If any Charlotte Hornets wonders who this new player-development dude is, they should check with Terry Rozier.
Point guard Rozier used Nick Friedman to train him during two off-seasons while Rozier was a Boston Celtic learning his craft. Friedman pushed Rozier hard physically in two-a-day summer sessions, but he was also a resource in basketball technique.
“Going into the summer before I blew up (in the 2018 playoffs), I worked with him every day. Everywhere I went, he came with me,” Rozier said. “We did all kinds of finishes (at the rim). He pushed me out of my comfort zone. Pick-and-roll reads, all kinds of things for a point guard We’d watch a lot of film before we’d get out there on the court.”
The Hornets announced Thursday that Friedman would fill the newly created position of player-development coach. That’s a hybrid position in which he will travel with players on the Hornets’ roster when they are assigned to the G-League Greensboro Swarm.
Friedman has previously worked with three G-League franchises. Hornets coach James Borrego said Friedman will work primarily with assistant Jay Hernandez to make sure players have a consistent plan, whether in Charlotte or Greensboro; and that there is no “mis-messaging” about terminology and daily work.
The Hornets increased their use of the G-League last season with young players and got good results in the improvement of Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham.
“I think this group in the past did very little with the G-League. This is the first time they have used the G-League this amount, and it really helped us make a significant jump last year,” Borrego said at a media function prior to training camp in Chapel Hill.
“I expect to use the G-League even more. It’s right here in our backyard” 90 miles to the northeast.
Friedman, who was not made available for an interview Thursday, worked with Rozier through the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics’ G-League affiliate.
“If there’s a two-way player going between the clubs, (Friedman is) going with them, he’s developing them,” Borrego said.
Borrego came to the Hornets from the San Antonio Spurs, which was heavily vested early in its G-League program in Austin. Hornets’ general manager Mitch Kupchak previously had the GM position with the Los Angeles Lakers, which similarly prioritized G-League development for young players.
Bacon, in contention to be a starter this season for the Hornets, said it’s key that players see value in a G-League stint, not treat it as “punishment.” Graham said coaches and the front office were proactive last season about not becoming detached from players on assignment in Greensboro.
“The front office came to the games, the coaches drove to the games — they told us what they wanted us to work on,” Graham said. “There was definitely still communication when we were there.”
Borrego said the Swarm provides extensive court time for young players who aren’t playing regularly for the Hornets. NBA teams don’t practice often or for long during the second half of seasons to preserve veterans’ bodies, limiting development and conditioning opportunities.
“I want our guys playing 25 to 30 minutes a night” either in Charlotte or Greensboro, Borrego said. “That’s how you really develop.”
That doesn’t just apply to players on two-way contracts (currently Robert Franks and Ahmed Hill) or second-round pick Cody Martin (The Hornets’ other second-round pick, Jalen McDaniels, remains unsigned). Kupchak said on draft night that PJ Washington, the 12th overall pick, could play a lot in Greensboro as a rookie.
Washington said he’s seen, through Bacon’s positive experience, how the Swarm could benefit him. The Hornets have a crowd at Washington’s power forward position, so it might be tough initially for him to break into the rotation.
The Hornets have 13 guaranteed contracts for a maximum of 15 roster spots. By bringing 20 players to training camp — the maximum the NBA allows — the Hornets are looking to maximize development opportunity and get a head start on filling out the Swarm’s roster.
“With the young guys, especially, player-development has to be driving” the strategy, Borrego said.