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Summer League 2018: What we learned

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The Hornets return to the Las Vegas Summer League provided some insights into what we can expect from their young players heading into the season

2018 NBA Summer League - Las Vegas - Oklahoma City Thunder v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

It was hard not to get excited about this year’s Charlotte Hornets Summer League team with seven players under contract participating. Plus, the return to Las Vegas meant no more practice gyms and the chance to impress coaches, scouts, fans, and writers all in the same building. The Hornets fell short of what could have been a championship run, but there is plenty to take away from their five games.

Hernangomez made the right choice

Choosing between your national and professional team isn’t easy for many, and undoubtedly it was a tough decision for Willy Hernangomez. But choosing to play in Summer League instead of World Cup qualifying proved to be the right call for Willy, who performed well overall in four games.

Hernangomez averaged 18.3 points and 12 rebounds per game, making him the team’s leading scorer if you take away Monk’s one game. He scored with ease virtually everywhere in the paint, and the added muscle helped him on the rebounding end.

But we knew he could score and rebound in the paint. The surprise was his 3-point shot. It wasn’t perfect, particularly in Game 1, but he steadily improved from beyond the arc and finished 5-for-13 from the field, or 38.5 percent. He seemed most comfortable hitting the corner-3, and I also liked that despite the early misses, his confidence never waned. None of us are asking him to be a dead-eye outside shooter, but if he could reach something close to 38.5 percent in the regular season, taking between 1-2 a game, I think we’d be happy.

Monk teased us again

Malik Monk is an exciting player to watch, but for various reasons we haven’t been able to watch him enough. Summer League was supposed to change that, but a fractured, then not fractured, thumb ended things after one spectacular performance.

Monk’s 23 points in the opening game showed us a lot of what he is capable of offensively. He’s a deadly catch-and-shoot player, and he isn’t bad taking players off the dribble as well. He’s also capable of heating up quickly, as indicative of his 11 point burst to start the game.

But what I liked most was his decision making — he didn’t take any bad shots, and he often moved the ball around for better shot opportunities. Head coach James Borrego talked about making quicker decisions, and I saw that from him.

One game isn’t enough, unfortunately, but it gave us another tease to talk about until preseason.

Bacon can score, but how much of it translates?

After injuries and absences left the Hornets depleted against the Toronto Raptors, Dwayne Bacon stepped up and scored 28 points in the team’s, 87-84, loss. He finished Summer League averaging 18.2 points per game, and he scored often by blowing by defenders and attacking the hoop. It looked great, but I came away wondering if he’ll be able to do it against NBA level defenders.

Bacon is a solid player and a great pick in the second round. He has a nice body of work, and his work ethic appears to be one of the highest on the team. But where Hernangomez and Monk showed us something new, Bacon showed more of the same. We saw this last summer, and we saw a bit of it in the NBA. His scoring average this summer was up from last year, but his field goal percentage was down, and his 3-point percentage went up but only to 31.2 percent.

I think there are minutes available for Bacon, but as our own Jonathan DeLong points out, are we ready to hand him minutes over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist? Bacon is more offensively minded, but his shot selection must improve. At least with MKG we know we are getting a sound defensive wing (though it’s doubtful he plays anywhere close to the role he had last season, based on what we’re reading and not reading).

And while were at it, do you play him over Miles Bridges? I settle on yes initially, but only because he has an extra year under him. That’s my issue. Whereas I immediately see roles for Hernangomez and Monk, I don’t with Bacon right now.

We smartly did not overreact to Brigdes

The blessing of such a deep Summer League roster is we could spread our attention out among many players instead of one or two, which I think did Miles Bridges a favor.

Overall, Bridges had a solid summer league, but he looked like a work in progress. He averaged 15 points per game, but shot just 34.2 percent from the field and 20 percent from 3. It ultimately came down to shot selection — Bridges too often settled for low percentage looks, which is a common trait among rookies. He seemed to start many of his five games shooting terribly, only to settle into the game in the second half and play much better.

If he had been the main focal point we might have lost our minds, but we didn’t, and we shouldn’t have regardless. Bridges will need to develop his outside shot, but he wasn’t expected to have it figured out by now. The fundamentals are there, though some minor tweaks with his release could help.

We did see the much anticipated athleticism, and it was on full display in the team’s final game and throughout summer league.

I’m not expecting instant impact from Bridges this season, but if we’re patient, he could develop into a dangerous player once the other parts of his game catch up to what he can already do.

Graham, Macura, and the rest

  • I see why the Hornets moved up to take Devonte’ Graham 34th overall. His court awareness and passing ability are strong, and he could develop into a solid rotational guard if he improves his jumpshot. It’s almost a given that Tony Parker won’t play all 82 games, which means Graham could serve as the backup point guard on occasion. Hopefully his knee can heal before training camp.
  • J.P. Macura doesn’t look like an NBA player yet, but I like a lot of his game. He’s always in the right spot, he crashes the boards, and he makes quick decisions with the ball. He doesn’t give up on plays, either, and on more than one occasion he made up for a turnover by getting back on defense and forcing a bad shot or turnover on the other end. Plus, he takes charges. Coaches love that. Again, he’s not NBA material now, but he could be after a year in Greensboro.
  • After a solid first game, Arnoldas Kulboka was a non-factor for the rest of Summer League. I like his size for the position and offensive potential, but staying at least another year in Europe is the right call.
  • The rest of the roster showed flashes of good things, though none particularly stood out to me. For what it’s worth, though, Assistant General Manager Buzz Peterson told the NBATV broadcast during the Raptors game that they were impressed with Joe Chealey. At the very least, we’d have to suspect he’ll get a training camp invite.