This is really tough.
I never thought I would be writing the phrase: “Kemba Walker is no longer a member of the Charlotte Hornets organization.”
Through all of the flat-out degrading years of Charlotte Hornets basketball since 2011, of which the team experienced draft pick woes and on-court failures, there was always one player that stood out from the rest. That player was Kemba. He was simply the reason why I started getting into the NBA and eventually covering it.
My admiration for Kemba is due to his personality and demeanor. Despite carrying a mediocre Hornets squad for the better part of four years, he never showed any sort of frustration towards his teammates or the media.
Just think for a second: Was there a time when Kemba got into any clear, upsetting conflict with coaching staff or players on the court? The answer is most likely no.
This humble attitude that reached beyond the game of basketball was a perfect match with the city of Charlotte and its values. Hardly anyone criticized his personality, not even the most brute analysts in basketball. I’m looking at you, Stephen A. This on and off-the-court success is simply not the status quo among the league’s greats.
He seemed to love the Charlotte community and they responded back with a mutual bond that felt like it would last forever. Through hosting basketball camps in the summer to reaching out and doing charitable work with those around the city of Charlotte, Kemba embraced his fans to the best of his ability. Players with this awareness and dedication for its fan base are a rare feat in today’s league, even in a small market like Charlotte.
Unfortunately, the Hornets’ salary situations and the philosophy to not budge into the luxury tax thwarted that everlasting idea of Kemba and Charlotte coexisting forever. As of today, no longer will Kemba be the face of the franchise we have cared for through all these years.
Instead, he is taking his talents to Boston in order to rekindle the same postseason success as he did at UConn nearly a decade ago. Although he won’t be gracing the purple and teal anymore, I respect Kemba and his decision to go to a more-suited future.
I wish him nothing but the best.
Let’s shift gears and talk about how Kemba’s decision impacts the Charlotte Hornets currently and in the future. Ultimately, this dramatic departure shifts Charlotte basketball into a drastically different direction.
With all of the focus now being zeroed in on development and growth, the Hornets have officially started yet another rebuilding mode. As for how long this process will take, that is certainly up for debate. Depending on the success of draft selections and positional needs we could see the Hornets resurface into relevancy as early as two years or as long as six years plus.
That in mind, there needs to be a man who can lead the Hornets into this time of uncertainty and mystique.
Who should Kemba unoficially pass the torch to and begin a new era of Charlotte basketball?
Right now, the answer seems to be obvious. That player is Dwayne Bacon.
Bacon’s on-court ability
Coming into the league in 2017, the Florida native has come a long way in establishing his long-term future with the Hornets organization. Throughout his rookie year, he was an extremely raw prospect, so much so that there were speculations into how much of an impact he can have down the road. His ball-handling skills were sub-par at best as he would often lose possession driving near the rim. Bacon’s shooting was also a major setback during that year as he shot 41 percent from the field and a bleak 26 percent from three.
Despite the early setback, his will and determination to tool his craft helped leapfrog his contribution on the team. Playing in Greensboro as member of the Hornets G-League team helped tremendously in Bacon’s assertiveness at the highest level of basketball. Although the competition was not as nearly as good as the NBA, Bacon was still able to perform at an efficient rate when given assignment games.
Last year in the G League, he averaged 22.2 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field in seventeen games played. His lower three-point percentage (25.5 percent) was due to the fact that he was hoisting up deep-range shots in high volume, attempting six shots per game from downtown. These increased reps gave him the experience of play that he wasn’t going to get with the official Hornets roster.
In Greensboro, he was able to become the focal point of the offensive, generating points for himself with the increase in ball handling duties. This training helped him to play against some of the league’s best towards the latter half of the Hornets season in 2019.
Standing at 6’7”, 221 lbs, Bacon’s physical frame allows him to become a two-way force on the basketball court. He can guard positions one through three as his defensive prowess has been a staple of his game going back to his high school years. The attention to detail on this end of the court has caught the eye of Hornets head coach James Borrego. Impressed by his ability to play switch off the PnR, Bacon was put in many late-game scenarios last year in hopes of limiting opponents chances to score in crunch time.
Although his defensive numbers don’t tell the tale, as he’s averaged 0.3 steals and 0.1 blocks per game, his impact on that end of the floor can be seen on the court. Playing one-on-one defensively seems to be his most suitable position as he’s come up with big defensive stops in many games last season for the Hornets.
At the starting shooting guard spot next year, Bacon will most likely be tasked to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player. His confidence should carry over from last season as he should be fully confident to take on this new role defensively. He has the quickness and determination to stand his ground and become the Hornets best perimeter defender next season.
Offensively speaking, Bacon provides scoring in a multitude of levels that can redefine the Hornets offense.
Bacon is undoubtedly the best isolation scorer on the Hornets roster. Although this style of play is becoming less of a trend, he is still able to use this skill to his advantage. Due to his increased ball handling skill developed during the summer of 2018, Bacon is more comfortable going up against defenders in this type of offense. Last year, he scored on 59 percent of all isolation opportunities, a number that is certainly eye-opening.
The increase in ball handling has lead to twice as many free throw line opportunities (12%) than turnover opportunities (6%). If you take away this isolation play, he rarely turns the ball over as he posted a 6.1 turnover percentage last season. Combine this play with point guard Devonte Graham’s historic assist to turnover ratio last season and you have a Hornets back court that will make very few mistakes with the ball in their hands.
Three point and inside efficiency also spiked in Bacon’s sophomore campaign. He went from shooting 26 percent his rookie year to shooting a striking 44 percent. This eighteen percent increase is yet another example of how well Bacon has elevated his play.
Seeing a player hit this level of “sophomore surge” certainly makes his long-term position with the Hornets very intriguing. Without the high-usage rate of Kemba, I expect Bacon to average 15+ points per game and thrive as the team’s most reliable offensive plug. Him, along with the younger group of Graham, Miles Bridges, and rookie P.J. Washington will provide an optical of hope for the future, although that might not show in the win column right now.
But, the more interesting side to Bacon is his intangibles. He, like Kemba, embraces a level of urgency both on and off the court. The two are always giving their 100% in games, as we’ve seen Kemba score buckets late in games despite having played 40+ minutes some nights. As for Bacon, last year showed his defensive intensity and willingness to go up against the league’s best individually even if he comes off the bench cold. That kind of confidence is key in establishing the Hornets’ next alpha dog.
The offseason is an area that the two place development among everything else. They have put in endless hours in the gym in hopes of producing better results on the court. Whether that be in the weight room to increase defensive stability or the practice court to increase deep-range shot ability, the two have a mental drive to work continuously on their craft in order to become the best player they can be.
When discussing his G-League success, Dwayne Bacon told WFAE, “I feel like I got a good work ethic. I’ve just got to come in with the same mindset and the same goals. And that’s just being a starter, helping the team win.”
The motivation to do whatever it takes to improve their game should resonate loudly to all the players on the Hornets roster. Every single person on this team has a glaring weakness in one area or another; and, with Bacon’s leadership, there should be a new willingness to modify their games for the better.
At only 23 years of age, Dwayne Bacon is the ideal candidate to lead the Hornets squad into the post-Kemba age. There will be many faces coming in and out, and Bacon should be the consistent staple of Charlotte’s identity. He has the charisma and willingness to put in the work in order to improve his game for the better.
Being one of the most offensively-sounded players on the current roster, Bacon’s attitude towards the defensive end makes him a two-way starter that the Hornets need in order to properly manage a retooling of the roster.
Is he worthy of being the guy to build around? Maybe not, as higher-ceiling type players in upcoming drafts may change that narrative.
As of right now, there’s one thing for certain: Dwayne Bacon should become the next face of the Charlotte Hornets franchise.