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Swarm Spotlight: James Bouknight can get buckets

The No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 draft was among the top scorers in the G League

Greenboro Swarm v Raptors 905 Photo by Christian Bonin/NBAE via Getty Images

The Greensboro Swarm are the G League affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets and I’m fortunate enough to live just six miles from Swarm Fieldhouse where the team plays. I attend a handful of Swarm games each year and over the next several weeks I’ll highlight how some of the key Greensboro players fared in 2021-22.

Before kicking things off this week with a profile of James Bouknight, I’ll give the Swarm a free infomercial and encourage Hornets fans to attend a game in Greensboro next year if you’re able to.

There are few live sporting events I enjoy more than attending Swarm games. Ticket prices are affordable and because the Fieldhouse where the Swarm play is similar in size to most high school gyms, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. No matter where you sit the action plays out right in front of you. You get an appreciation for the size, strength, speed, and skill of these elite athletes. The pace of games is awesome with no TV timeouts and the trial-run rule of shooting just one free throw worth two points. If you’ve never been to a Swarm game before, make plans for next year. You can thank me later.

One of the oddities of the G League is the 2021-22 season was broken into two different segments with a 12-game Winter Showcase taking place between November 5th to December 22nd followed by a 32-game regular season from January 5th through April 2nd. In this series I’ll be showing the total stats of both the Winter Showcase and the regular season with stats taken from Real GM, not just the regular season stats as shown on the G League’s woefully lacking website. Okay, on to the first Swarm Spotlight:

Player Spotlight: James Bouknight

Position: Shooting guard

Drafted: No. 11 overall (first round) in 2021

Age: 21

Stats: 12 games, 34.0 minutes, 23.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 steals

Shooting: 45.4% FG, 30.0% 3PT, 84.1% FT

James Bouknight spent less time with the Hornets NBA club than some of us would have liked this year after appearing in 31 games and averaging just 9.8 minutes per contest. In limited action with the Hornets he averaged 4.6 points on a subpar 34.8% from the field and a ho-hum 34.7% from the 3-point line.

But when Bouknight wasn’t sitting on the Hornets bench he was feasting with the Swarm in his 12 G League games. He was Greensboro’s leading scorer and flashed the ability to get buckets that led the Hornets to draft him at No. 11 overall last year. He showed some all-around game as well as his 6.3 rebounds ranked third on the team, his 4.6 assists also ranked third, and he led the team with 2.1 steals.

Bouknight’s strengths

When watching Bouknight in person I was struck with how easy the game seemed to come to him. He never pressed or went outside of the offense to get his points and there were even times when he seemed almost too passive and deferential to his teammates. But then toward the end of the game I’d look up at the scoreboard and see Bouknight had scored an easy-looking 20 points all within the confines of the offense.

His handle is impressive, too. Bouk can really dance with the ball and sneak through spaces in a truly special way. He can cross over, go behind the back, between the legs, etc. with near perfect control based on what the defense is giving him. The ball just seems to be an extension of his hand.

Bouknight clearly has NBA-level athleticism and court awareness. His quickness, vertical, and ability to anticipate plays makes him a surprisingly good rebounder and a defender who gets his hands on a lot of balls. Despite being a rookie, it was obvious he was on a different level all-around talent-wise than most other players on the court.

Development opportunities

While Bouknight’s a scorer, he’s not an effective 3-point shooter. In his two collegiate seasons he hit only 32% on a relatively low-volume 3.4 attempts per game. This past season with the Hornets at the NBA level he hit 34.7% of his attempts from deep, but with the Swarm he made just 30% of his attempts (21-of-70) despite facing some pretty shoddy G League defense.

Bouknight is great off the dribble and in one-on-one situations, but he’s only going to create those opportunities at the NBA level if opponents have to respect his 3-point shot. That’s not the case today.

The second area I’d like to see Bouknight develop is, for lack of a better term, his killer instinct. He played a team-leading 34 minutes per game with the Swarm but when I watched him play there would be stretches where he seemed too content to just “fit in”.

There were times when he’d pass the ball instead of attacking the rim or appear to just drift a bit on the court. I would watch him and think to myself, “You’re James Bouknight, the No. 11 pick overall pick! You’re playing against guys who went undrafted four years ago! Go dominate them! Show them why you were a lottery pick!”

Maybe I had too high of expectations for a rookie who still averaged 23 points per game. After all, among G League players who played at least 12 games, only five scored more points per game than Bouknight did, per Real GM. Despite these moments when Bouknight drifted, I clearly saw enough from him to be confident he can contribute to the Hornets next year, provided he improves his 3-point shooting this offseason.

Here are a few James Bouknight highlights I captured myself on my iPhone. It’s by no means professional quality but it gives you a feeling of what it’s like to be in the stands at a Swarm game. Enjoy!