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Six takeaways from the Hornets Summer League

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It’s hard to get too much out of watching Summer League basketball, but we did learn a few things.

NBA: Summer League-Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets Summer League is in the books. The next time we’ll here from them is in late September when they open up training camp. Until then, we can hypothesize on the Hornets next moves and overreact to the things we’ve seen so far this summer.

Summer League usually doesn’t tell us much. Teams are thrown together over a period of days and they only have a few practices together before they take the court in live action. There’s no time to develop chemistry and everyone on the team is there for a different reason. Some guys are established NBA players getting extra reps in. Others are scratching and clawing to make it as a professional basketball player and will do anything to get noticed. It’s not a great mix.

All that is to say that everything we learned from Summer League needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, especially as it relates to the overall performances of players. Guys have gone bonkers in the Summer League only to flame out in the blink of an eye at the NBA level. The converse is true as well. That said, here is what we learned.

1. Arnoldas Kulboka has a chance to make the Hornets roster in 2019.

The Hornets drafted Kulboka with the 55th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and stashed him overseas. Many players in that position never find their way stateside, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Kulboka. He’s currently without a club overseas, and he showed a skill set that’s worth keeping an eye on closer to home. He has terrific shooting touch and showed some savvy as a secondary creator in pick and roll situations. There’s a good chance we see him in North Carolina this fall, either with the Hornets or the Greensboro Swarm.

2. Dwayne Bacon is not a distributor.

Before Summer League started, the Hornets coaching staff said they wanted to see if Dwayne Bacon could function as a pick and roll ball handler and playmaker for others. He failed that test badly.

That’s not say Bacon played terribly. He blew up in the first game of the Summer League, scoring 25 points and leading the Hornets to a win. His shots didn’t fall in the rest of the games, but this isn’t about makes and misses. Bacon forced a lot of bad shots and missed a lot of open teammates when defenses collapsed on him. If he can’t make himself into a playmaker against inferior Summer League competition, he probably won’t do it in the NBA. But that’s not a bad thing. Teams need bucket getters. That’s going to be Bacon’s role. Whether or not he’s good enough at that remains to be seen.

3. The Hornets did not find a diamond in the rough at center.

This may be too reactionary, but none of the centers the Hornets brought in for Summer League looked like NBA players. Kennedy Meeks finished with a very good performance against the Utah Jazz in the finale, but he was also roasted by Zhou Qi of the Chinese National Team, which was a big reason the Hornets lost to China. That turned out to be the only win for either of the two national teams at the event.

Isaiah Hicks didn’t have the highs and lows of Meeks, and with that he didn’t do anything to separate himself from the swaths of fringe NBA players in Las Vegas. Same goes for Elijah Thomas.

4. Devonte’ Graham looks poised to take a step next season.

Graham struggled to finish inside the arc, which may just be something we have to accept from him long term. Otherwise, he looked like an NBA veteran. The rising sophomore looked extremely confident in his outside shot, pulling up for and hitting a number of difficult 3-pointers. He showed playmaking ability on both ends of the court, notching team highs in assists (5.3) and steals (1.7) per game.

5. Cody Martin will be interesting.

I don’t know how else to put this. He came out and played some stinkers in the first couple games of Summer League, which made fans rather restless, and justifiably so. Martin will be 24 in a couple months. Those guys are supposed to be NBA ready.

However, his play improved as Summer League went on, and there’s no telling where it’ll go from here. He looked fantastic on the defensive end of the floor, but that was mostly against non-NBA guys. He hit 40% of his 3-point shots, most of which came out of catch-and-shoot situations. That’s not something he did much in college, so there’s no way to tell if that shot is legit. He had high highs and low lows and probably raised more questions than answers with his play.

6. The Hornets are going to be bad next season.

This isn’t so much about the play on the court, but more about the simple fact that the Hornets had several players playing in the Summer League that are expected to play major roles for the team next season. Good on the young guys for going out and getting reps, but usually key contributors on good teams don’t get much time in this setting. The Hornets had two likely starters playing heavy minutes. The only other team that can say that is the New York Knicks, and they’re very bad. Buckle in boys and girls, this is gonna be a wild ride.