericks agree to sign Gastonia-native Nate Hinton

Gastonia-native and University of Houston guard Nate Hinton plans to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Hinton left the University of Houston early to pursue a professional career after finishing among the top five leaders in offensive and defensive rebounding in the American Athletic Conference.

“I am honored to have been chosen by the Dallas Mavericks,” Hinton said. “I look forward to my new career in Dallas and contributing to the team. I’ve got my foot in the door, and I was hungry but now I’m hungrier. It will be a true blessing, and I thank the coaching staff and administrators for their faith in my ability.”

Hinton, who averaged 10.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore with the Cougars, also previously has met numerous NBA teams. Known for his unique playing style, Hinton has many analysts proclaiming that he is the best rebounding guard in the 2020 draft.

“We are honored to have our son join the Dallas Mavericks. We are looking forward to seeing his professional career takeoff and watching him continue to keep God first,” said Hinton’s parents Dr. Benjamin and Tangela Hinton of Gastonia.

Magic take North Carolina’s Cole Anthony with 15th pick

Cole Anthony spent his lone year in college battling injuries and still put up big numbers. The Orlando Magic can’t wait to see what he’s capable of when fully healthy.

The Magic took the former North Carolina guard — and son of longtime NBA guard Greg Anthony — with the No. 15 pick in Wednesday’s NBA draft. The 6-foot-3 Anthony led the Tar Heels in scoring at 18.5 points per game last season, his lone season at the college level.

“I’m healthy now and I just can’t wait to get out there and play. ... This is the best moment of my life right here,” a teary Anthony said on the ESPN telecast of the draft. “Nothing compares to this moment right here. Maybe birth.”

With Anthony — who endured some knee issues in college and played much of last year at less than 100% — the Magic could essentially be adding two first-round picks to their roster for this coming season. Orlando used the No. 16 pick last year on forward Chuma Okeke, who missed last season while recovering from a torn left ACL. The Magic signed Okeke on Monday.

“Cole is a very talented guy that we didn’t think would get to 15,” Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We’re excited to have him. ... At 6-2, with a strong body and a high motor and a high skill level and a high IQ, we feel like Cole is going to be kind of a modern guard. He’s going to be able to play both positions and elevate others around him.”

Orlando went 33-40 last season, getting to the playoffs for a second consecutive year and falling in the first round to Milwaukee. Markelle Fultz, a former No. 1 overall pick, emerged as the team’s starting point guard and averaged 12.1 points along with a team-best 5.1 assists, but the Magic clearly need some additional offensive punch after finishing last season 24th leaguewide in points per game.

Anthony could help: He had 20 or more points in each of his first three college games, including what became a season-best 34 in his debut against Notre Dame.

The Magic were not scheduled to have a second-round pick. They entered the draft in possession of a second-rounder — No. 45 — but traded that pick Wednesday afternoon to Milwaukee for two future-second round selections. One of those will be conveyed in either 2022, 2023 or 2024; the other is coming to Orlando in 2026.