The Charlotte Hornets are in the most desperate situation you can be in. They were built to win now, but can’t even make the playoffs. Injuries, inconsistent play and an inability to win a close game were all factors. None the less, the Hornets disappointed and there will be massive changes in the offseason. The team will have a GM (after firing Rich Cho), and he may start a firesale. The Hornets will likely go young, and that means the future lies in the hands of players like Malik Monk, Willy Hernagomez, and Dwayne Bacon.
These kids are finally playing now and have gone through some bumps, but they have also shown some flashes. Today is about second-round pick Dwayne Bacon. Bacon was a starter and a rotation player early in the season and struggled. His shot selection was horrible, and he was lost on defense. Now that the season is lost he is getting a second chance and has looked much better since his first playing stint. Here is what he is now and what he may become.
Bacon has been getting meaningful minutes in the last two games at New York and Philadelphia. He had his best game of the season at New York with 15 points on 60 percent shooting and three assists. Last night he only had five points but led the team in plus/minus at +17. While most of Bacon’s rookie season has been a struggle, he has intriguing tools. He is 6’7 and has good size to play the three. Bacon is strong for a rookie. He hasn’t shot well this season, but his stroke is solid, and he has potential as a 3-D guy.
On offense, his biggest problem has been shot selection. Too often he settles for long two’s instead of attacking the rim or taking threes. 56 percent of his shots are from midrange despite only making 32 percent of those shots according to Cleaningtheglass.com. He hasn’t been much more accurate at the rim shooting 53 percent and from three shooting 34 percent, but those shots are still more efficient. Bacon is a slightly above average foul shooter at 77 percent but doesn’t get to the line enough. He is strong but must get stronger and learn to finish through contact. Either way, attacking the rim more is Bacon’s next step. Here is a play where Bacon attacks instead of settling.
Bacon gets the pass from Monk, and as the defender presses upon him to prevent the three, he immediately drives baseline. Bacon is not the quickest, but he made a quick decision here, and that led to an easy two at the rim. Decisiveness can make up for lack of explosiveness.
His primary function in the future will likely be as a spot up player and using dribble handoffs. Bacon is not a good enough ball handler or passer to be a pick and roll threat. To be a spot up a player his three ball must improve. It is the key to his success in this league. Handoffs were his biggest strength as a rookie as he ranked in the 93rd percentile according to Synergy Sports, but that is small sample size.
Expect more of that in the future, but for him to get consistent minutes next year, it will be about defense and his three ball. The good news is Bacon has shown promise on corner threes, hitting 38 percent and he is also a low turnover player, which should surely help in earning Steve Clifford trust.
Now onto Bacon’s defense which has been more encouraging than his offense of late. Bacon ranks in the 46th percentile on defense according to Synergy, a respectable mark for a second-round rookie. It has been much better as of late too. He won’t make any splashy plays as his block and steal percentages are low, but his positioning is much better. Bacon is a good rebounder especially on defense; he ranks fifth on the team in rebound percentage. The real amazing stat is Bacon leads the Hornets in defensive rating. Again this is limited minutes, but here is what he does well.
He is in the 83rd percentile defending the spot-up action and in the 70th percentile defending off screens. His numbers against pick and roll ball handlers and isolations could improve, but most rookies struggle in those areas. Bacon at least has awareness, size and an understanding of positioning that is a start to becoming a good defensive player. Here is a play of what Bacon can be on defense.
There is a pick and roll on the opposite side of Bacon, but he smells it out and comes over to rotate and stop the roll man Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quin gets the ball, but Bacon is all over him to prevent the shot. Bacon then knows O’Quinn’s first read is to pass to Bacon’s man Troy Williams, but Bacon has good instincts and gets his hands up to stop the pass, steal it and then finish the other way for the easy slam. Impressive instincts by the rookie.
Add this up and it is clear Bacon will never be a star, but he can be a good starter. His defense should be above average by next season, and with another summer league and training camp, his offense should improve significantly. If he can get to 35 percent from the three-point line he can at least be average and defense will respect him.
Then he must learn to attack closeout, get to the rim and draw fouls. No more contested long two’s. I believe he is capable of these things and if he puts it together he can be a 3-D starter, and that is one of the greatest commodities in today’s NBA. Maybe one day he can average 15 points on efficient shooting and be a solid defensive player. It is possible, and for that Hornets fans should hold out hope for Bacon, he may be part of the Hornets turnaround.