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Hornets draft several

With two first-round picks to improve a team that just missed the playoffs, the New Orleans Hornets doubled up on big men Wednesday night by taking Connecticut’s Hilton Armstrong and North Carolina State’s Cedric Simmons in the first round.

“They’re a pair that can play together,” Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said. “They give us instant athleticism on our front line.”

The Hornets grabbed Armstrong at No. 12, then added Simmons three picks later — adding twin towers to contribute strength at the core of their defense.

“We went into this draft hoping to add some reinforcements to our front line and size,” Bower said. “We really are about as happy as we can be right now because in all the scenarios that we kind of had playing out, this was one that we had taken a look at but felt that we would have to be very fortunate for it to present itself.”

Bower said the Hornets had ranked Armstrong and Simmons one after the other on their draft board and had difficulty choosing between the two. As it ended up, they got both. “This was a scenario that we weren’t going to pass up,” Bower said.

The Hornets were in need of size on the front line to provide relief for P.J. Brown, who will be entering his 14th year and faces the prospect of playing out of position at center for the third straight season. A natural power forward, Brown was forced to play center full time when the Hornets traded former All-Star Jamaal Magloire to Milwaukee before last season.

Now, coach Byron Scott anticipates Brown being able to ease the load on his knees while helping Armstrong and Simmons.

“Having these two young guys — these two studs — gives us a chance to really have P.J. become more of a teacher right now and really help these guys learn the system and integrate them into our game plan,” Scott said.

“The plan is for him to really teach these guys and help their development come along a little bit quicker and then obviously bring him off the bench.”

With their second-round pick, the Hornets selected guard Marcus Vinicius Vieira de Souza from Brazil.

Surrounded by talented offensive players including Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay, the 6-foot-11 Armstrong anchored Connecticut’s defense and had the most blocks during Big East Conference play last season.

He averaged 9.7 points as a senior, more than double his output the previous year, in addition to 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 blocks and was named the Big East defensive player of the year.