Here on At the Hive, we are starting a new series of articles. With the Greensboro Swarm seeing more and more players from the Hornets organization via assignments, it makes sense to take a closer look at them throughout the course of the season. That way, we can see how two-way players and other impactful guys are playing, in order to predict what Mitch Kupchak and the management will do. After all, the team still has one open spot to fill on their roster.
Since the G League season is much shorter than the NBA (52 compared to 82), its best to categorize a series of showcases in order to get continuous feedback from the team’s affiliate organization. There will be recap posts after the team’s series of five-increment games.
With that said, here’s how the Swarm mounted the start to their season.
Record through five: 4-1, second in the Eastern Conference
The most impactful player over the Swarm’s first stint of the season has been Devonte Graham. Graham, the Charlotte Hornets second-round draft pick in this year’s draft, showcased why he was selected 34th overall. After three assignment games, meaning the Hornets transferred him up to Greensboro, he was nothing short of spectacular.
Averaging 28.3 points, six rebounds, and six assists, Graham was able to showcase his talent with the ball in his hands. He was the team’s primary ball handler through these games and showed glimpses of his stellar career at the University of Kansas. This is a very interesting storyline to watch as the season rolls along and he gets more playing time for the Swarm.
Chinanu Okanua was the Swarm’s first selection in this year’s G League draft and so far, he’s proven to show why he was worthy of the second overall pick. The part of his game that Okanua has been able to highlight through five games is his rebounding ability. At 6’10”, 245 pounds, he definitely has the physicality to be a physical presence on the glass. Luckily for him, he’s been able to become a terrific glass cleaner for the team. Through five games, Okanua is averaging 13.6 rebounds per game, which makes him second in the entire G League. The Hornets could always use a rebounding big man, so we may see Okanua on the Hornets select times during the season.
Shifting over to the team’s guards, it looks like point guard Jaylen Barford could make a serious run for Joe Chealey’s playing time this season. Chealey signed a two-way contract this offseason after a successful career at the University of Charleston, but it looks like Barford has the upper hand. He is off to a terrific start - averaging 15.2 points and two steals per contest. An undrafted player out of Arkansas, Barford has proven to be a reliable scorer on all three levels of the halfcourt. Whether that’s from the field (where he’s shooting 50 percent) or from three-point land (where he’s knocking down 41 percent), he can be the focal point on offense in terms of scoring. With Chealey having the upper edge in playmaking, Barford makes it up in putting the ball in the basket. I expect to see similar stats from those two and it’ll be interesting to see who comes out as the better G League talent when its all said and done.
The only disappointment so far has been the play of point guard Cat Barber. Many Hornets fans were excited to see the return of Cat Barber on the Swarm this season. The NC State product was thought to make a career-altering impact for the Swarm in order to better suit himself for a long-term pro career. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do that so far through five game. First, he is shooting an abysmal percentage from the charity strike. You would think that a 6’2” guard who shot 79 percent from the line in college would be able to improve that rate to about 86? But no, Barber has become a true liability on free throws. He’s currently shooting a bleak 40 percent off six attempts per game. This needs to be improved and fast if he wants to continue to be a slashing scorer.
The other disappointment in Barber’s game is his three-point shooting. After finishing with a modest 34 percent in college, Barber has shown once again that he’s just not ready to make that next step. Through five games, he’s shooting 17.6 percent from downtown - a lackluster percentage for a player, even in the G League. These two issues need to be adjusted if he wants to make anything out of his young career.
What can be learned:
Devonte Graham could be a capable role player when relied upon. If these three stellar performances tell you anything, it’s that Graham is fully ready to become the Hornets backup point guard. This should be good news to Hornets fans as the 36-year-old Tony Parker will experience many games of rest - forcing Graham to run the team’s backup point. Luckily, it looks like he’ll be able to handle this role at an efficient level, which is a feat Hornets fans haven’t gotten since the Jeremy Lin days.
Another keynote was the play of J.P. Macura. Macura, like Chealey, is signed on a two-way deal with the Hornets. It seemed like he would strictly be a tall point guard coming into the league, given his height at 6’5”. However, it looks like his potential is way more than that.
Through the Swarms’ first five games, he’s played positions one through four, and at an effective rate. This is an interesting storyline to watch for as the Hornets have never had someone who can play all four positions with the passing and shooting skills of a point guard. When he does play games in Charlotte, it’ll be fascinating to see if head coach James Borrego follows along with Joe Wolf in the G League in terms of playing Macura at those nonconventional positions. This versatility allows both the Swarm and Hornets to run sets and lineups that were previously thought as impossible. Having a point guard effectively play the three or four can do wonders to an offense as a whole.