With Summer League mostly finished up, most teams are getting close to being finalized. The Summer League standouts will receive contract offers and the others will remain with their G League affiliates. With that being said, let’s take a look at the likely first roster for the Charlotte Hornets.
LaMelo Ball, PG
No surprise here. The Rookie of the Year should have little to no competition for starting point guard. Ish Smith can be a serviceable backup, but he’s no Devonte Graham. With Graham out of the picture, it becomes even more likely that Ball won’t come off the bench at all this year. Graham could’ve reasonably stepped in if Ball experienced a sophomore slump, but since he’s in New Orleans (replacing the other Ball brother, ironically) that won’t happen. There’s next to no chance Ish Smith starts over Ball even if he struggles.
Terry Rozier, SG
This was always Rozier’s spot to lose. Whether or not he’ll be on the roster past the trade deadline does remain to be seen, though. With no idea whether or not he fits into the plans, it’s anybody’s guess. If the Hornets flounder, he’ll likely be the first to go.
He’s played himself into a nice contract after this season and nobody knows if Charlotte will give him that. If they don’t plan on it, then trading him seems likely. Either way, for now, he’s got a vice grip on the starting two-guard spot despite the recent selection of James Bouknight.
Gordon Hayward, SF
As much as I would like to start both PJ Washington and Miles Bridges, there’s pretty much no chance the $30 million man sits on the bench. I think the best and most athletic starting five involves Hayward on the bench, but that’s unlikely.
Either way, if he can score 20 points per game like he was when healthy, he’ll keep his spot. It’s more likely that Bridges and Washington will rotate in and out of the starting lineup than Hayward ever loses it.
Miles Bridges, PF
Bridges had an incredible stretch run last season when inserted into the lineup for Hayward. He proved that he can not only start, but perform well. With Washington and Bridges, there are two similar players and there’s not much size lost with Bridges in for Washington. Still, Bridges earned it and since he’s not likely to start over Hayward, Washington gets the bump.
Mason Plumlee, C
Plumlee pretty much represents a lateral move from Cody Zeller. He doesn’t solve the center problems at all, but he can mentor and provide a big body for the time being. If it’s not this year, it’ll be pretty soon that Kai Jones (or possibly Nick Richards) slots in here. For now, adding Plumlee to the starting lineup doesn’t fix the problem, but it keeps PJ Washington from having to start as a vastly undersized center.
Washington is the odd man out in the forward spot, but it’s really not anything he did. He provides decent scoring for the fourth option on the floor, he spaces the floor and plays pretty solid defense (when he’s not being asked to guard guys that are five or more inches taller). Washington probably doesn’t deserve to start on the bench, but since Hayward makes so much money it’s the likely outcome. Still, Washington can probably provide a little bit more offense in the second unit, given that he’ll be more than the fourth scoring option.
The signing of Kelly Oubre didn’t make a ton of sense. With Rozier, Hayward, Bridges, and Washington, all his potential spots have been taken. Still, he provides valuable athleticism and versatility. He could play any of those aforementioned spots and with injuries and COVID still affecting teams all the time, he’ll probably end up starting 30 games or so.
Bouknight had a bit of an up and down Summer League, but he didn’t play poorly enough to lose his spot. Being the 11th overall pick has its perks, and that’s one of them. He’ll also benefit from Terry Rozier playing ahead of him so that there’s a lot less pressure. Bouknight was one of the steals of the draft, but he’s not ready to start yet. The potential is there, but a bench role is perfect to start. If he plays well and Terry Rozier departs then that shooting guard spot might be his to lose by then.
This is Ish Smith’s 12th team. Everyone knows what to expect from him. Decent backup point guard play. He’s no Devonte Graham, but he’ll probably do fine. He’ll never threaten the starting lineup unless injuries pile up, but he’s not going to lose his role.
Despite the departure of his twin brother, Martin will likely have a spot on the roster. He doesn’t contribute very much offensively, but his defense remains some of the best on the roster. He’s not really going to benefit from being in the G League like some other young guys will, so he won’t be put down there to develop.
The Hornets recently traded for Iwundu, so it makes sense that he’d be on the roster, even if it’s just at the end of the bench.
Richards has some upside and looked much more comfortable this Summer League. Still, this last bench spot is really a tossup between a lot of people. Gelo Ball, Kai Jones, and even Vernon Carey could grab this spot, but given how often Richards played over Carey last year, how young Jones is, and how little the Hornets need wing players, Richards gets the nod.
Despite performing pretty well (better than I would’ve anticipated), Gelo Ball ultimately doesn’t make the roster. It won’t surprise me at all if he does, though, given who his brother is and that he did actually play well and has received lots of praise from coaches.
Kai Jones will benefit from some development in the G League since he likely won’t get much court time at the NBA level. Carey will also benefit, though he’s already been through that. Scottie Lewis is going to need more development than the other young guys, so he’s going to be a G League guy for now. The same goes for JT Thor.