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Hornets Summer League Notebook: LJ Figueroa (again), Brady Manek, and a baffling roster

The Hornets got their first win of Summer League, but there are still plenty of questions to be had.

2022 NBA Summer League - Charlotte Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

That’s one in the win column! The Charlotte Hornets took home a win over the Los Angeles Lakers in electric fashion on Sunday night. JT Thor put the game away in double overtime, hitting the game-winning three. (Double OT in Summer League is sudden death.)

In the first quarter, things were looking ropey for the Hornets. They were playing as they did on Friday in their loss to the Indiana Pacers - young, sloppy, and without any sort of rhythm. But as the Lakers cooled off from downtown, the Hornets slowly figured things out.

Here are the main notes from the game.

HM: JT Thor called game

This isn’t a real note, as Thor couldn’t really find his footing all game, but hey, what a moment he had! Thor nailed the game-winning shot at the end of double OT, securing Charlotte a victory. It was a super fun moment, so it had to be included.

1. LJ Figueroa is real

Perfection. That’s what Figueroa has been through Charlotte’s first two Summer League games. He has yet to miss a single shot, going 7-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 from deep against the Lakers. Figueroa is confident, comfortable, and plays with amazing energy at all times.

Of all the players not officially under Charlotte’s control, Figueroa is the one to watch. The Hornets’ guard depth isn’t great, and while he may not be the flashiest name, he looks more than ready to make an impact in limited minutes. At the very least, he should be in consideration for a two-way spot.

In Charlotte’s game against the Pacers, Figueroa put himself on the radar. Against the Lakers, he planted himself in the mind of everybody in Charlotte’s organization. Two straight games without missing a single shot. He posted 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals against LA.

Hand him a contract.

2. Don’t worry about Smooth McGowens

After looking like Charlotte’s best player against Indiana, Bryce McGowens struggled a bit against the Lakers. He shot just 2-of-14 from the field and 1-of-5 from distance. His shots just weren’t falling, and it looked like there was just a little too much on his plate out there.

On this squad, there aren’t many players who are comfortable with the ball in their hands. In turn, McGowens is consistently handed a ton of responsibility on the offensive end for the Summer League Hornets. However, he won’t have to worry about that on the main roster.

Right now, the eye test is king. McGowens plays with complete confidence, is comfortable with the ball in his hands, and despite the poor shooting numbers, still looked great as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. On a team with LaMelo Ball, McGowens won’t have to worry about always having to create for everyone. He’ll be able to take a step back and fine-tune specific parts of his game. He should still be in serious consideration for a full-time roster spot.

3. Ty-Shon Alexander comes to life

Figueroa may be the frontrunner for a contract, but Alexander played great on Sunday. As mentioned, this Hornets squad is devoid of ball-handlers. That opened the door for Alexander to play a huge role, and he delivered on Sunday.

He hit a huge three to tie the game at the end of regulation, then when all hope seemed lost, drew a foul and nailed all three free throws to send the dame to double OT. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was the one who set Thor up for the game-winning three, as he drew two defenders on the drive.

Alexander may not be a likely candidate to earn a regular-season roster spot, but as far as Summer League, he’s exactly what this Hornets team needs. He’s a solid ball-handler who can hit shots and create for others.

4. Can Brady Manek become consistent?

If Manek can hit his threes a bit more consistently, the Hornets need to consider keeping him around. Even if all they do is sign him to the Greensboro Swarm, he’s a nice piece to have in the organization. The forward has great size and is a sharpshooter from distance.

Manek isn’t great on the defensive end. In fact, the Lakers often targeted him on that end. However, if he gets to work with NBA trainers and gets in a bit better shape, he could improve on that end. Once that happens, having his floor spacing next to Ball would be a dangerous thing. From the looks of it, though, that wouldn’t be for a few years down the line. He needs some G League reps first.

5. Hornets got out-centered

In a game where the Hornets played a lineup with three big men in their starting lineup, none of them looked the most impressive. That title goes to Lakers big man Sacha Killeya-Jones. Nick Richards and Thor may have put up slightly better stats, but Killeya-Jones passed the eye test.

As Richards got into foul trouble (whether or not he agreed with the calls) and Thor struggled to find his footing on either end, Killeya-Jones was a constant source of energy and hustle. He fought for every rebound, notched four blocks on the night, and simply out-hustled all of Charlotte’s big men. Not the best look.

6. Kai “DTM” Jones

DTM. Doing too much.

Jones managed to do too much in this game while also only attempting two shots. Just one game after he shot an inexplicable 0-for-10 from three-point range, Jones didn’t attempt a single three. He shot 1-for-2 from the field, finishing with just three points and five rebounds.

The DTM label comes from that one possession where he decided to take the ball all the way up the court. Seemingly ignoring his teammates’ pleas for him to pass it. And guess what? He turned the ball over.

There has to be some sort of middle ground. He can’t take and miss 10 threes, but he also can’t only take two shots. Jones is very clearly having a hard time finding his place in the offense, and while that could potentially be a non-problem in the regular season with Ball leading the way and him having a more defined role, his lack of production thus far is definitely a cause for concern.

7. Poor roster construction

Speaking of the three-big man lineup, this roster is built so poorly it hurts. Once you take a closer look, it’s primarily made up of guards and big men. But somehow, despite having a plethora of guards, they still struggle to generate consistent offense.

The only real wings on the roster (who have played thus far) are McGowens, Figueroa, and LiAngelo Ball. And at the same time, all three of those guys are probably better suited as shooting guards than small forwards. There’s just a complete lack of wings.

They could still find a way to work things out by starting McGowens and Figueroa together, giving themselves a bit more versatility on both ends, but they don’t. Instead, they continue to go back to this three-big lineup that very clearly doesn’t work. It forces them to run everything through McGowens and Jalen Crutcher (who hasn’t been able to get anything going).

It’s absolutely baffling how the Hornets have managed to put together a roster full of guards and big men, yet still can’t figure things out on offense. There’s plenty of talent on this team, but the positional make-up of the team (and the starting lineup they have rolled out twice in a row) is very confusing.