Charlotte Hornets

Why summer league is big for Hornets’ Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon and Cody Martin

Hornets coach on summer agenda

Hornets coach James Borrego on the young players’ off-season.
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Hornets coach James Borrego on the young players’ off-season.

Unfortunately, here’s what you won’t see from the Charlotte Hornets at Las Vegas summer league: Lottery pick PJ Washington.

The Hornets shut down forward Washington, the 12th overall pick, rather than continue aggravating the sore left foot he originally injured at Kentucky in March. The Hornets do not anticipate Washington needing surgery on what Kentucky previously described as a sprain that forced Washington to wear a protective boot and use a scooter to get around for several days.

While Hornets fans won’t get a first glimpse of Washington in an NBA setting, there is plenty else to absorb. The Hornets open play Friday at 9 p.m. against the Golden State Warriors (NBATV). As this franchise begins to adapt to a future without All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker, here are five things to watch:

Miles Bridges’ position

Hornets coach James Borrego said Wednesday he sees Bridges, the lottery pick from a year ago, playing primarily power forward and possibly starting there.

While that doesn’t compare with losing Walker and adding Terry Rozier at point guard, it’s important. The 6-foot-7 Bridges played both small and power forward last season, but in his 25 starts he was the small forward.

Two scouts from other NBA teams told me during the season they thought Bridges was better suited as a small-ball power forward than a true small forward; that it’s more realistic to ask him to body up against slightly bigger forwards than to ask him to chase around smaller, quicker ones.

“Power forward” isn’t what it once was in the NBA: Burly guys like former Chicago Bull Charles Oakley, staying close to the rim and acting as enforcers. What Borrego will need from Bridges is corner shooting range to stretch defenses (the way veteran Marvin Williams has), finishing in transition and continuing the uptick of late last season in his decisions with the ball.

Bacon’s emergence

This franchise has had little success developing second-round picks. Dwayne Bacon has a great chance of changing that.

The 40th overall pick in 2017, Bacon is suited to play small forward or shooting guard, Borrego says. He will be featured on the summer-league team in a way the Hornets haven’t used him in the past.

Assistant coach Ron Nored, who’ll run the summer team, says he’ll put Bacon in constant pick-and-rolls as the ball handler. The coaches want to see if Bacon can create scoring opportunities, not just for himself, but for others.

As a third-season veteran, Bacon probably won’t play more than two or three games in Las Vegas. But how he performs in those pick-and-roll situations could be a significant launch to a big role — maybe starting — next season.

Graham’s progress

Speaking of second-round picks, point guard Devonte Graham, the 34th selection in 2018, immediately showed potential last summer in Las Vegas. His trajectory was such that by the last month of the season, he was getting Tony Parker’s minutes as Walker’s backup.

Even in a rebuilding situation, it’s crucial to have depth at point guard. The Hornets paying Rozier $19 million a season means they view him as their starter. But Graham should play a lot next season, particularly since Borrego likes closing games with two point guards together.

Graham’s 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was tremendous for a rookie, but he has to shoot far better than his rookie 3-point percentage of 28%.

Position-less

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has talked about building a roster than can play more “position-less” basketball. He says the trait all three draft picks (Washington and second-rounders Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels) share is versatility.

“Position-less” is a trendy term in basketball, but it really isn’t new. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has coached that way for decades. Other than always having a point guard on the court, Kryzyzewski’s substitution patterns are much more based on ability than positions.

The best example of this “position-less” approach last season was Borrego using 6-foot-9 forward Marvin Williams part-time at center. Borrego says he doesn’t want to be reactive in his coaching; he likes trying the unorthodox, attempting to make the other coach adapt to his moves.

Summer league is the ideal time to experiment, so you’ll see young players at a variety of positions. For instance, they will explore how best to use forward McDaniels, who is tall but thin at 6-foot-10 and 195 pounds.

Martin’s best use

Martin, who played college ball at N.C. State and Nevada, is a good example of this “position-less” agenda: At 6-foot-6 he’s big enough to defend shooting guards and small forwards at the NBA level. But in skill set, he’s more a point guard.

The Hornets don’t know if Martin is ready to be the third point guard this season. Look for him to get plenty of ballhandling and play-making responsibility in Las Vegas. How Martin performs could factor in whether Kupchak adds a veteran point guard behind Rozier and Graham.

Hornets Summer League Schedule

At Las Vegas

July 5: Golden State Warriors, 9 p.m., NBATV

July 7: San Antonio Spurs, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2

July 8: China, 11 p.m., ESPNU

July 10: Chicago Bulls, 5 p.m., NBATV

Game 5: TBD

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