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2021-22 Hornets Player Preview: James Bouknight

The 2021 lottery pick out of Connecticut has impressed so far as a Hornet

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

James Bouknight was a baseball player throughout his childhood. The Crown Heights, Brooklyn native took up basketball in middle school and later played at La Salle Academy in Manhattan before reclassifying down and finishing high school at MacDuffie School in Granby, Mass. He played for the PSA Cardinals on the AAU circuit alongside current Magic guard Cole Anthony as a consensus top-100 recruit.

Let’s take a look back at what Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said immediately following the franchise’s selection of James Bouknight with the 11th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

“We are surprised (he fell to 11). He did come down to us further than I thought he would. That’s a good thing. We got a player that we thought we rated much higher. Coincidentally he does fit a need in the backcourt...” via The Charlotte Observer’s Rod Boone

Even during Summer League, it was apparent that Kupchak was justified in his surprise that Bouknight fell out of the top-10. As the preseason wore on, he’s shown that his athleticism and inside-the-arc finishing are translating to the NBA already, and the area of his game that need the most growth — playmaking and creating for others when his own opportunities break down — has looked more advanced than it did at Connecticut, where he was relied upon as a volume scorer and never got to display much passing acumen.

Discounting the preseason game against Dallas, which did not happen, Bouknight shot 50.6 percent from the floor across three contest. We’ve seen him work hard to get open off-ball in both transition and the halfcourt, and even though he’s thin for an NBA two-guard, he’s finished well at the rim and contact doesn’t seem to bother him as much as it should.

While that’s unquestionably a sick dunk, Bouknight’s handle is a bit erratic as the ball nearly bounces above his head when he starts his drive toward the rim. Ball-handling is something he’ll need to get better at, but it doesn’t hamstring his ability to get to the paint right now, which is most important. It could hinder his 3-point and mid-range shot creation; relying heavily on pure explosiveness does work, especially for athletes like Bouknight, but tightening that handle will allow him to create more space from defenders on the perimeter in the halfcourt and truly expand his scoring to the third level.

Despite being a rookie, Bouknight has a chance to make a significant impact for the Hornets if he consistently performs. Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk provided the vast majority of Charlotte’s second-unit offense when the team was at full strength last season, and Bouknight (along with Ish Smith) will need to fill some of that void. Bouknight being an efficient 3-point shooter would go a long way towards that, and he’s already the best driver and interior finisher among the Hornets’ reserves.