The Charlotte Hornets have a sneaky need for talent on the wing. There’s a decent chance Malik Monk walks in free agency. If that happens, the only wing depth the Hornets have behind an injury prone Gordon Hayward are the Martin twins, Jalen McDaniels, and an out-of-position Miles Bridges. That’s not going to cut it if the team wants to win a lot of games.
James Bouknight has the potential to bring scoring punch off the bench right away, and he has enough in his game to give reason to believe that he can develop to more than just a bucket getter.
His final season at UConn was interrupted by a significant elbow injury that required surgery, but he still managed to finish the season averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. He carried a UConn team without any other NBA talent to a 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. They lost in the first round, but the first part of that story should sound familiar to Hornets fans.
Bouknight’s calling card is his overall scoring ability. He has a nasty hesitation move and keeps defenders guessing with strong ball fakes and a crafty use of changes in direction and speed. He’s a terrific finisher at the rim, using length, leaping ability, and creativity to finish with either hand from various angles. He managed to score an efficient 18.7 points per game against a tough schedule despite the fact that opposing teams devoted all their attention to stopping him, as the rest of the UConn roster was rather devoid off offensive firepower.
He struggled with his outside shot, but there’s reason to believe that’s something that can be fixed. He dealt with injury and tons of defensive attention, which partially explains the struggles. However, his release his consistent and he shoots with great confidence and balance. He apparently put on a show at his pro day, and looked like one of the better shooters in this class in that setting.
UConn's James Bouknight put on an absolutely incredible shooting display at his NBA Combine Pro Day workout today. Shot the cover off the ball, showing phenomenal footwork, touch and body control. pic.twitter.com/XzHdjwLpRK— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 26, 2021
Somewhat hidden behind the scoring punch is Bouknight’s ideal physical profile for an NBA combo guard/wing. He’s 6’3.25” without shoes with a 6’8.5” wingspan and 8’5.5” standing reach, and he has a relatively strong frame. He didn’t take part in athletic testing at the combine, but he’s clearly a terrific athlete. Also see here (you’ll hear a familiar voice in this highlight as well).
Bouknight already profiles as a strong on ball defender, thanks in part to those physical tools. He moves his feet well and competes in one on one situations. He should be able to guard one through three at the NBA level, especially if he consistently buys in on that end. He had plenty of lapses off the ball, but he showed flashes of savvy jumping passing lanes and making timely digs into the post for steals.
Bouknight has some work to do on his decision making on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he loses focus off the ball regularly and isn’t always as engaged as he should be when chasing cutters and fighting through screens. Part of that can be explained away by the amount of weight he carried on offense, but he has to be better at this at the next level.
Offensively, he wasn’t a great play maker given how high his usage was. He can get tunnel vision hunting for shots, and he settled for a lot of tough attempts as a result. He only averaged 1.8 assists against 2.8 turnovers per game in his sophomore season.
He shot the ball well in workouts, but it can be hard to trust that without seeing those results in live game situations. He shot under 30% from three in his final college season, and he’s going to need to improve shooting off the catch to unlock his full scoring potential.
James Bouknight has almost all of the attributes you want in a guard/wing prospect, but those come with a few obvious flaws. Those flaws can be blamed on his situation, but they remain flaws nonetheless.
Bouknight looks like a safe bet to be a bench scorer as a his floor. If he steps up as a defender and volume 3-point shooter, he can easily develop to more than that. The Hornets have had success with drafting sophomores in the late lottery in recent seasons (Miles Bridges and PJ Washington), and they’ve had success drafting alpha scorers out of UConn (Kemba Walker). Why not go to both wells at the same time?