Rookies are best served doing whatever they’re told. Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker told Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon the following:
You’re no longer rookies.
If Wednesday’s somewhat chaotic 108-100 preseason home loss to the Boston Celtics established anything, it’s that Monk and Bacon should be just fine. Monk, the 11th overall pick in June’s draft, scored 21 points, his third consecutive performance of 19 or more points. Second-rounder Bacon, making a start in place of the injured Jeremy Lamb, finished with 12 points and made all four of his 3-point attempts.
Don’t read too much into Bacon starting, rather than Monk. Monk has a lot to assimilate right now, playing both shooting guard and point guard, and coach Steve Clifford thought making Bacon a cameo starter and leaving Monk as first man off the bench would cause less disruption.
Speaking of disruption, the injuries might not all be serious, but they sure are annoying. Six Hornets couldn’t play Wednesday, including small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is away from the team with a personal matter. (Clifford said he didn’t know when MKG would be back).
The absences, combined with the shorter NBA preseason (by a little more than a week), have thrown off the team’s preparation. Clifford is balancing between games, practice and rest, and the shorter period before games start counting Oct. 18 in Detroit has been more problematic than he anticipated.
So he’s turned to the rookies, and that isn’t just for the “pretend” games of the preseason. Monk (32 minutes) and Bacon (34) logged the most playing time on this team by far. The message in that is, “Get ready, because your time might be sooner than you think.”
That’s cool with Bacon, who was asked specifically after morning shootaround about Walker’s pronouncement that the “rookie” label no longer applies to his and Monk’s expectations.
“I don’t feel like it adds pressure,” Bacon said of Walker’s statement. “They just expect us to mature a lot quicker than they thought we were supposed to. I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Clifford likes Bacon’s size and physicality, as in he already has the build, now he just needs to refine his skills and defense by NBA measure.
It’s already apparent Monk is a natural scorer and more capable as an occasional point guard than he had the opportunity to demonstrate in one season at Kentucky (the Wildcats’ point guard last season, De’Aaron Fox, went fifth overall to the Sacramento Kings).
Clifford likes what he’s seen, but he cautions Monk still has plenty to refine.
“I told him, when people say ‘He’s a talented offensive player,’ that is a lot different from somebody saying, ‘He’s a talented NBA player,’” Clifford said. “His goal needs to be that he’s a good NBA player.”
He certainly has the makings of one, as far as moves and natural stroke on his jump shot. The challenge now is to be a more efficient shooter (he’s 33.9 percent from the field) and a more reliable defender.
There’s time for all that. Even if Monk and Bacon are no longer rookies.