It may not have been the rookie season James Bouknight was ultimately envisioning when the Charlotte Hornets drafted him with the 11th overall pick last summer, but he still showcased plenty of talent and potential in his first year in the professional ranks.
Across 31 appearances this season, Bouknight averaged 4.6 points on 34.8% shooting, 1.7 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 9.8 minutes per content. He also shot 34.7% from 3-point range (17-of-49) and 87.1% from the free-throw line (27-of-31), with his best performance being a 24-point, six 3-pointer showing against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 10.
Behind Terry Rozier, Cody Martin and Kelly Oubre Jr. in the Hornets’ rotation for much of the season, Bouknight had a handful of stints in the G League for Greensboro, where he put up 21.4 points on 44.8% shooting – 33.3% from 3-point range – 5.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in seven appearances. He notched season highs in both scoring (27 points) and 3-pointers (four) in his final outing with the Swarm on April 2 against Raptors 905.
“I think it was a fun year,” said Bouknight during exit interviews. “I learned a lot from my teammates and the veteran guys. Trez (Montrezl Harrell) and IT (Isaiah Thomas), I learned a lot from them. I was able to go to Greensboro and show people what I’m capable of and the type of player that I am. It was just about [getting] on the court to play. That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life – being a hooper. Going down there and getting reps in, playing with Kai [Jones] and JT [Thor], I think it helped a lot.”
Bouknight finished the year with just 304 NBA minutes, which ranked 40th amongst rookies and was by far the fewest of any lottery selection. Learning how to adjust to a less ball-dominant role than he had at UConn on top of trying to break through an already crowded backcourt rotation in Charlotte certainly made things challenging for the 21-year-old Brooklyn native.
But even if the playing time wasn’t necessarily there this season for Bouknight, his talent, athleticism and potential are all absolutely apparent. Already possessing a smooth shooting stroke and desirable length for the two-guard position, a heavy focus for him moving forward will come down to working on his body and taking advantage of every opportunity he can get. It may take some time, but there’s no reason Bouknight can’t play himself into the rotation starting as early as next season.
“I think I understand what I need to do this offseason to get better and be able to help this team next year,” said Bouknight, who is expected to play at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, NV. “Continuing to get stronger, faster. Working on my jump shot. Just getting better physically and mentally.”