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Hornets Summer League Notebook: Kai Jones is confusing, JT Thor explosion, and final thoughts

The Hornets wrapped up their Summer League run against the Timberwolves, so let’s wrap up the Summer League notebook.

2022 NBA Summer League - Charlotte Hornets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s it. The Charlotte Hornets have officially completed their Summer League run, and what a ride it was. Unfortunately, they did not qualify for the championship game, so the next time we’ll see any of these players will be once training camp starts to ramp up.

There’s a lot to take away from Summer League, especially considering that some of the players who played have a chance to earn regular-season minutes for the Hornets. So, with that in mind, what do we know?

1. Smooth McGowens needs playing time

This is the end result for Bryce McGowens. He has some amazing games, but he also had some games where he struggled mightily. The Hornets Summer League squad trusted him with the ball in his hands a lot, and while he looked extremely comfortable in the pick-and-roll, his shot was hit-or-miss. He’ll likely excel with the ball in his hands but struggle a bit when forced to play off the ball.

However, that’s why it’s important for him to earn playing time - whether that be on the main roster or in the G League. The Hornets need to figure out what role they want to play McGowens in. As noted, it looks like he’ll thrive as a ball-handler, but the more he plays off the ball, the more comfortable he’ll be in that role.

Playing in the G League will give him a chance to perfect his ball-handling skills as the top dog on the court while earning minutes on the main roster will help him develop off the ball. McGowens looked impressive, but he still needs to improve in certain areas.

2. Kai Jones is tricky

What a ride it was for Jones. He started off Summer League shooting 0-of-10 from distance and proceeded to take fewer and fewer threes each game. It became very clear very fast that he could struggle as a power forward, and in the end, that remains true. Jones just doesn’t look ready to play power forward at this moment in time.

In the team’s final game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, this shined through. He excelled when cutting to the basket and playing as the screener in the pick-and-roll, but when he was handed more responsibility than that, he struggled. This became evidently clear as Jones attempted to dribble the ball up the court at the end of the game, turning it over and relinquishing all hopes of Charlotte completing their miraculous comeback.

The raw talent is very clearly there for Jones, but right now, he’s just a center. Albeit, a very athletic, intriguing center, but a center nonetheless. If he wants to spend significant time at the power forward, he needs to improve as a ball-handler, decision-maker, shooter, and perimeter defender.

3. Wow wow JT Thor

Speaking of potential power forwards, enter Thor. In his final game of Summer League, the soon-to-be sophomore dropped 28 points, three rebounds, two assists, and five steals on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from distance. He also almost single-handedly led the Hornets on an improbable late-game comeback.

While Jones has continued to struggle at the power forward position, Thor looks like he’s taken the necessary steps to thrive in that spot. Yes, there are obviously times where he looks like the extremely raw prospect Charlotte drafted. Times like when he shoots extremely inefficiently or shows signs of being his young, sometimes-clumsy self.

However, at his peak, Thor is a versatile defender with an improved jump shot that can even handle the ball a tiny bit. If he can be even a fraction of that at the NBA level, the Hornets have a solid role player on their hands.

4. Justin Minaya?

This was like when we discussed LJ Figueroa after his first Summer League game. Minaya showed heart against the Timberwolves, and when a million players are trying to make their way into the NBA, that’s a great first step. He’s not at the level of a two-way contract yet, but at the very least, the Hornets should look to keep him around on the Greensboro Swarm.

He plays hard, knows how to score a bit, and has some good height (6’7). Minaya can struggle a bit on defense, and his three-point shot isn’t all the way there, but he always hustles. That’s a phenomenal start.

5. Mark Williams the ball-handler

I finally found something more to say about Williams than “he is huge.” (Although, I still stand by that sentiment. The guy is massive.) Williams is an amazing defender and, put in the right situations, can be very effective on offense. However, he also quietly thrives with the ball in his hands. He’s shown some intriguing playmaking chops in Summer League, and if the Hornets can develop him into a solid passer out of the post, their offense will have a whole new dynamic to it.

6. Final roster spot/rotation thoughts

McGowens - Already on a two-way contract, and if he plays well, the Hornets should look into upgrading that to a standard deal.

Jones - On the main roster, should see a slight uptick in playing time, but still needs to play some minutes in the G League and improve his versatility on both ends.

Thor - Ready to play some decent minutes. Still needs to play in the G League, but Steve Clifford loves defense, so the chances should be there for Thor.

Richards - Played well in the time he saw, but considering his age, that should have been expected. Still need to see the consistency in the regular season (likely as the third-string center).

Williams - Should step in as the immediate backup behind Mason Plumlee and with Clifford’s aforementioned love for defense, could earn the starting role at some point in his rookie year.

Figueroa - Should be the front-runner for the second two-way spot (depending on Scottie Lewis’ status), and if not, needs to at least be on the G League roster. Sneaky shout for a standard contract.

Brady Manek - Throw him on the Swarm and see what happens. Showed signs of being a solid role player but needs to iron out the kinks on defense.

Minaya - Keep around on the G League roster, or at the very least, keep an eye on him. He showed some stuff in his final two games with the Hornets Summer League squad, but not enough to earn a two-way.

Jalen Crutcher - Can return to the Swarm but didn’t do enough to show that the NBA is in his future. Relatively unimpressive.

Ty-Shon Alexander - Similar to Cutcher, just didn’t show enough to warrant a contract of any kind. Would be an okay G League player, but that’s about it.

LiAngelo Ball - A fun G League player to keep around, for ticket sales, at the very least, but hasn’t done anything particularly impressive.