Charlotte Hornets NBA Summer League Preview

Apr 8, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Kai Jones (23) warms up before an NBA game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Charlotte Hornets forward Kai Jones (23) warms up before an NBA game against the Chicago Bulls at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

After weeks of headlines dominated by coaching searches, draft decisions, and off-court incidents, the Charlotte Hornets will finally play an actual basketball game today. Although it is only Summer League, the intrigue surrounding this group is at a fever pitch. Weeks of rumors, speculation, and discussion finally will materialize into a tangible product when the Hornets face off against the Indiana Pacers in Las Vegas, Nevada at 6:00 p.m. EST. Led by Greensboro Swarm head coach Jordan Surenkamp, the Hornets will look to build some positive momentum against 6th overall pick Bennedict Mathurin and the Pacers’ squad.

One of the primary storylines will be Charlotte’s frontcourt trio of Kai Jones, JT Thor, and Mark Williams, all of whom provide reasons to be intrigued. Jones flashed immense potential while with the Swarm last season, posting averages of 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. Thor appeared in 33 games with the Hornets last season, the most appearances of any Hornets rookie. Williams is hoped to be Charlotte’s solution at center, where they have not had a player average double-digit points and rebounds in the same season since Dwight Howard in 2018.

Another player to keep an eye on is rookie guard Bryce McGowens, who the Hornets selected with the 40th pick in this year’s draft. The South Carolina native and former Nebraska Cornhusker was rated 29th on Kevin O’Connor’s NBA draft big board, via The Ringer. Already signed to a two-way contract, McGowens will hope to show his elite scoring potential while improving on his three-point percentage and his playmaking.

Unfortunately, there are some negative storylines for the Hornets as well. Second-year guard James Bouknight will miss all of Summer League due to an injury to his pinky on his right hand which required surgery. After a difficult rookie season that saw Bouknight struggle for minutes, get into a visible dispute with his head coach, and get ejected from a game at his alma mater, Summer League could have been a launching pad for a second-year recuperation. Instead, his focus now shifts to rehabilitating his injury in time for the season.

LiAngelo Ball, who spent last season with the Swarm, was slated to be on the Summer League roster yet again after having a solid showing for last year’s team. However, he entered health and safety protocols on July 4th, leaving his status in doubt. There is little time to clear the protocols due to the condensed nature of the Summer League schedule; Charlotte’s final game is scheduled for July 14th, just 10 days after Ball initially entered the protocols.

The Hornets also do not have a true point guard on the Summer League roster. After posting an 0-5 record in the Summer League last year, with four of those losses coming by 10 points or less, having a true point guard this year would have benefited the team. Charlotte is also searching for a backup point guard for LaMelo Ball, and the Summer League could have provided an opportunity for a young player to make a case for that role. Having solid point guard play will also go a long way towards helping the young frontcourt players such as Jones, Thor, and Williams succeed. Jalen Crutcher, who averaged six assists per game with the Swarm in 33 appearances last year, currently represents the best point guard option on the Summer League roster.

Summer League is equally important for the front office and the players

Six members of the Summer League roster are also signed to some version of a contract with the Hornets; those players are Kai Jones, JT Thor, Mark Williams, Bryce McGowens, Scottie Lewis, and Nick Richards. For the rest of the roster, Summer League represents their chance to make an impression and prove that they are worthy of a contract, whether with Charlotte or with another franchise. It will be equally important for the Hornets to identify which players could be potential building blocks for the team moving forward.