Nick Richards chosen 42nd overall; joining Charlotte Hornets


Kentucky junior forward Nick Richards watches his shot during the University of Kentucky vs. Auburn men’s basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 73-66 to win the SEC regular season championship. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Grant Grubbs

Despite the seemingly endless draft picks produced at the University of Kentucky, Nick Richards was one player unsure of his future going into the draft on Wednesday night.

Despite the uncertainty, he came out with a smile on his face.

The star big man heard his name called by the New Orleans Pelicans with the 42nd selection of the NBA Draft.

The second round forward/center will not be joining Duke sensation Zion Williamson though, as the Pelicans have reportedly traded the spot to the Charlotte Hornets.

This means Richards will team up with former Kentucky players Malik Monk and PJ Washington, along with fellow Hornet picks Lamelo Ball and Vernon Carey Jr.

Richards entered the draft after a breakout junior season, where he averaged 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He had a longer stay at UK than many draftees, but his hard work paid off. The athletic big expanded his range while bulking up and developing for the next level.

“Looked like he might be a rare miss for Kentucky, but really worked incredibly hard and fought through adversity to become a major impact player,” the Athletic’s Sam Vecenie said in his 2020 NBA Draft Guide. “Was one of the better centers in the country… really improved his ability to defend away from the basket.”

A 6-foot-11 rim-protector, Richards seemed to be an enticing choice for any franchise. Despite being a First-Team All-SEC center, he was far from a lock to be drafted and hovered anywhere from the 50th to 70th on analyst’s prospect boards, including 67th on Vecenie’s due to limited offensive ability.

“Offensively, you need to keep it pretty simple with him. Basically just a pick-and-roll diver right now,” he said. “Having said that, has showcased some jump shooting potential… was pretty good from the midrange this year. Very clean mechanically. Think he might be able to extend out to 3 at some point. If he does that, he’ll almost certainly stick.”

Richards is the 17th big-man drafted from Kentucky during John Calipari’s stint as the head coach. He follows in the footsteps of success stories like Karl-Anthony Towns, Demarcus Cousins and recent champion Anthony Davis.

His draft slot isn’t as high as any of those prior Cats, but like them, he has features a prototypical, modern NBA big. If the Hornets can unlock his potential, he could play a big role for the team down the line.