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Charlotte Hornets put their faith in young players to contribute big
Opening-day win a glimpse of season to come
Published Thursday, October 24, 2019 12:54 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

P.J. Washington scored a team-high 27 points for the Charlotte Hornets in their 126-125 win against Chicago in his NBA debut. Washington's seven 3-pointers set a league record for a player in his first league game.

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P.J. Washington will likely never play with the Greensboro Swarm.

The Charlotte Hornets rookie forward’s NBA debut was a hit with a league-record seven 3-point shots made and 27 points in Wednesday’s 126-125 win against Chicago. The old NBA debut record of five 3-pointers had been done twice previously and, ironically, was Washington’s freshman season total at Kentucky two years ago. Although Charlotte coach James Borrego has suggested time with the G League affiliate could benefit Washington, he has looked very much at home playing the higher level.

“I use that as motivation,” said Washington, who nailed 9-of-17 shots, including 7-of-11 beyond the arc. “It’s not a bad thing to go down to the G League and producing playing time. I’d definitely prefer to stay in Charlotte.”

Said Borrego: “I thought he’d been in the league two years already. He’s a poised young man. I’m excited…he’s only going to get better from here. It’s his job to continue to grow.”

Washington, though, wasn’t the only young Hornet to get off on the right foot. A pair of G-League alumni – point guard Devonte Graham and Dwayne Bacon tossed in 23 and 22 points. More telling, Borrego left the youngsters on the floor in the fourth quarter as Charlotte wiped out a 10-point deficit. Although starting point guard Terry Rozier was rested and ready to go, Borrego stuck with Graham, whose offseason work – namely fine-tuning his shooting and decision-making – laid the foundation for his improvement. Graham dished out a team-high eight assists to go with 7-of-9 shooting including 6-of-7 from 3-point range.

“You’ve got to give him credit,” Borrego said. “He had a great summer. He put himself in position to have a game like this. I’m not surprised. You’ve got to give Devonte and that entire group a lot of credit to stick with it. The resilience they showed, Tay was poised down the stretch, made the right play every single time down the stretch. He made big shots, made big passes.”

Graham’s growing faith in himself as a professional is evident.

“Just keep shooting,” he said. “My coaches keep telling me to let it fly and they have a lot of confidence in me, so I just have to come out here with that same confidence that they believe I have.”

Bacon, like Graham, put his G League experience to use late last year when Borrego trusted them with more minutes as the Hornets tried to bump their way into a playoff spot. That effort failed, but the experience was valuable.

“The biggest leap for me was just playing through everything,” said Bacon, who hit 8-of-21 shots. “I felt like if I missed a shot tonight, I’d still play the next play. If I got fouled and they didn’t call it, I’d still play the next play. That was a big downfall for me last year.”

It also helps to have the coach’s confidence that the basic ingredients to compete are on the roster. No one expects Charlotte to be a threat to make the playoffs, certainly not after one game, but Borrego’s faith in the youth movement is reciprocal.

“We put in the work all summer,” Bacon said. “We were here all summer with him and he built that confidence in us. In Summer League, we all played together, we all know the guys. For him to trust in us, it’s our team. You can’t add a superstar here and say he’s in the game, he’s going to score the ball for us. We’ve got to do it within us and do it how we’ve been doing it.”



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