Both Grant Riller and Nate Darling made their NBA debuts this season as two-way players for the Charlotte Hornets, with both guards showcasing interesting skillsets that could further expand with increased experience and development.
Riller was taken with the 56th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of the College of Charleston, while Darling was signed as an undrafted free agent following a three-season collegiate career at Delaware and UAB. The former was penciled in as more of a ball-handling lead guard and the latter was viewed as a catch-and-shoot, more off-the-ball option.
Each player appeared in seven NBA games at about four minutes per contest; Riller recorded 2.6 points on 66.7% shooting (2-of-4 from three) and 0.4 assists, while Darling put up 1.3 points on 28.6% shooting (all three-point attempts; 2-of-7). In the G League, the Riller started 11 games and averaged 13.1 points on 49% shooting (46.2% from three) and 3.5 assists, with Darling adding on 8.9 points on 33.0% shooting from long distance in 13 outings (four starts)
“I’m just appreciative of the blessing,” said Riller. “A lot of people went through some hard times this past year. For me to define myself with an NBA organization with the chance to play basketball during a time like this, I think it’s something I can’t take for granted. Even though it was a challenging year for everybody, it was one I won’t forget and I’m glad I was a part of it.”
“It’s just been a lot of love and a long journey,” added Darling, who also earned the unique distinction this season as the first-ever NBA player from Nova Scotia, Canada. “The biggest thing is just being an inspiration for the youth. [Nova Scotia’s] never had a basketball player. It’s always hockey players like Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand, who are both from Halifax. Now there’s a route as a basketball player for all those kids that love basketball.”
Both rookies’ first basket came from behind the arc – Darling’s took place in Houston on March 24, Riller’s coming in Boston on April 4. “I was in a couple games before that and didn’t get a basket,” recalled Riller when asked about the milestone. “I wasn’t really pressing, but when the opportunity came, it was a relief. It was like, ‘Wow, I’ve worked my whole life for this and now it’s here.’ It gave me the confidence for whenever I’m in there to show what I can do.”
Much like fellow first-year Charlotte players Vernon Carey Jr. and Nick Richards, Riller and Darling just simply weren’t allotted much opportunity at the NBA level this season, largely because of circumstances – no Summer League, shortened Training Camp, limited practice time and reps – outside of their control. Riller shot well and controlled the offense when he was in games and Darling has the beginnings of a quick, three-point stroke coming off screens.
The guards will presumably both be on the Hornets Summer League roster in Las Vegas next month and their organizational familiarity should only help their quest in taking advantage of more opportunities moving forward.
Said Riller, “I just want to work on my game as much as I can and hopefully reap the benefits next year. I’m excited to see some improvement. I know we’ve got the Summer League, so it gives me a timeline for something I’m working for. Just showing the Hornets that I’m committed to them, I want to be here and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to do that.”
“Just working,” added Darling when asked about his offseason plans. “There’s been some cool moments [this season] – made a bucket, talked to LeBron – but I want a lot more than that. I think it was tough for rookies to get a real chance because of all the protocols. I’m looking forward to more opportunities to prove myself not just in practice, but on the court as well.