Three things to watch as the Charlotte Hornets get ready for Summer League in Las Vegas

After an eventful 2021 NBA draft that saw the Hornets draft two players within the top 20 picks, it’s finally time to watch the rookies play.

The Hornets begin Summer League play in Las Vegas on Sunday against the Portland Trailblazers.

Here are three things to watch:

How good is LiAngelo Ball, and can he land with the Hornets long term?

One of the biggest surprises this offseason was when the Hornets decided to sign LiAngelo Ball to their Summer League roster. Ball had been working out with his younger brother LaMelo at the Hornets practice facilities, and he impressed the Hornets’ front office and coaching staff at their twice-weekly pick up games.

While he obviously played well in those scrimmages, NBA games are much different, and we haven’t seen Ball at this level yet.

Hornets summer league coach Dutch Gaitley said the main thing LiAngelo must learn is NBA schemes.

“Playing pickup, he does a great job in that, but now, ‘hey, this is our defensive coverage, we’re doing this on this player, how are we locked into that,’ and I think that’s the thing we can help him most with to take the next step,” Gaitley said.

Another thing to watch is whether LiAngelo can play at the NBA level. Gaitley said LiAngelo plays the three. But at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he’s slightly undersized height-wise, especially in today’s NBA, where he’d be matched up with players like Kevin Durant, who is 6-10, or Lebron James, who is 6-8.

Gaitley said LiAngelo is a good shooter, is a great offensive rebounder and has great strength, but his shooting and offensive rebounding alone won’t be enough for him to land a spot on the roster. Through Summer League, the Hornets are looking for players to compliment their current stars.

The biggest thing for LiAngelo is figuring out how best he can contribute to the Hornets.

Bouknight’s 3-point shooting

James Bouknight could be the perfect compliment to LaMelo Ball. He’s a big time scorer, a good rebounder for a guard and is good in transition.

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He averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds at UConn. He’s also super athletic. But can he consistently knock down the 3?

That was the biggest question for Bouknight heading into the draft. He shot 29.3% from 3 during his final season with the Huskies, which won’t be good enough.

As the Hornets try to speed up the pace with their offense, knocking down 3’s will be important, and it’s something he’ll have to work on.

Will Kai Jones play much center?

Earlier this month, Hornets coach James Borrego said he was unsure of which position Jones would play — power forward or center.

Jones has the height at 6-11, but he’s only 218 pounds. He’ll likely have to add weight.

While the Hornets were able to trade for center Mason Plumlee before the draft, they still have a need at backup center.

Jones, who doesn’t lack confidence by any stretch, said he’s comfortable playing either position, adding that he thinks he can make more plays at center.

That would be ideal for the Hornets, who lost veterans Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo in free agency. The quicker Jones could adjust the better, and he’d likely get more playing time. If he plays more power forward, he may have a harder time getting into the lineup.

Hornets Summer League schedule

Sunday, Aug. 8 — Portland vs. Charlotte (NBA TV) 6 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 9 — Charlotte vs. Sacramento (NBA TV) 6 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 12 — San Antonio vs. Charlotte (ESPNews/ESPNU) 3 p.m.

Saturday Aug. 14 — Charlotte vs. Toronto (NBA TV) 3 p.m.


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