Hornets trade up, select James Nnaji with 31st overall pick

The Charlotte Hornets were always unlikely to use all five of their draft picks in the 2023 NBA Draft. They decided to consolidate a couple to move up to the first pick of the second round. They used that pick to select center James Nnaji from Barcelona, originally from Nigeria.

Nnaji is a physical freak of nature. He’s about 7′ tall with a 7’7″ wingspan and weighs a chiseled 250 pounds. He looks like he’s carved out granite. He’s also an explosive athlete with a relentless motor and strong work ethic. That physical profile makes him a menace on the boards and an imposing physical presence on the interior defensively. He’s a true rim protector and vertical spacer in the truest sense.

Now if you’re looking for refined basketball skills, you won’t find them with Nnaji. He’s a complete non shooter. Most of his buckets are dunks and the rest are layups and putbacks. He was only a 44% free throw shooter with Barcelona, so there’s a lot of work to be done.

He has a pretty similar basketball story to former Hornets great Bismack Biyombo. He started basketball very late in life and was discovered almost by happenstance. He ended up in Spain, where he put himself on NBA radars with his physicality and athleticism. The two aren’t dissimilar in terms of play style either.

Nnaji is under contract with Barcelona, so the Hornets could potentially leave him there for a year or two if they wanted to. But they said on the ESPN broadcast that he has a very small buyout, so it won’t be a problem to bring him stateside whenever Nnaji and the Hornets feel the time is right.

The Hornets gave up the 34th and 39th pick to move up to the 31st pick to select Nnaji.

Here’s the highlight tape:

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