Charlotte Hornets rookie James Bouknight impresses
Firmly grasped in his right hand and strapped to his palm like it’s super glued, James Bouknight looks at his iPhone seemingly every few seconds once it turns on and vibrates.
A call here. A text there. Even a group chat seems to appear.
The Charlotte Hornets rookie was a popular guy on Monday night among those on his contact list, a more meaningful by-product of his playing time. Ish Smith’s arrival on the league’s health and safety protocol list less than two hours before the announcement means Bouknight has increased the rotation. Smith’s absence, coupled with no LaMelo Balls and no Terry Rozier for a second straight game, left the Hornets inexperienced in the backcourt.
So Bouknight was thrown into the mix and had some jaw-dropping moves in the Hornets’ 127-124 overtime loss to Philadelphia, removing a couple that had many of the Spectrum Center’s 14,462 pit patrons roaring with approval.
“I just knew that whatever time I was given I had to take advantage of it,” Bouknight told The Observer. “As a rookie in the league you have a short leash and you just have to go play. You just have to play like it’s your last and I went there and that’s exactly what I did.
Bouknight’s 11 points and five rebounds off the bench gave a glimpse of what he can ultimately be. His nasty, right-handed recoil dunk and freakish athleticism also gave better insight into the salivating potential of the guy the Hornets selected 11th overall in the July Draft. Both totals were career bests, numbers that can certainly take incremental leaps forward with every nanosecond of experience he accumulates.
He certainly provided an emotional boost to the Hornets (14-12) and his youthful exuberance was evident from the moment he was inserted. There was a bit of Speedy Gonzalez in him.
“Energy,” said Kelly Oubre. “He had the best energy of all of us. He injected this into us as soon as he checked into the game. He had two offensive rebounds, got the crowd moving and he was able to find a flow as well. But now is the big time for us. He stepped up.
This is new territory for Bouknight, serving strictly as a cheerleader and observer. It is foreign to him. The word “bench stove” hasn’t been attached to his name since, well, never.
Adapting to the hold game and stay ready mode brings challenges.
“It was definitely tough,” Bouknight said. “I’ve been through adversity, but it’s just a different genre, you know?” Everywhere I went, I always played. I never struggled to enter the field. But here it’s been a really humbling experience, just knowing that I have to work for whatever I want and that I’m going to have to go get it.
There is not much to choose from. Bouknight’s situation is kind of a blessing for the Hornets. Usually their first-round pick is heavily counted and pushed into the rotation during their initial season, as the Hornets are typically thin at that particular position and need to develop their draft selection.
The depth of roster is finally a strength now and with the Hornets’ glut of guards and wingers, Bouknight is the strange man. It’s not ideal, but he understands what’s going on overall.
“No, that’s great,” Bouknight said. “We’re a playoff team, man, and to get on the pitch with a playoff team you have to come out and show what you can do. You have to fight every night, play hard and do what you are asked to do. You have to know your role, understand your role. It’s a great thing my varsity coach was telling me. “Just know your role. “
To help her better understand the system and make sure it evolves at the pace they would prefer, Bouknight has alternated between Charlotte and the Greensboro Swarm for the past few weeks. In five appearances with the Hornets subsidiary in the G League, he averaged 25.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, four assists and two steals in 37.1 minutes.
Once he realized that trying to recreate an And-1 mixtape wasn’t doing him justice, a light bulb went out.
“I think when I first got to ‘G’ I was just trying to score on everyone and show that no one can keep me there,” Bouknight said. “And as the games progressed, I wanted to show that I could do more. I wanted to show that I can spread the ground and defend for 48 minutes, that I can pass the ball. Just showing off my versatility as a basketball player and not just going out and trying to score 30 points a night, you know?
That education continued against the 76ers and the class has been in session a few times for the 21-year-old. There were mistakes and things he needed to capture better on the fly, like knowing when not to close the defense too hard on a 3-point shooter so as not to make them foul – something he did. twice.
“I think it’s the best way to learn, just go out there and let me make mistakes,” Bouknight said. “I think it was just a big step in the right direction. For me and JT (Thor), too. He went over there and he played his a – off.
Coach James Borrego had enough confidence in Bouknight and Thor to come into the fourth quarter of a game with 11 leader changes and seven draws. Bouknight rewarded him with seven points over the quarter, including Gordon Hayward’s nifty 3-point missed follow-up dunk that elicited a deafening roar.
“It’s a lot of confidence for him,” Borrego said. “More than anything, we believe in him. Obviously the circumstances put him in that position right now, but he’s showing what he’s doing behind the scenes. He’s worked, he’s getting better and there’s a reason we drafted him.
“It’s no secret. We haven’t been hiding this guy. We drafted him in droves because we believe in him. And it’s just an opportunity now. He made the most of his opportunity. . Now he needs to build on it and improve. Very happy for him.
Insurance for the native New Yorker never falters. He is well over there.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost confidence,” Bouknight said. “People may have thought that. I don’t think I could ever be robbed of my confidence. I know what I’m capable of, I know what I can do. And I know the people who drafted me know I can do what I can do, you know? So when I went there I talked to JB before the game and he just told me to do my thing. He just told me to go out there and play hard, be competitive and have fun.
This is exactly what Bouknight did and, in turn, audiences are eagerly awaiting an encore.