Charlotte Hornets fans saw just a slice of Dwayne Bacon. But what he demonstrated his rookie season is a significant departure from this franchise’s history with second-round picks:
Major long-term potential; as in could-be-a-starter-someday potential.
Bacon lasted 40 picks before being chosen last June. A factor in his lasting that long was a jump shot that looked broken in two seasons at Florida State.
Bacon went to work last summer with Hornets shooting specialist Bruce Kreutzer. The numbers still don’t look great — Bacon made just 26 percent of his 43 attempts from the NBA arc — but the form has clearly improved. Combine that with NBA size and strength and a natural ability to play defense, and Bacon could be a hit as a second-round pick.
“I feel like I’m a good player, like I can play in this league, for sure, for a long time,” Bacon said Wednesday, in season-exit interviews with the players. “And I feel like the organization feels that way, too.”
No question outgoing coach Steve Clifford felt so. Clifford said multiple times last season that Bacon had starter potential, which you don’t often hear about second-round NBA picks, particularly as rookies.
Bacon started six games last season, including the season-opener in Detroit after Nic Batum suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow. The thing Bacon offers is true NBA size for his positions (small forward and shooting guard) at 6-7 and a muscular 222 pounds.
The hottest trend in the NBA of late is defenders versatile enough to be equipped to switch who they are guarding. Those players make it less necessary to draw up rotations that leave other players exposed to mismatches in pick-and-roll. It’s what the Golden State Warriors have in abundance with Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. It’s among the reasons the Boston Celtics so valued drafting former Duke star Jayson Tatum.
Bacon mostly fell out of the rotation at midseason, with Batum back from injury and a more experienced Treveon Graham getting minutes. Bacon says he gets why the agenda at the time was leaning toward experience over development, when the playoffs were still the goal.
“I understood what coach was saying: That there were guys ahead of us,” Bacon said, adding there was so much about the NBA, in terms of talent and depth, he and fellow rookie Malik Monk had to process from the bench:
“Every night you’re playing against a guy who could go off for 40. There are just so many different types of talent in this league.”
This franchise’s track record with second-round picks, since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, is spotty at best. Ryan Hollins (50th overall pick in 2006) played a handful of minutes his first two NBA seasons before being dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in the ill-fated Gana Diop trade. Jeff Taylor (31st overall pick in 2012) showed some promise before a domestic-violence arrest derailed his NBA career.
With Monk out with an ankle sprain, Bacon became the star of the Hornets’ summer-league team in Orlando, Fla. The Hornets signed Bacon to a three-year contract with about $2 million in guaranteed money, a major show of faith for a player 40 picks into a draft.
“I’m happy to be in an organization that felt that way about me, and I need to show that with my work. I have a crazy work ethic, I think, and I just have to keep doing what I do,” Bacon said.
“I got tremendously better at the defensive end, but I have a lot that I didn’t show at the offensive end. This summer, that’s what I’m going to (refine). I’m just going to come back a different type of player (demonstrating) the talent I had in college and high school.
“This time there’s going to be a little edge — locked in — because I want to be better.”
A better shot
With Clifford’s firing, it’s an open question who will be coaching Bacon and his teammates. But there’s no question Kreutzer had an impact with Bacon last summer, as he did with other Hornets.
Part of that was about Bacon’s devotion as a pupil. Clifford frequently mentioned Bacon and Jeremy Lamb as examples of how much players can improve if they are devoted in the off-season.
The Hornets are in a time of change, and not just because of Clifford’s departure. Graham is a free agent this summer, and with the Hornets’ player-payroll dangerously close to the luxury-tax threshold, signing him might not be a priority.
Getting Bacon and Monk ready to be in the rotation will be priorities at Las Vegas Summer League in July regardless of who succeeds Clifford as coach.
“I’m getting after it. I’m looking forward to summer league, me and Malik, because we didn’t play together last summer,” Bacon said.
“It’s not going to be just one aspect," Bacon said. "I’m going to be here pretty much all summer. A lot of things are going to be changed by the time I come in next season. I want to just have a whole different type of mentality.”