Bouknight, Jones Adapting After First Week of NBA Training Camp

by Sam Perley

The 2020 NBA rookies had a tough go of things with no Summer League, far less time in their home markets before the season started and limited practice time throughout the shortened campaign. This year’s crop of youngsters has a more normalized introduction to the league and for Hornets first-round rookies James Bouknight and Kai Jones, their opening week of training camp has been all about asking questions and soaking up insight.

“We’re going super hard and the practices have been super intense,” said Bouknight. “Being out here, I can see what kind of team we can be. I really feel like we can make some noise this year. I don’t know how it was at other schools, but at UConn, it was the same thing. We got after it in training camp, boot camp, all of it. I’m prepared for this.”

Added Jones, “It’s been a fun learning experience. It’s been awesome and the coaches are teaching us a lot of things right now. At Texas, they would get us in shape during training camp. Here, it’s your job to come in and be in shape when you arrive. You have to be in shape, so you come in shape to play. We’re not really focusing so much on conditioning so far.”

Both players have been logging reps at multiple positions in camp – Bouknight rotating on and off the ball in the backcourt with a focus on cutting and rebounding; Jones going between the four and five positions, while working on his floor spacing and crashing the glass. How quickly each one can pick up the nuances in these respective areas will likely be reflected in the team’s early-season rotation. 

“We’re both looking to come in and contribute off the bat right away,” stated Bouknight. “I know I’m going to get that chance and I’m going to take full advantage of it any which way. Offense or defense, it’s just about being a solid two-way player. With the strength of the players, the speed of the game, just how fast everybody is, how talented everybody is, defense is the hardest thing. You have to really lock in and focus on that end of the floor.”

Veteran Terry Rozier has also been vocal about his approach in welcoming the 11th overall pick. “[You have to] kill him,” he said. “He's a guy you can't take it easy on. Brooklyn kid, tough guy who can play. You can teach him all the little things, but when you get out there, you're competing. He's going to appreciate that more than anything. Nobody gave anything to me when I first came into the league and I still appreciate that to this day because it helped shape who I am."

“We’re going at it every possession and I don’t take that lightly,” Bouknight responded. “[Terry’s] a tough competitor to play against. Super-shifty, fast, but we’re teammates. He’s pointing me in the right direction, telling me what it takes to be a good player in this league. He’s an All-Star to me and anybody who thinks otherwise, I don’t know what to tell you. Just having him in my ear, that’s all I can ask for. Just listening and soaking in information.”

One aspect of camp Jones seems to be relishing in is relationship building, as well as the transparency he’s received from James Borrego and the coaching staff in terms of how to get on the court early in his NBA career.

“It gives me hope and clarity because you know what they’re expecting,” said Jones. “It would be different if they weren’t vocalizing what they wanted you to do. You know what your job is when you come in every day. There’s a trust thing, too. They know when it’s time to play, I’m going to come to play.” 

He added, “I’m big on relationships with people around me. That’s how I got better at Texas. At the beginning of my freshman year, I wasn’t playing, but I just confronted [then Head Coach Shaka Smart] and asked him what I had to do. I wanted an honest answer. He could tell he didn’t have to sugarcoat things with me. That’s what I like about Coach Borrego. He just tells the truth. It makes things simple when you have a good bond like that with your coach.”

This is the first time the Hornets have had two rookies both picked in the top-20 since 2011, when Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker saw their opening seasons temporarily delayed because of the lockout. Add another two rookie second-rounders in forward JT Thor and guard Scottie Lewis plus Lithuanian import Arnoldas Kulboka (who was drafted in 2018) and Charlotte’s practice facility has been chalk full of wide-eyed newcomers this past week.

Most, if not all, the rookies will get their first real taste of NBA action this upcoming Monday night when the team travels to Oklahoma City for its preseason opener starting at 8 PM ET.


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