The Charlotte Hornets kicked off their 2019 NBA Summer League play last night by defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-85, led by Dwayne Bacon’s dominating 25 points. Bacon was featured as the primary ball handler for Charlotte, a role he is not accustomed to but one he will need to get used to playing. 

In Charlotte’s first game in Summer League, Dwayne Bacon racked up 25 points to lead all scorers, shooting 9/20 from the field and 3/9 from three. He started the game hot, scoring 11 of the Hornets’ first 20 points, being aggressive off the dribble and attacking the rim with force. Bacon used the pick-and-roll to his advantage, getting switched onto taller, slower defenders that he could speed past on his path to the rim. From the get-go, he was the Hornets’ go-to scoring option and was a reliable playmaker throughout the game. Bacon continuously made the right pass (having several hockey assists if those counted in basketball) leading to teammates getting open shots, especially Devonte’ Graham who contributed 21 points including five made three-pointers.

Bacon was Sizzling

Bacon displayed his array of moves within his offensive arsenal in that first quarter. He used a hesitation, cross-over, driving into a spin move jump shot on one possession that left his Warriors defender helpless. He also used his solid 6’7″/220-pound frame to power through bigger and taller Warriors on his path to the basket. He has thrived since his days at Florida State at finishing through contact and showed excellent displays of that in the first half.

Bacon used the first half to attack the rim but changed it up in the second half, seeing that the Warriors guards were slacking off of him off the dribble, giving him plenty of space to shoot. He started the second half hot, pouring in 10 points in the third quarter including several pull-up midrange jumpers, along with a few difficult three-pointers off the dribble.  Bacon was attempting step-back threes with fluidity throughout the second half which is something that was not common in years past. It is obvious Bacon is in Vegas to push his limits and expand his game. Bacon slowed down in the fourth quarter but kept his composure and let Devonte’ Graham get into a rhythm from three to close out the game.    

After Dwayne Bacon knocked down a few threes, defenders started to close out on him on the perimeter, so he used a pump fake to get the defender up and bolted by him for an easy layup down the middle of the lane. Yes, this is only Summer League, but last night should have been a wake-up call for Bacon in that with a viable three-point shot, the rest of his game opens up. His strengths (finishing at the rim) become that much easier with the threat of a jump shot.

A Bacon of Light

Dwayne Bacon shined last night and showed some promise for Charlotte, a franchise who is struggling to see the positives in an offseason where their franchise centerpiece bolted for Boston. They have a massive gap at the guard position and a dire need for all-around production from that guard spot. Dwayne Bacon has the potential to fill the role, and he showed that in Las Vegas last night. 

The NBA Summer League does not usually consist of third-year role players who have had substantial playing time in the previous season. This is a different case with Hornets guard Dwayne Bacon, who was the most talented player on the court last night and will likely be so for a large part of Summer League. Dwayne Bacon is not in Vegas to prove that he can play to head coach James Borrego or general manager Mitch Kupchak. He is here for an opportunity to get in-game reps as a team’s primary ball handler.

Handling the Rock

With Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb out of the door, the Hornets have a tremendous need for ball handling, playmaking, and scoring off the dribble. 42 percent of the Hornets’ scoring last season came from Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, and Tony Parker, all of whom are not on the roster anymore. Charlotte needs guard play, and they have confidence that Dwayne Bacon can be one of their primary options in the backcourt.

Bacon is playing Summer League in hopes of improving his ball handling, which has been one of his problems in the past, along with scoring off the dribble. Bacon has not had a consistent three-point shot through his first two seasons, primarily hitting threes off the catch, but that won’t be the case as much this year. He will need to be a creator alongside Terry Rozier, who struggles to get to the rim with efficiency. Bacon is a perfect backcourt partner with Rozier, where one’s strength is the other’s weakness. We saw Bacon aggressively look to attempt difficult in-game three-pointers last night via step-back, off a series of rhythm dribbles to get the defender on his heels, or off the pick-and-roll.

The Sophomores

Dwayne Bacon is not the only Hornet who will see an increased role this year. Second-year guys, Miles Bridges and Devonte’ Graham, will also see an increase in their usage this year.

James Borrego wants Graham to get more confident with his three-point shot, so he is being featured as more of a shooting guard than a point guard. The reason behind this is getting Graham more willing to shoot open threes which he tended to pass up in his rookie year. Last night he dwelled in that role, shooting 4/10 from deep to go along with 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. 

Miles Bridges has a similar approach to his Summer League goals as Dwayne Bacon, in that they both want to become a more confident and willing scorer off the dribble. Last night he finished with 13 points on 6/11 shooting in a solid outing. In Bridges’ rookie season, he was often in the dunker’s spot and slashing to the basket. That will not be the case this year for obvious reasons. Bridges had multiple possessions where he had the ball in his hands on the perimeter and would use his strength and athleticism to either power through or fly by defenders for emphatic finishes at the rim. He also flashed several pin-point passes to teammates from the perimeter, which his teammates did not always convert but showed improvement and promise on Miles’ end. 

All in all, the Hornets’ 2019 Summer League debut was a success. Three of their top young players put together solid games, showcasing improvements in weak areas from last season. Dwayne Bacon stole the show, but Devonte’ Graham and Miles Bridges both had themselves a solid night for the Charlotte Hornets.