Rising Sophomore Dwayne Bacon is Ready to Make Noise in the NBA
By Sam Perley
A new season with new coaches, a new general manager and a handful of new players is quickly approaching for the Charlotte Hornets organization. For guard Dwayne Bacon, he’s also got a new pair of goals heading into his second year in the league.
“Defending the best player on the court at all times and knocking down shots. I definitely want to shoot about 38-40 percent from three,” he stated in an interview with Hornets.com.
For the most part, Bacon is a man of few words. Soft spoken, reserved, but also confident, he mostly lets his play and work ethic do the talking.
“[The offseason’s] been good. A lot of work. Some kind of calm time, but a lot of work. I’ve been in and out of [Charlotte] all summer,” he stated. “I’ve got a good feel for our new coaching staff and everything else. I was in Florida a lot – most of the time at Florida State.”
Taken midway through the second round of last summer’s NBA Draft, Bacon finished his rookie season with averages of 3.3 points on 37.5 percent shooting and 2.3 rebounds in 13.5 minutes over 53 games. As common for rookies, Bacon was often buried behind more experienced players, sometimes going weeks at a time confined to the bench.
Enter new Hornets Head Coach James Borrego, who built a strong reputation for player development during his 10 combined seasons in the San Antonio Spurs organization. Charlotte had little salary cap space this offseason, so a heavy emphasis on internal growth has been planted, particularly with regards to younger players like Bacon.
“Obviously, everybody knows if you watch basketball, in San Antonio, they did some great things,” said Bacon. “[Borrego’s] a championship guy. It’s just bringing in different coaches with great personalities, [who] are willing to help and help you get better. That’s what I’ve been doing all summer. All these guys are very genuine and very, very willing to help you no matter what.”
He added, “Me, just being in my first year going into my second year, it’s tough changing coaches, but this is what this league is. I’ve adjusted to it and I’m happy to be with these guys.”
Bacon wasn’t necessarily asked to do a whole lot as a rookie last season, particularly on the offensive end. Eighteen percent of his total minutes came within a five-man lineup consisting of three-point threats in Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lamb and a ball-dominant big man in Dwight Howard.
Looking back at some of his highlights from last season, Bacon was crafty in getting to the basket and had some nice moments in isolation, pick-and-pop and catch-and-shoot scenarios. After knocking down just 11-of-43 three-point attempts though, he knows that in order to become a prototypical two-way NBA player, his offensive repertoire will need to expand a bit.
“[I] just got in the gym and [started] shooting,” Bacon said. “More threes, working on my all-around game as always, but very, very focused on the three ball. They know I can get to the rack and I know that as well, but just right now, the key for me is to knock down shots. That’s what I’m willing to do and in order to do that, you have to get better at that.”
Bacon converted 22-of-35 attempts at the rim last season (62.9 percent), while going 8-of-20 between 3 and 10 feet (40.0 percent). He struggled to generate contact though, drawing just 10 total shooting fouls and registering the second-lowest ratio of free-throw attempts to field-goal attempts of any player on the team (.13).
Granted against a lower level of competition, a more offensively-polished Bacon averaged 18.2 points on 40.2 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals in five Summer League games this past July. His line included a 5-of-16 mark from long distance (31.2 percent) and a 16-of-18 clip from the free-throw line (88.9 percent).
His 6’6, 230-lb frame did provide some great moments on the boards and defensively last season. Amongst first-year players who played at least 50 games, Bacon’s 59.9 percent rebound chance percentage (total rebounds/rebounding chances) ranked second behind only Chicago’s All-Rookie First-Teamer Lauri Markkanen.
Using the 50-game minimum, Bacon finished 13th amongst rookies in defensive rating (103.9), a measurement that estimates the average number of points the Hornets surrendered per 100 possessions with their second-round rookie on the court. He spent 76 percent of his minutes at the small forward position, 17 percent at power forward and 7 percent at shooting guard.
With first-round pick Miles Bridges added to a growing arsenal of Hornets wings that already includes Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Malik Monk, Bacon will have plenty of competition for minutes in the team’s rotation. Battling for spots is not a bad thing, especially if it brings out the best for those involved.
“Every guy wants to play, but it’s getting something out of each other and competing at the hardest level each and every day,” Bacon stated. “Coach is going to make the decision to put the best guy out there in any situation and we just go from there. There’s not too much worrying about, ‘Oh, this guy’s going to play over this guy.’ All of us are competing and we want to win. Once we win, everybody gets a great accomplishment out of that.”
Not only is Borrego bringing in an entirely new coaching staff, but he also hopes to overhaul the team’s style of play, transitioning the offense to a faster-paced, more up-tempo format. Fresh eyes and different voices could be a huge factor in Bacon taking a major step forward as he heads into his second NBA season.
“We want to get back to the playoffs,” Bacon stated when quizzed on the team’s primary goal for the 2018-19 season. “I think this was our second year [in a row] missing them. Definitely, individually, do what I can to help the team win, get to the playoffs and just have a great year.”
It’s often said that the most important stage of growth for a young NBA player is the offseason between the first and second year. After a tireless summer refining his game, Dwayne Bacon is ready to showcase to the league the strides that he’s made.