Hornets’ trio of Rozier, Bacon, and Graham continue to impress this preseason

The Charlotte Hornets got their first win of the preseason Monday night, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 120-99. This was a much-needed win after a tough loss against the 76ers Friday, shooting just 36 percent from the field. Monday night was a different story. The Hornets were firing on all cylinders and put together their best game through four preseason games. 

The Hornets shot 47.9 percent from the field and went 17-40 from three (42.5 percent) in a game where James Borrego’s ball movement he has instituted into this team’s DNA was on full display. The ball was not sticking in one guy’s hands; they whipped the ball around at a high rate just as they saw the Sixers do to them on Friday. The Grizzlies’ defenders could not rotate fast enough, resulting in open threes and easy cuts to the basket and layups.

The story of Monday night’s game was the combined efforts of Terry Rozier, Dwayne Bacon, and Devonte’ Graham who combined for 63 points, 18 assists, 17 rebounds, and 11 made threes in the win. 

The Hornets’ three young guards perfectly executed the “high pace” Borrego wants his offense to play with – pushing the ball off makes and pushing it up court off rebounds to put pressure on the defense in transition. Borrego believes the team’s “best shot selection comes (when we play faster)… Getting threes up in transtion… putting pressure on the defense.”

The Hornets played at a pace of 113.50 possessions per 48 minutes Monday night in Memphis. Their pace was 99.18 per 48 minutes all of last regular season. Monday was Charlotte’s best offensive game of the preseason, and that statistic illustrates why Borrego says this team is the most successful when they play at a high pace.

The Hornets made 17 three-pointers last night – 14 of them were assisted on. Graham (3), Bacon (3), and Rozier (5) combined for 11 of the 14 Hornets’ assisted threes. They were constantly looking to make the extra pass, hold onto the ball for one second longer to draw the defense, or driving to the rim to let a teammate slip open for three all night long. They lit it up from downtown and got high-quality looks throughout the game.

The offense has certainly not been just roses and lillies all preseason long – they have struggled. Part of this young Hornets team’s progression comes with trial and error. These young players are in new roles, new positons, with new responsibilities that they have never had in their careers. Graham is in his second year coming off a rookie season where he only appeared in 46 games, playing 13 games for the Greensboro Swarm. Dwayne Bacon spent 17 games in the G-League last year with the Swarm, so this will also be his first season on the Hornets full-time. Terry Rozier is going to be the Hornets’ new centerpiece this year after only starting in 14 games for the Celtics last year, averaging just over 22 minutes per game. 

It is just the preseason, but the Hornets have to take advantage of any real-game action they can with this new team, and they shined last night. Last night was a step in the right direction and showed signs that this Hornets team is not doomed for a 7-59 season like the 2011-12 Bobcats. They have pieces with potential; they just have to put it together and that takes time, failure, and repetition. Rozier, Bacon, and Graham all showed their potential upside last night with complete all-around games. 

Devonte’ Graham

Hornets head coach James Borrego told the media last week that he is challenging Devonte’ Graham to be more agressive offensively in the preseason and continue that throughout the regular season. He wants his point guards to push the ball up the court, play at a high pace, and create good shots for themselves and others. Last night Devonte’ was aggressive as his coach challenged him to be, totaling 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists on 6-10 shooting, including 4-6 from three. 18 points and four made threes would have been regular season career highs for Graham. 

Graham shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc his rookie season, and through four preseason games he is 9-22 (40.9%) and went 4-6 last night. It is obvious he is much more confident with his jumper, as he has been shooting difficult shots and attempting threes without any hesitation. His growth in year two is already evident. 

Monday night, Graham exploded in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the period. He hit back-to-back threes leading the Hornets on a run and also made pin-point passes to set his teammates up for high-precentage looks. His most impressive three came when he ran off a Willy Hernangomez off-ball screen and caught the ball sinking a smooth off-balnced three.

One common trend from this game from Graham was his creation off the pick-and-roll. He ran off Zeller screens twice and went into a mid-range pull-up from the elbow. A second time he ran off the screen again, this time a bit closer to the basket on the right elbow and saw the defense stick with Zeller on the roll. So he gathered and made a right-handed floater. Borrego does not want Graham to be passive off picks, but he wants him to attack and create shots for himself. These two examples showcased his increased confidence.

Graham has solidified himself as the Hornets’ backup point guard, and his responsibility has skyrocketed from last season. Borrego runs a high volume of pick-and-rolls, and Graham is going to be the ball handler in many of those situations. Seeing Devonte’ look comfortable handling the ball and creating for himself and his teammates in those situaitons has been a postive sign thus far. 

Check out this thread below to see the plays I mentioned above, along with others from Devonte’ Graham’s great game Monday on my Twitter:

Dwayne Bacon

Last night Dwayne Bacon continued his hot scoring in the preseason with an impressive game accumulating 21 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. He shot 3-5 from three-point land after scoring a team-high 17 Friday against the Sixers. 

Bacon knows he can get to the rim at will and has stated so in several media appearances. He said his strength, size, and speed allow him to get downhill and finish through and over defenders. He continued that last night. When mismatched on a smaller defender – Ja Morant for example – he put his head down and attacked the rim, which resulted in either free throw attempts or a bucket. 

Dwayne’s role this season is drastically different than his sophomore season. He is going from a guy who got assigned to the G-League, to a wing who will start all 82 games (if healthy) for the Hornets, being one of their main options offensively. Borrego also said he thinks Bacon can be this team’s best perimeter defender, so expect him matched up against the opponent’s best wing on a nightly basis.  

On the offensive end, Bacon is switching from a role where he would just shoot spot-up corner threes and an occassional isolation play to being the team’s no.1 or no.2 option from a shot creating standpoint. Bacon has stated this preseason that he is adjusting to his new role and the new shots he will take on a nightly basis. He mentioned just shooting corner threes last year, and now he will be shooting balls from downtown off the dribble. Monday he hit his defender with a nice step-back that he converted into a three. That grabbed the attention of many. 

It is going to take time for Bacon to adjust, but he has done a great job through three preseason games. It is not going to be perfect – there will be those 3-15 nights from the floor – but that is all a part of the growth process. Bacon has constantly been able to draw fouls and get to the line, which will be a helpful tool to utilize to get easy points when he is in a shooting slump. 

Borrego has been impressed with Bacon so far, and he is looking to make a big leap here in year three for the Charlotte Hornets. 

Check out these highlights below to see the plays I mentioned above, along with others from Bacon’s game last night:

Terry Rozier

Last night, Terry Rozier had another solid game for the Hornets this preseason. It has taken him time to find his role and get comfortable with his teammates. That will continue into the season, but he looked comfortable out there last night. He racked up 24 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 2 steals, shooting 9-15 from the field and 4-7 from three.

When Rozier drives to the basket – either on drives or pick-and-rolls – he does an excellent job of changing speeds (stopping and going) to draw multiple defenders and keep the defense confused about his next move. Last night, he used that in a variety of situations. There were times he would get the defender on his hip, stop, and then burst for a layup. Other plays, he would drive, stop and draw both defenders, and then pass to his open teammate for an open shot at the rim. He did both of these effectively last night, getting P.J. Washington and Bismack Biyombo easy buckets. 

Rozier said on media day that his best skill as a point guard was his ability to rebound. He does this particular skill better than most guards in the NBA, and last night Scary Terry racked up eight rebounds, even grabbing a rebound over the taller Jaren Jackson Jr. He continued to push the ball up the floor and threw an alley-oop to P.J. Washington. Terry also tipped an offensive rebound out off of a Caleb Martin missed three. The offense reset, and Terry drilled a three off of a Biyombo pick. The grit that Borrego wants his team to play with is perfectly exemplified by Terry Rozier on plays like those mentioned above. 

Borrego has continued stating that he does not want Rozier to come in and save the day. He wants him to find his role, be a leader, create for others, and find high quality shots. Coach Borrego has praised Terry, saying he has done an excellent job on all of the things he has asked of him. Throughout the preseason he has been one of the only constants for the Hornets offensively, and he will need to be the team’s best offensive player for the 2019-20 season. 

Check out this thread below to see the plays I mentioned above, along with others from Rozier’s great game Monday on my Twitter: