The Charlotte Hornets have now played two games in the Las Vegas Summer League, with a 93-85 win over the Golden State Warriors and a 106-96 loss to the San Antonio Spurs under the team’s belt.
Both the Warriors and Spurs have played in more games than the Hornets, as the Warriors participated in the California Classic against the Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. Meanwhile, the Spurs played in the Salt Lake City league against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz.
The Warriors are off to a rough start in Summer League, as they finished 0-3 in the California Classic and are 1-1 in Las Vegas. The Spurs are also 1-1 in Las Vegas, but finished 2-1 in Salt Lake City.
The Hornets roster boasts some impressive names such as third-year player Dwayne Bacon, second-year players Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, J.P. Macura and Joe Chealey, rookies P.J. Washington, former NC State guard Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels and other collegiate standouts such as Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks from UNC-Chapel Hill, Torin Dorn from NC State, Cody Martin’s brother Caleb Martin, Joshua Perkins from Gonzaga, Kassius Robertson from Missouri, Elijah Thomas from Clemson and two-way contract player Robert Franks from Washington State.
Also joining the roster is Arnoldas Kulboka, a second round pick of the Hornets in last year’s draft from Lithuania, who played well last Summer League.
As expected, players with actual NBA experience and current rookies are getting minutes over some of the unproven players on the roster, so Dorn, Caleb Martin and Thomas have yet to play. 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft, Washington, also has yet to play as he is dealing with a foot injury and will likely be held out of the entirety of Summer League.
The reason we have not seen every player on the team receive minutes is because Summer League operates differently from the regular season in that teams play rotating lineups per game. So one player that starts in one game might get a DNP the next game, which is done in order to fully maximize playing time for all players. The Hornets will be extra cautious with players on the roster such as Bridges and Bacon as to prevent injury, as seen with Zion Williamson being held out of Summer League after suffering a bruised knee in the first game.
The starting lineup in both games saw Cody Martin running point, Graham playing the two-guard position he excelled at in limited playing time last season, Bacon at small forward, Bridges at power forward and Hicks at center.
Bacon and Graham led the siege against Golden State with Bacon finishing with 25 points, three rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block on 45/33/100 shooting splits. Graham finished with 21 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals and shot 40% from deep. Hicks also put in good work, stuffing the stat sheet with eight points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. This shows strong playmaking improvement from the third-year player who was on a two-way contract with the Knicks for the past two seasons.
In the second game, it was all Miles Bridges, who finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, one assist and three steals marking a good defensive effort from the forward out of Michigan State. He finished with 57/44/100 shooting splits, a very strong mark.
Former NC State and Nevada guard Cody Martin is currently trying to make a push for playing time on a potentially tanking Hornets team that saw star guard Kemba Walker depart to Boston and high scoring guard Jeremy Lamb depart to Indiana. Martin is currently averaging nine points through two games, but looked much better in the loss to San Antonio where he finished with 15 points and shot much better, though he is a -17 in two games. Martin will likely spend time in the G-League, where he will be able to play more with the Greensboro Swarm.
While Summer League play is equally important for all players, it comes with some feeling of urgency for players on two-way contracts that are restricted free agents. If they do not perform well, they will likely lose their jobs and it would mean that they have to earn another opportunity in an ever-deep NBA talent pool. Chealey and Macura find themselves in this position after they played well in Greensboro last season, but played minimal games for the Hornets. Neither player has been eye-popping so far, though they have each played under 16 minutes and have just played in one game apiece.
One two-way contract spot has been filled by Robert Franks, and teams rarely resign players to two-way deals, so both Chealey and Macura are competing for the final open roster spot on the Hornets, barring any changes.
Franks has only played in the game against the Spurs, where he finished with five points and a rebound in just under 12 minutes.
Kulboka and Perkins are other players fighting within the Hornets system, as Kulboka was stashed overseas and Perkins is on an exhibit-ten contract, which means that he can be assigned as an affiliate player of the Hornets in the G-League. Kulboka was flashy in the win over the Warriors, finishing with eight points and six rebounds on 43% shooting while Perkins played in the loss to San Antonio, impressing with 14 points, one rebounds, five assists and two steals on 57.1% shooting from beyond the arc.
Overall, the Hornets Summer League team is rich with talent, with all players having ample opportunity to make training camp rosters, with the Hornets or not. It will be interesting to see how many more games Bridges, Bacon and Graham will play, as the team may not want to risk injury.
The Hornets play two more games before the Summer League tournament begins, playing the Chinese National Team on Monday at 11 p.m. and then playing again on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls at 5 p.m.