The Charlotte Hornets’ recent history drafting second-round picks is quite forgettable.
They’ve dealt them away, sometimes for cash. Jeff Taylor showed a flash or two, but now he’s playing overseas.
So Dwayne Bacon, just two games into his NBA career, has been refreshing. With so many absences (Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Michael Carter-Williams), Hornets coach Steve Clifford has been scrambling. He took a chance just before Wednesday’s season-opener, naming Bacon, the 40th overall pick, as a fill-in starter.
There were no promises implied. Clifford said that fifth starter spot could change game-to-game until Kidd-Gilchrist returns (his grandmother passed away in New Jersey). Bacon got the start again Friday at home against the Atlanta Hawks. What he did was rather remarkable.
In 19 minutes, the 6-foot-7 guard-forward grabbed 11 rebounds in the 109-91 victory at Spectrum Center. There are 6-7 players who never total double-digit rebounds in an NBA game. Bacon is a keeper.
If you must be a nitpicker, Bacon was not technically drafted by the Hornets. The New Orleans Pelicans selected him, then sent him to Charlotte in a prearranged deal. But he was general manager Rich Cho’s guy, and Bacon’s unrealized potential in two seasons at Florida State looks like a value pick (though the sample size is only two games and five preseason exhibitions).
Clifford has said physical defense and rebounding are essential for the Hornets (1-1) to qualify for the playoffs, following a 36-46 season. Bacon has the size, build and attitude to do those things. Clifford loves that Bacon played for Gastonia’s Leonard Hamilton with the Seminoles, because Hamilton is such a stickler for defense.
Bacon had a rough time in the first half matched against Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince. Clifford lauded Bacon for how quickly he regrouped in the second half, when the Hornets assembled a 24-0 run.
“In the second half he was far more on top of things – locked into what he has to do. It’s not easy; he’s out there playing against starters. He’s a tough kid; I was proud of him,” Clifford said.
What improved so much for Bacon from half to half Friday?
“Coverages, knowledge of personnel, being in the right spots offensively,” Clifford said. “The biggest part for him is the defensive part. The pick-and-roll defense, the dribble-handoff defense and the exceptional-player defense are night and day” from college.
The other aspect that prepared Bacon for this unexpected opportunity is the work he put in over the summer on his shooting range.
Part of the reason Bacon lasted until the 40th pick is he entered the draft without much of a 3-point resume, essential at his size. He shot just 31 percent from the college 3-point line for the Seminoles. He shows no reluctance to shoot 3s from NBA range now, and is 4-of-7 in his first two games.
“I put in the work every day, every practice. I got my shot so it was good,” said Bacon, who put in long sessions with Hornets shooting specialist Bruce Kreutzer.
“I worked with Bruce every morning, and then I do my routine with Pat (Delany, another assistant coach) every day.”
Clifford hired Kreutzer, who coached Charlotte’s Garinger High to a state title in 1989, on the recommendation of Mark Price, when Price left the staff to become head coach of the Charlotte 49ers. Kreutzer has helped so many Hornets players that the team now has to ration Kreutzer’s time.
“This summer, just because they saw how much he did with those who needed (better) shooting, Marvin (Williams) and Frank (Kaminsky) worked with Bruce,” Clifford said.
“He can’t work with all of them. They both came to me and said, ‘I can shoot, but he could make me better.’ And he does.”
There is a second-round rookie who looks so far like an excellent illustration of just that.