I, along with many other Hornets faithful, was anticipating a developmental leap from Dwayne Bacon in the team’s first year of franchise transition. During the team’s youth movement at the end of last year, he flourished attacking the rim and finding holes within the teeth of the defense to get a shot off. In the last 10 games of 2018-2019, he scored 20+ points three times, along with an 18-point outing. He, along with Miles Bridges, newcomer Terry Rozier, and draftee PJ Washington, had been tabbed as the collective face of the Charlotte rebuild going forward.
Through the first eight games of this season, Bacon has struggled, and doesn’t look like the player that some of us thought we’d see when given a heightened role with more shot opportunities.
Now, there are a plethora of reasons for this, but I’d like to point out one thing; in this heightened role with more shot opportunities, opposing defenses are also going to key on him more often than they used to. Last year, opponents had all they could handle in trying to slow down Kemba Walker (and Jeremy Lamb, on a good night), so whatever numbers Bacon put up were something they were willing to live with. Now, he’s one of the top scoring options on the floor at all times. It’s not an excuse as to why Bacon has been sub-par, but with few games under his belt as a premier player, it does make some sense that the adjustment hasn’t been fully made.
Across the board, Bacon’s per-game averages are up (all stats per basketball-reference.com). Field goal attempts (11.8), three-point attempts (3.1), rebounds (3.9), steals (0.9), and especially points (10.8). Almost all of these numbers have doubled from last season, or close to it. The volume is there; the production, not so much. Every single shooting percentage metric is below his career average.
So far. The NBA season is long and tumultuous, and there are peaks and valleys that a player can hit during those 82 games. A relentless shot-hunter, Bacon is always looking to take the first scoring opportunity that is presented to him. In a new year, with a new system, and a fairly-new team, those shots, and which ones are “good shots,” are harder to come by and harder to discern from one another. He doesn’t get to attack the late-rotating defender on a close-out as often, since he is typically the one that the rotation is coming from, instead of going to.
It would behoove Bacon (You like that? Name another basketball blogger who uses “behoove” in a sentence) to use his positional size and length to get to the free throw line. He’s averaging just 2.6 free throw attempts per game as of now, which isn’t going to cut it for a player who’s game revolves around taking it to the hole and drawing contact. Especially for a young player that is struggling with his shot, getting to the line not only elevates his efficiency, but it can be a confidence boost. Everyone likes to see the ball go through the hoop when they shoot it. The only player averaging more than four free throws per game (I use this as a baseline because it implies the player is getting fouled/to the line twice) on the Hornets is Devonte’ Graham (4.9). This is partly due to the team’s penchant for chucking threes and getting off quick shots, and partly due to their turnover woes, but it is still too low of a number for their current .500 record to be sustained.
This piece might read like Dwayne Bacon slander, but I promise there are positives to this; the most significant being that it is okay to miss shots sometimes. It’s a mathematically-proven fact that players are always going to miss more shots than they make. Now add that to the fact that Bacon is young, with a raw skillset, and plays on a team that just lost the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. In week three of the season, it’s no surprise that the void has not been completely filled on that end, or that Bacon hasn’t been able to put it all together.
Another positive; the Hornets got off to a much hotter start than they were expected to. The limelight shined on Graham, Washington, Bridges and the like, who propelled the Hornets to wins in spite of Bacon’s play rather than with his help. If the Hornets were 2-5 or 1-6, the likelihood that Bacon’s poor play would raise prominent red flags is slim.
The moral of this long and convoluted story; it is too early in the year to declare Bacon a “bust” (can a player even be a bust when he’s drafted 40th overall?) or say that the Hornets should move on from him. If we were to evaluate every player at that standard, Malik Monk would’ve been gone years ago and Terry Rozier and his $58 million would be getting put on waivers. If it gets close to Christmastime and Bacon is still putting up the same numbers, then it’s fair to sound the alarms. But judging a player’s worth based off of the first eight games of a franchise rebuild? Not wise, if you ask me.
But then again, I’m not wise, either.