I’m just going to put it out there: James Bouknight is not ready to play in the NBA right now. Last month, I wrote a column complaining about the lack of minutes Bouknight was getting and why the Charlotte Hornets were a terrible franchise for sitting him. However, after seeing him playing in Saturday’s G-League game for the Greensboro Swarm against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, it has become evident that the 6’5″ guard is not ready for significant NBA action.
The former UConn star’s stat line looked good on the surface. Bouknight dropped 33 points, collected six rebounds and dished out three assists. But one area that really sticks out is his plus-minus. Now, don’t get me wrong, plus minus can be a misleading statistic, but it does hold some value. Bouknight’s plus minus in the contest was -21, which is simply not good, especially in a game where the Swarm lost by just seven. For those who are not familiar with the metric, this means that when Bouknight was on the floor, the Swarm were outscored by 21 points.
The issue with plus-minus is that it can be hindered or helped based on who is on the floor around any given player. However, in this case, Bouknight got star minutes and was part of the problem in a starting unit that performed worse than the backups.
Obviously, one game is not a lot of data to react to. He did score 33 points, which is great. But the key here is that Bouknight did not make winning plays on Saturday — and he didn’t make any during the Summer League and Preseason either. His combined record in the Summer League, Preseason and G League, where he played his most considerable minutes, is 1-8. Even though these results don’t count to any official standings, 1-8 is not good. Bouknight closed each of those games and even was a part of blowing some pretty considerable leads with weak defense and stale offense.
A reasonable comparison to Bouknight here is former UConn star guard Jalen Adams, who spent two seasons with the then G-League Erie Bayhawks (now Binghamton Squadron). In his 54 games, Adams averaged 32 minutes and 18 points, which are top-tier numbers. Surely he got called up because of his great numbers, right? Wrong. Adams has never seen an NBA minute because, in that span, the Bayhawks went 23-34. Adams’ numbers looked good on paper, but watching him, he didn’t make plays beyond the stat sheet that led to success for the team. Those involve diving for loose balls or making team-oriented passes that lead to scoring but don’t count as assists. He served as one of the typical players that are seen around the G-League, who can put up good stats, but don’t contribute to a solid record. These empty stats continue a pattern Bouknight began at UConn, as he played for the Huskies during one of their worst four-year stretches in decades.
NBA teams like to play winning players. Jalen Adams was not a winning player, which is why he is now playing in Israel. James Bouknight has not proved to be a winning player either. He only won one postseason game in college, and he’s only secured one win where he played real minutes professionally. Until he can actually claim victory for his team and prove he can be an elite player, he does not deserve to play in the NBA — especially for a Hornets team that is treading water.
For now, Bouknight will likely serve as a metaphorical tennis ball, getting bounced back and forth from the G-League to the NBA. A player who will help teams win games in the NBA now should be able to help G-League teams do the same. And it should be easier competition too.
Why not let Bouknight spend some time in the G-League developing? He was pretty raw at UConn and was a bit too skinny to succeed against prepared teams like Maryland, who boxed him up effectively. Also, Hornets Coach James Borrego came from the Spurs, who are known for letting their players ripen in the G-League before bursting onto the NBA scene. Think of Danny Green and Derrick White — they both spent a bit of time in the G-League and turned out fine. Other notable players from different teams who spent time in the G-League are Khris Middleton, Rudy Gobert, Pascal Siakam and Jordan Clarkson. There is no shame in developing for a bit at a lower level. If that’s what it takes for Bouknight to have success, I’m all for it. But let’s avoid rushing him and looking back at him as a major bust in 10 years.
As long as Bouknight can prove that he’s a winner, he’ll get his chance. But for now, let’s watch him learn, be a little patient and enjoy the ride.