With the preseason well underway, roster cuts are already being made around the league. Some players brought into camp on non-guaranteed contracts, similar to the deals LiAngelo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. signed last month, have been cut loose. It’s well-documented that the Charlotte Hornets currently only have 13 players signed to the 15-man roster; if the front office is to fill one or both of those spots, all signs point to Ball and Smith having the upper hand over any Exhibit 10 signee at earning a guaranteed contract and a full-time spot on the Hornets roster.
To kick off At The Hive’s 2022-23 Player Preview series, we’ll take a quick look at Ball and Smith in the same article so we can cover our bases in the event one or both players make the opening night roster. Let’s start with the middle Ball brother.
Previous season stats (Greensboro Swarm): 13.2 MPG (28 GP), 4.6 PPG, 1.1 REB, 0.3 AST
After getting started with the Hornets on an Exhibit 10 deal last offseason and spending the 2021-22 season with the Greensboro Swarm, Ball was signed to a non-guaranteed one-year contract prior to this year’s training camp. Serving mainly as a role-player with the Swarm, Ball converted on 40.5 percent of his 111 total three-point attempts across the G League Showcase and regular season. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound wing brings a combination of strength and spacing offensively and is versatile enough defensively to guard opposing twos and threes.
Ball wasn’t able to emerge as a starter and spent portions of the 21-22 G League season out of Greensboro’s rotation entirely. It seems even more unlikely he’d be able to crack an NBA rotation, but he’s shot well against professional competition apart from the 18.2 percent he shot from long-range in Summer League this past July and the 15th man on an NBA roster rarely has a chance to join the rotation to begin with.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Previous season stats (Portland Trail Blazers): 17.2 MPG (37 GP), 5.6 PPG, 2.4 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.2 STL
Given the Hornets’ need for point guard depth, Smith’s chances at earning regular minutes —and making the roster in general— are much higher than Ball’s. The Fayetteville native and former five-star recruit starred in his lone season at North Carolina State but has bounced around the league since, spending the majority of last season with Portland before being waived in February.
Known primarily for his explosive athleticism, Smith has utilized it well in the NBA not just as a dunker but also a finisher, making 58.3 percent of his attempts from within three feet of the basket on his career. Rookie-season averages of 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game with Dallas are the peak of Smith’s career thus far and the main reason his development stagnated after it was inconsistent shooting; he’s never shot higher than 32.8 percent from deep in a full season. Head coach Steve Clifford has praised his toughness and is sure to appreciate his defensive presence at the point of attack.
Smith said that he “feels this is the first time an organization has tried to develop him instead of attempting to make him something he’s not” at Media Day, which gives hope that he’s got a chance to be a different player with Charlotte than he’s previously shown. If he can become at least a league-average three-point shooter and force teams to play more aggressive ball-screen coverages in particular, he’d be able to take greater advantage of his athleticism and finishing ability and his veteran knowledge of NBA defensive systems gives him a leg up on younger Hornets guards.
There’s a chance both Ball and Smith make the Hornets opening night roster. There’s also a chance it’s just Ball, or just Smith. There’s a very small chance neither of them do, but the Hornets would have serious depth issues with only 13 players and one Two-Way on the roster. We’ll have to wait until we’re closer to the regular season to know for sure, but these two have the inside track to a guaranteed deal with the Hornets.