The Charlotte Hornets were surprisingly able to land guard James Bouknight with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Late mock drafts had him going as high as sixth overall to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Hornets apparently didn’t expect the UConn product to fall that far, and they promptly selected the 20-year-old.
Expectations were very high for Bouknight’s rookie season. There were many a Hornets fan who thought Bouknight would have an outside shot at rookie of the year. Instead, he was glued to the bench for the vast majority of the season and only really played meaningful minutes when the Hornets desperately needed bodies. He even stayed on the bench when the Hornets were dealing with injuries late in the season, as now former head coach James Borrego elected to go with nine and sometimes eight man rotations instead of giving the rookie some burn.
Bouknight wasn’t particularly effective in most of minutes. He shot just 34.8% from the field and 34.7% from three in 304 minutes as a rookie. The team was 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with him on the floor than with him off during meaningful minutes, though some of that can be explained by the fact that of a lot of his early game minutes came when the Hornets roster was decimated by covid. Along with the struggles on the floor, Bouknight found himself surrounded by drama twice in a two week span. First, on February 7th, he had a spat with James Borrego on the bench. 12 days later, he was thrown out of his courtside seats at a UConn game. Neither incident was a good look for a rookie that would presumably be trying to work his way into a role for the late season push.
None of that is to say that Bouknight’s rookie season was without bright spots. The most notable of those came in the Hornets win over the Sacramento Kings. With much of the Hornets roster in the health and safety protocols, Bouknight played 26 minutes off the bench. In that time, he canned 6-of-8 shots from three and scored a team high 24 points. He showed more vision and willingness to pass than he did at UConn, so there’s hope that he can function at least as a secondary ball handler and play maker offensively, somewhat similar to what the Hornets have in Terry Rozier. He’s got the tools to be a good defender and had some moments on that end, but he needs to be more locked in and consistent.
James Bouknight didn’t have the rookie season he wanted. He’ll have an offseason to rededicate himself and make a new first impression with a new coaching staff heading into next season.