Back in June, Dwayne Bacon seemed like an afterthought on draft night for the Charlotte Hornets.
No surprise that. He was the 40th pick, taken 10 spots into the second round. The attention was naturally on Malik Monk, chosen 11th overall, a dynamic scorer/shooter (19.8 points and 40 percent from the college 3-point line) in his one season at Kentucky.
Now, both Hornets rookies are close to the conclusion of their first NBA seasons. Neither had a significant impact on a Hornets team that will miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. But here’s a question that hangs in the air:
With Monk still finding his NBA position, could Bacon end up a bigger catch?
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It was noteworthy recently when Hornets coach Steve Clifford said he sees Bacon as having starter potential.
“He has a chance to be a starter, and I don’t just say that,” Clifford said after Thursday’s blowout victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. “I’m talking about a starter you can win with.”
Bacon showed up with a mature, strong body that was NBA-ready. At 6-7 and 221 pounds, he can match up physically with either shooting guards or small forwards.
Clifford had Bacon in the game late in a 23-point comeback road victory over the Brooklyn Nets. It reinforced Clifford’s growing faith on Bacon’s readiness.
“He made the two defensive plays of the game the other night,” Clifford recalled. “Two one-on-one plays against (Nets small forward Caris) LeVert, where he just stopped him cold with the game on the line.”
That Bacon would be ready to contribute defensively as a rookie is not a big surprise, between his natural size and quickness and the fact he played at Florida State for one of college basketball’s top defensive coaches in Leonard Hamilton.
However, Bacon lasted as long as he did in the draft because he had holes in his offensive game. He shot just 31 percent from the college 3-point line in two seasons with the Seminoles before turning pro.
Monk lost last summer to a severely sprained ankle; he wasn’t able to work out on the court until slightly prior to the start of training camp last fall. Bacon played well in summer league in Orlando, and then worked hard on his shooting and other aspects of his game in the ensuing months.
Bacon still has work to do — he’s made only 32 percent from NBA 3-point range —but the coaches see progress. Bacon was in the practice gym Sunday morning, an off-day, after the Hornets flew back Saturday night from a road victory in Dallas.
“He has worked so hard with (assistants) Bruce (Kreutzer) and Pat Delaney. His skill level from September has improved dramatically,” Clifford said.
“He’s locked-in, he’s playing well. He’s taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Bacon has played in each of the past 10 Hornets games, including a 15-point game in New York against the Knicks, in which he made six of 10 shots.
“I feel comfortable, really comfortable. I feel like I’m still making my mistakes, but I’m getting better every day,” Bacon said Thursday.
“Shooting,” Bacon said of what has to be his focus. “They tell me to keep shooting, and I do it every day.
“I feel like I’m big and strong and fast and quick. I can play defense and I can play offense. Whatever I need to do to stay in a game, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell