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Hornets Summer League Notebook: Smooth McGowens is back, LJ Figueroa is human, and Mark Williams

The Hornets took down the Cavaliers as Bryce McGowens reclaimed his spot on Charlotte’s Summer League throne.

2022 NBA Summer League - Cleveland Cavaliers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets took down the Cleveland Cavaliers in their third game of Summer League. It was a fairly close game until the third quarter, when the Hornets blew the game open, outscoring the Cavaliers by 10 points.

Nick Richards did not play in this one, so the Hornets switched up their starting lineup. This allowed for more ball-handlers to be on the court, freeing up different players to play off the ball and in their regular roles.

1. Smooth McGowens strikes again

That’s more like it. After struggling a bit in his last game, Bryce McGowens put on a show against Cleveland. He ended the night with 24 points, two rebounds, and an assist on extremely efficient shooting. McGowens shot 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from distance.

Charlotte has already inked McGowens to a two-way contract, but with how well he’s played this summer, don’t be surprised if the team considers upgrading him to a standard deal. In addition to displaying impressive shooting skills, he’s also shown the ability to be an effective ball-handler, which the Hornets desperately need.

On a Summer League team with a severe lack of offensive creation, McGowens has had a chance to shine. There’s a chance that he spends most of the season in the G League developing his skills, but based on what he’s shown in Summer League, he looks ready to contribute at the NBA level.

2. Mark Williams’ time to shine

With Richards on the bench, Williams got the start. He still only played a little under 20 minutes, but for the time he was out there, he looked impressive. Where Williams shined the most was on the defensive side of the floor. It’s been stated over and over, and it will continue to be, but Williams is massive.

He uses his sheer size to impact shots in the paint, but what’s even more impressive is his sneaky quickness. Despite his size, he’s able to keep up with smaller players on drives thanks to his wide wingspan and towering frame.

Offensively, Williams showed more in this game than most others, but it’s clear that he still has some work to do on that end. Working with an elite playmaker like LaMelo Ball will help him with that, but until then, he needs to focus on two things - pick-and-rolls and rim-running. It’s simple, but if he can perfect those two areas, he’ll be an effective player in the league.

3. Kai Jones’ return

Richards has actually played well so far in Summer League, but just like Williams, Jones benefitted from him being absent from this game. He was taken out of the starting lineup and thrown into a bench role as the Hornets decided to run only two bigs in this one. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to Jones.

Jones works better when he can be the primary big man on the floor, especially considering how much he’s struggled from behind the three-point line. In fact, this game was his most effective one thus far, and he didn’t attempt a single three. After looking rough through the first two contests, Jones gave fans a glimpse of hope again.

4. LJ Figueroa is human

Alright, the run is over. Figueroa was a perfect 13-of-13 through Charlotte’s first two games, but in this one, he went just 1-for-5. However, that’s not what defines Figueroa’s game. It’s the amazing energy that he plays with that makes him stand out. His game is so fun to watch that even CJ McCollum complimented it during the broadcast.

He hustles on defense, crashes the boards well, and is a solid ball-handler. And at 6’6, Figueroa is fully capable of playing the wing, as well as the guard. That sort of versatility would be extremely useful. Just because he missed some shots didn’t completely negate his impact. Whenever he’s on the floor, he makes his presence known.

In fact, my hot take of Summer League thus far is that Figueroa deserves a roster spot. Not just a two-way, but a full-time roster spot. On a roster devoid of defenders and hustle players, Figueroa and Cody Martin would be the two saving graces. Having him come off the bench to be a secondary ball-handler in some second-unit lineups would be great, as he’d supplement that with his scoring, defense, and shooting.

5. Jalen Crutcher shouldn’t be starting

This is an odd time to take a stand on this subject considering Crutcher actually played alright against the Cavaliers, but he just shouldn’t be in the starting lineup anymore. He made some nice plays for his teammates against Cleveland, but his shot just hasn’t been there, and the Hornets need to be prioritizing other players over him.

He plagued well in the G League last season, but it doesn’t look like he’ll make the jump to the NBA anytime soon. That being said, there aren’t really any player who should get the start over him. Ty-Shon Alexander has been alright, but just like Crutcher, he just doesn’t look like an NBA-ready talent. McGowens and Figueroa are the only two players who look ready to contribute right now (at least at the guard/wing position).

6. Brady Manek/LiAngelo Ball intrigue

These two get lumped together because of their roles - shooters. At this point, that’s all they are. Ball is a wing shooter and Manek is a stretch big man. Although, Manek definitely looks more ready to contribute (though neither should be getting NBA minutes anytime soon).

The Hornets should definitely try to keep Manek around on a G League deal, at the very least. He’s extremely confident in his three-point shot, and that level of self-belief just can’t be taught. As for Ball, he’s shown flashes of solid play, but until he can put things together more consistently, he’ll be nothing more than a G Leaguer. Manek is the one to keep an eye on, but Ball is fun, too.