I’m sure I’m not alone, but I’m a big fan of Dwayne Bacon. I would even go as far as to say that I might be one of his biggest fans, especially on At the Hive dot com. Basketball is a showman’s game, and Bacon is, indeed, a showman. “Bake” was a 5-star, top-20 recruit coming out of Oak Hill Academy, before two years at Florida State that earned him spots on the ACC All-Freshman and 2016-2017 All-ACC teams. He put his head down and grinded in Greensboro as a rookie and sophomore in the NBA before putting together a 12-game stretch in Apr. of 2019 that had many Hornets fans thinking he was a franchise building-block.
As we quickly progress towards the end of the 2019-2020 season, though, the promise that once was associated with Bacon has turned into pessimism; and he would be the first one to say that his numbers aren’t good enough right now to warrant any praise or promise. With just one 20-point scoring night since Nov. (24 points on Jan. 12 at Phoenix) and a plethora of DNP-CDs over the course of the season, it is abundantly clear that Bacon has fallen out of favor in Charlotte.
That’s not to say he won’t ever get back to that. He could. The Hornets are such a young, inconsistent team, and the roles that players are in can fluctuate game-by-game; Bacon going from a lock in the starting lineup to out of the rotation in a matter of weeks is a prime example of that. His loss of playing time can be attributed to woeful shooting, inconsistent defense, and mostly, the rise of Devonte’ Graham as a core piece of the franchise. But, when it comes to re-capturing that role he had in September, the water becomes a bit murky. Malik Monk has been suspended indefinitely and veterans Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were bought out, meaning there are a significant amount of minutes to go around for young players. For whatever reason, Bacon remains in Greensboro. It’s hard to prove yourself near the end of your rookie contract from the G-League.
It seems as if his attitude has changed, too. He asked to be sent down to Greensboro to keep himself focused and passionate after not playing much in Charlotte, but in this recent Rick Bonnell article for the Charlotte Observer, Bacon expressed some of his frustration. To that I say; good for him. Players have every right to speak out about their situation, and none of those quotes in Bonnell’s article are unfair or a shot at the Hornets franchise. Bacon has taken the high road at every turn for his entire career. The truth is rarely pleasant.
Nobody, especially Bacon, “expects” to be given minutes in the NBA without earning them. There are too few roster spots for that. But, after two and a half seasons as a Hornet, one would think that the coaching staff would have more confidence in him than they showed by leaving him in the G-League on his Bobblehead Night. His numbers this year have not been good; that is understood and not helping his case at all. Bacon is shooting 34.8% from the field, 28.4% from 3-point territory, and 66% from the foul line. He is seventh on the Hornets in AST% (11.8) and fifth in STL% (1.7) while putting up a career-high in REB% (7.9), so it’s not like he has struggled with every single thing on the court. The buckets could always come around — he did shoot 38 for 87 on 3-pointers in 2018-2019 — and there is something there in regards to the other aspects of his game, along with his NBA-level frame.
Still, with nobody in front of him on the depth chart considered a “building block” for the future, it seems counterproductive to not give one of the players they marketed as a franchise cornerstone in the summer another shot, especially with so little time left in the season. I’m not here with my fists raised, claiming unfairness on behalf of the Hornets, but it does puzzle me how he’s been the one guy to not be a part of the “youth movement” (Bacon has played once between Feb. 6 and now) since the team got rid of two vets and one of their other young guards was suspended indefinitely.
One could say the coaching staff has “seen enough” of Bacon to determine what kind of player they think he is going forward, but the guy has played 2,159 minutes over 135 game appearances. For perspective, Graham has played 2,739 minutes over 105 game appearances with one less season under his belt. To me, that is not enough. To properly gauge a player’s development, the player should be given three full seasons of unbridled support and playing time (see: Monk, Malik), and in his third season, Bacon has seen only a small fraction of that opportunity. They’ve seen plenty of him in Greensboro, but, especially this season, Bacon hasn’t gotten as fair of a shake as other players have.
Fit matters more in the NBA than it does in any other professional sport. Would Steph Curry be the same player we know now without Steve Kerr’s system? Or even without Draymond Green? Would LeBron have won two rings in Miami if he didn’t play with his close friends? Would Devonte’ have made this leap if Kemba stayed in Charlotte? These are all open-ended questions, but they all point to the fact that how a player fits in on their team and what role they’re thrusted into is just as important as the talent they possess.
The fit just might not be there anymore with Bacon and the Hornets. That doesn’t have to be taken as a slight towards Bacon for not being “good,” nor is it a slight towards Charlotte for not playing him often anymore. He just needs to find a team that believes in his game and shows the confidence in him that the Hornets showed early in his career.
People are very quick to throw players under the bus when they go through a slump. Monk suffered through the same treatment for a long time. Devonte’ had people wanting to trade him when he couldn’t hit a shot for over two months. Bacon got tossed under the bus with haste at the beginning of the season, and nobody looked back. There is an NBA player in there; it just hasn’t shown in Charlotte as of late. But, a player that can go down to Greensboro and drop 51 on a whim is no scrub.
Bacon will work hard and stay down-to-Earth no matter where he is. He won’t struggle to find another opportunity, or potentially carve out a second one with the Hornets.