Dwayne Bacon is just a little different in ways both obvious and subtle.
He looks like a significant find as a Charlotte Hornets’ second-round pick, which almost never happens. The 40th overall selection in 2017, Bacon is in strong contention to be a starter this season and could end up the team’s leading scorer.
That he’s in this position relates to the subtler difference: Unlike a lot of NBA players, Bacon viewed his G-League assignments to Greensboro last season not as a demotion, but as a salvation.
“I think most people look at it as punishment. As, ‘I’m not good enough to play in the NBA, so they’re going to send me down there.’ I didn’t look at it that way,” Bacon said of the 17 games he played last season with the Greensboro Swarm.
“I just went down there and did what I had to do.”
The improvement was dramatic. After playing all of February and the start of March in Greensboro, Bacon started the last 12 games of the Hornets’ season. In those 12 starts, Bacon averaged 12.5 points on 47 percent shooting from the field.
Bacon looks like more than a keeper; he’ll contend to start at small forward or shooting guard and could end up a better selection than guard Malik Monk, the Hornets’ first-round pick (12th overall) in the same draft.
Bacon’s strengths are his body (a brawny 6-foot-7 and 221 pounds) and the ability to be both a strong defender and a consistent scorer. The NBA has a trendy term for that — a “two-way player” — and coach James Borrego drops that term repeatedly in describing Bacon.
“We need Dwayne to be a consistent two-way player: Guard the other team’s best scoring threat and be an offensive threat,” Borrego said at media day.
“He has the potential to do it.”
This is a time of dramatic change for the Hornets. Point guard Kemba Walker, an All-NBA selection last season, left for the Boston Celtics. The team’s second-leading scorer last season, Jeremy Lamb, left for the Indiana Pacers.
That means there’s an emphatic need for others to score, to pick up some of the 41 points Walker and Lamb combined for last season.
Bacon’s upper-body strength — he’s built like an NFL linebacker — makes him a natural to attack the rim and get to the foul line. He’s starting to complement that with 3-point shooting; he was 44 percent from 3 last season on limited attempts (38-of-87).
Bacon isn’t yet the most polished defender, but his strength and length provide the physical tools to be solid there at a time when Borrego is placing added focus on defense.
Veteran power forward Marvin Williams called Bacon the Hornets’ second-most versatile player, behind guard-forward Nic Batum.
“He’s got a unique ability in the way he can do so many things,” Williams said. “He 6-7 and extremely strong, can score the basketball in so many different ways. He can make plays for himself and other people.
“And what separates him is he can defend a lot of positions — he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s athletic and he’s tough-minded.”
Borrego has talked about the leadership vacuum that must be filled in Walker’s absence. Entering his third NBA season, Bacon has become more vocal and his message is this: Stop deferring.
“I keep reminding guys that we don’t have the vets that we had last year, who could take over games the way Kemba could,” Bacon said.
“We’ve got to be ready to do everything for ourselves as a young group. Most of us are going to play now.”
And if they don’t play now, they can at least take Bacon’s model about improving just up I-85. This year’s first-round pick, PJ Washington, already has gotten the hint.
“There’s nothing bad about going to Greensboro,” Washington said. “Dwayne Bacon is a great example.”
“It’s special for me. A lot of people may still think I can’t do what I can do. I showed that toward the end of last year, and I feel like it can only get better. I put in a lotof work this summer. I’m ready to play now.
“I wanted to go down there. I felt like it was an opportunity to play, and I would rathr pay that sit on th bench just watching. You’re getting better, you’re working.
“I played, what, 15 or 16 games? That really sparked my time. When I was called up there, I was ready.”
“I keep reminding guys that we don’t have the amount of vets that we had last year who ould take over games the way Kemba could. We’ve got to be ready to do everything for ourselves as a young group. Most of us are going to play now. We don’t ahve a lot of room for error.