Charlotte Hornets

Will Charlotte Hornets start a rookie in opener at Detroit? Depends on Tobias Harris

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford will lean more on rookies Dwayne Bacon (7) and Malik Monk (1) early this season in reaction to three veterans being unavailable.
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford will lean more on rookies Dwayne Bacon (7) and Malik Monk (1) early this season in reaction to three veterans being unavailable. AP

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford was still undecided Wednesday morning on his fifth starter. That could come down to how the Detroit Pistons use Tobias Harris in the season opener.

Harris, 6-foot-9, can play power forward or small forward. Clifford said matching up with Harris will factor into who he starts alongside Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb and Kemba Walker.

Clifford is scrambling for player combinations, with projected starters Nic Batum (elbow injury) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (excused personal absence) both out. At morning shootaround in suburban Detroit, Clifford said Harris’s versatility and how Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy uses Harris, will play a role in how Clifford responds.

Clifford could move Williams to small forward and start Frank Kaminsky at power forward. He could leave Williams at power forward and start rookie second-round pick Dwayne Bacon, as Clifford did the last two preseason exhibitions. He could start forward Treveon Graham, who missed much of the preseason with a hamstring injury.

If Bacon, the 40th overall pick, does start, he’d be the sixth rookie chosen in the second round to do so since 2009. The others: Mario Chalmers (2009), Landry Fields (’10), Bojan Bogdanovic (’14), Raul Neto (’15) and Andrew Harrison (’16).

Bacon has developed at a faster rate than Clifford could have imagined, based on summer league in July. Part of that is Bacon’s 6-7, 221-pound build, which is solid by the standard of a veteran NBA guard-forward.

“He has the size and strength to play against starters,” Clifford said of Bacon. “Is he a starting-caliber player right now? No. But he can play against starters. You don’t get overmatched with blow-bys and things like that. That gives you a chance to be good defensively.”

Bacon, who played at Florida State, didn’t start serious weight-training until turning pro. He’s always been naturally strong.

“I didn’t lift that much until I got here. I’m getting stronger, and fitting into my body,” Bacon said. “I started off with football. I stopped after my ninth-grade year” to concentrate on basketball.

Kentucky’s Monk, who can play shooting guard or point guard, was the Hornets’ leading scorer in the preseason, averaging 15.6 points per game.

“I’ve prepared for this my whole life,” said Monk, the 11th overall pick. “I had a couple of preseason games to get my nerves out of the way, so I’m good now.”

Clifford knows there will be snags along the way in using two rookies immediately in the rotation.

“You go through your first 40 (NBA) games, and those guys are going to see coverages you just don’t see in high school or college. Brand new,” Clifford said. “I’m hoping they can both be on the floor with veteran guys who can help them in that way.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell

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