Bacon, Bridges, Graham, Rookies Look to Showcase at NBA Summer League

by Sam Perley

Nearly three months since their final game of the 2018-19 regular season, the Charlotte Hornets are back on the court as they get ready to partake in the annual NBA Summer League festivities out in Las Vegas, NV beginning on Friday, July 5.

Returning to the desert from last year’s Charlotte Summer League roster will be Dwayne Bacon, Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, Joe Chealey, J.P. Macura and Arnoldas Kulboka. Chealey and Macura were both on two-way contracts with the Hornets this past season and Kulboka – a second-round pick last summer – spent the year playing for Brose Bamberg in Germany.

Draft picks PJ Washington (F, Kentucky), Cody Martin (G/F, Nevada) and Jalen McDaniels (F, San Diego State) are in the mix along with undrafted rookies Torin Dorn (G, N.C. State), Robert Franks (F, Washington State), Josh Perkins (G, Gonzaga), Greg Malinowski (G/F, Georgetown) and Elijah Thomas (F, Clemson).

Forward Isaiah Hicks and center Kennedy Meeks – former UNC teammates – are also on the roster. Hicks was in training camp with the Hornets two years ago before signing the first of two two-way deals with the New York Knicks. The Charlotte-native Meeks played for the G League’s Raptors 905 from 2017-18 and was with SeaHorses Mikawa in Japan this past season.

Anywhere from 12-14 players will comprise the final Summer League roster. NBA-level players (ex. Bacon, Bridges, Graham, etc.) will get a majority of the rotational minutes, although opportunities will certainly arise for others to show off their skills in front of the Hornets and the other NBA teams as well in attendance.

This year’s squad will be led by Hornets Assistant Coach Ronald Nored. Prior to joining the organization last summer, Nored was Head Coach of the G League’s Long Island Nets from 2016-18. Charlotte went 3-2 in Summer League play last season under Jay Hernandez, who will rotate back to an assistant position.

“It’s been a year since I was a head coach and obviously I’ve gotten to learn a lot from Coach Borrego this past season,” said Nored after Monday’s morning practice. “I learned a lot from [Hornets Assistant] Jay Triano, who has been a head coach in this league. Just taking things in and getting a lot of feedback from guys around the gym. My goal here is just to help these guys be the best they can be and have a good Summer League.”

Bacon will be the team’s leading returning Summer League scorer at 18.2 PPG, while Bridges (15.0 PPG) and Graham (10.0 PPG) both averaged double-figure points last year. Graham led the team in assists (6.0), while Bridges cleaned up defensively with 8.2 RPG. 1.4 SPG and 1.2 BPG.

Charlotte’s first four games will be against the Golden State Warriors (Friday, July 5 at 9 PM EST on NBATV), San Antonio Spurs (Sunday, July 7 at 12:30 pm EST on ESPN2), Chinese National Team (Monday, July 8 at 8 pm EST on ESPNU) and Chicago Bulls (Wednesday, July 10 at 5 pm EST). Including the Croatian National Team, there will be 32 total squads in the competition, which was won last year by the Portland Trail Blazers.

Charlotte beat Golden State, 87-69, in the Summer League playoffs last year with Bacon (19 points) and Bridges (17 points) each putting up strong performances. Golden State’s roster will include draft picks Jordan Poole (G, Michigan), Eric Paschall (F, Villanova) and Alen Smailagić (F, Santa Cruz Warriors, G League) as well as 2011 College Player of the Year, Jimmer Fredette (G, Shanghai Sharks; China).

San Antonio will have guard Lonnie Walker IV and forward Chimezie Metu alongside first-rounders Luka Šamanić (F, Petrol Olimpija; Slovenia) and Keldon Johnson (F, Kentucky), the latter of whom is Washington’s former teammate. Forward Chandler Hutchinson, seventh overall pick Cody White (G, North Carolina) and second-round Daniel Gafford (C, Arkansas) will highlight the Chicago core.

China will be using the Summer League as a tuneup for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which it hosts later this summer. The federation’s 2018 Asian Games roster featured two players who have NBA and G League experience, respectively, in center Zhou Qi and forward Ding Yanyuhang. Seven-foot center Wang Zhelin – a Memphis second-round pick three years ago – and Summer League alum forward Abudushalamu Abudurexiti were also on the team.

The goal of Summer League is to begin building chemistry and cohesiveness, two elements that will be huge for a Hornets team bringing almost the entirety of its young core. Player development and growth are the ultimate priorities and part of that is also learning how to win games in multiple different fashions. Summer League is a great time for experimentation, especially considering the low-pressure environment.

With at least five games on the docket over the next upcoming week, a sizeable chunk of next year’s rotation should be on full display for the Charlotte Hornets at this year’s NBA Summer League tournament.

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