Bacon, Graham Embrace, Flourish from Assignments to Greensboro Swarm
The biggest misconception about the NBA G League continues to dissipate more and more in recent years. For the longest time, the organization was seen as a demotion, an exile, a place where one’s basketball career began spiraling towards insignificance.
It’s a perception that couldn’t be further from the truth and the late-season play of Dwayne Bacon and Devonte’ Graham has just been more evidence to the contrary. The pair made numerous, sometimes concurrent, assignments to the Greensboro Swarm, and took advantage of golden opportunities to play heavy minutes in high-leverage situations.
For Bacon, he entered his second NBA season on the outside of the rotation, although did see regular playing time during an eight-game span from Nov. 9-25, when he averaged 8.4 PPG on 50.0% shooting and 2.8 RPG. Known for his physicality and defensive skillset, Bacon filled in for an injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist during this stretch, but for the most part, was confined to the Hornets bench up until the final month of the season.
A pass-first, facilitating point guard, Graham began his rookie year as the third-stringer behind Kemba Walker and Tony Parker, although saw time when the Frenchman rested on back-to-backs and at the two-guard as well. His most sustained stretch of action came from Dec. 28 – Jan 20, when he averaged 5.4 PPG, 2.5 APG and just 0.6 TPG over 15.3 MPG in 13 outings (three starts).
In between it all, Bacon made 14 assignments to the Greensboro Swarm, while Graham racked up 10. The former averaged 22.2 PPG on 41.2% shooting, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 APG and 1.2 SPG over 17 starts and the latter racked up clips of 23.3 PPG on 44.1% shooting (38.3% from three), 4.7 RPG, 4.7 APG and 1.6 SPG over 13 starts.
“You just couldn’t look at it as a demotion as a lot of people do,” said Graham at exit interviews on April 11. “You just have to go down there and grind. It helped me a lot, especially with confidence, being able to work on my game, work on pick and roll, making the right plays. That’s how you have to look at it. If you don’t, you can go down there and not be successful. Just look at it with a positive mindset.”
“It was good,” Bacon added. “When I went down there alone, it was also good. When [Devonte’] came, you had another guy from [the Hornets]. We just got to go down and compete and build a chemistry together. It worked out for the most part most of the games we played together.”
Utilization of the G League was a major selling point for new incoming Head Coach James Borrego. He came most recently to Charlotte from the San Antonio Spurs organization, affiliate in Austin was coming off its second G League championship season in 2018.
“When they hired me in this position, one of the things that I believed in was the Greensboro operation,” Borrego stated. “I was buying in from the get-go. Mitch [Kupchak] was buying in. Michael [Jordan] was buying in. Sometimes, it takes some convincing with your players. Once they went to Greensboro, they understood that they are just a mirror of what we are trying to do in Charlotte. They bought in right away. I think when you see all of those players come back from Greensboro, they look like completely different players.”
He added, “There’s nothing like those game reps and gaining confidence down there. When those guys were [in Charlotte], they were working with our assistant coaches. Our player development coaches deserve a ton of credit. I think when you add that to Greensboro’s live reps and you put that together, that’s a good combination. We’ll use that similar philosophy with the summer league and our player development program.”
The process of getting to and from Greensboro wasn’t always seamless. Bacon and Graham often met the G League squad out on the road in less-than-easily-accessible locations only to immediately circle back and join the Hornets (wherever they were) once they completed their assignments.
“Fortunately, it is not that long of a drive [to Greensboro], but it is not that simple,” said Kupchak, the team’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager. “A lot of times, they were in a different city, had to fly into Greensboro and got in there like an hour or so before the game. Then after the game, they flew out to meet the Hornets somewhere else. It was not the easiest of processes for the players, but they completely bought in.”
Kupchak added, “Starting at the end of December, there is just so much travel and if a player does not take care of themselves, you lose your conditioning. I think it accomplished keeping both [Dwayne and Devonte’] in great condition. Just watching your shot go through the hoop, whether it is in a G League game or NBA game, it gives you confidence.”
All the grinding finally paid off when Borrego inserted the pair into the rotation for good down the home stretch of the schedule. Bacon put up 11.4 PPG on 45.1% shooting (40.3% from three), 2.8 RPG and 1.7 APG over 18 appearances (13 starts) from March 8 – April 10, which included a string of three straight 20-point games. Graham had 5.4 PPG, 3.8 APG and a miniscule 0.6 TPG in 18.3 MPG off the bench over the last 13 contests.
“It shows a lot not just for me, but it shows my teammates have confidence in me,” said Bacon when asked about this strong finish. “They believe in me. They think I can play. It boosted my confidence once I went out there and just played worry-free. Don’t worry about the mistakes because everybody’s going to make mistakes. Just play through it and go on to the next play. I feel like I had a big part in the games we were winning since I was inserted into the lineup. I just want to build on that for next year.”
Graham followed up with, “I think it just makes us hungrier. Getting a taste of being in crunch-time games, meaningful games and almost making the playoffs, you just want to keep getting better. We didn’t want the season to end. [I’m] taking a couple weeks off and then we’re right back at it. Trying to get better and develop even more.”
Bacon pinpointed improving more on his three-ball efficiency this summer, which rose from 25.6% as a rookie to a whopping 43.7% this season (38-of-87). Graham mentioned getting better at finishing around the rim and plans to use Parker’s game as a model in that area.
Dwayne Bacon and Devonte’ Graham both made significant progress in their respective NBA careers this season and the numerous G League assignments were a major reason why. All that time with the Greensboro Swarm certainly has the pair primed for future success with the Charlotte Hornets moving forward.