James Bouknight playing again, helping Hornets: ‘I just think it’s an opportunity for him’

·5 min read

Right hand extended, James Bouknight made his way down the sideline skirting the Charlotte Hornets’ bench, creating a scene that hadn’t been seen in a while.

Bouknight was receiving congratulations from nearly everyone in the Hornets’ contingent, beginning with assistant coach Tyrone Corbin before reaching the tail end of the row of chairs flanked by Ron Harper. In town for a charity event, the five-time NBA champion was seated next to Terry Rozier, which offered insight into precisely why Boukight got dusted off and inserted in for meaningful minutes.

With Rozier and Kelly Oubre both still out nursing their respective injuries, forcing them to miss Sunday’s matchup with Dallas, there were some extra minutes that had to be distributed to others. And Bouknight benefited, logging the most on court action he’s seen in months this side of his stints in the G League. He even had some brief duty in the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ spirited 110-104 victory against the Mavericks at Spectrum Center.

“Man, it’s great to just be back with the team and see the guys,” Bouknight said, “and definitely it feels good to play well. Honestly, I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible day-in and day-out.”

Consider it a much-needed educational experience for the second-year guard.

“To me the biggest thing is it’s stuff to learn from,” coach Steve Clifford said. “I think that one of the things that’s happened in our league because of the rules and everything else where these guys are younger, the NBA is still about performing. And that’s what’s changed for the younger guys.

“The younger guys used to understand that. And he’s not unlike younger guys. When he performs well, he gets more. That’s what it is. It’s not can you make a play now and then, do this, do that. It’s can we play well when you are out on the floor.”

Bouknight had a certain purpose to him in the 10:03 he was on the court against Dallas, showing poise and conviction. He played under control and didn’t try to force things, which is no easy feat given his extensive period in between peeling his Hornets’ warmups off to actually get into the game.

He posted five points and three rebounds, an effort that came only days following his recall from the Greensboro Swarm and a little more than a week after he erupted for 44 points – on the strength of 11 3-pointers – against the Austin Spurs on March 18.

“I think it’s something that the average fan just doesn’t understand, how difficult that is to do,” Gordon Hayward said. “To be on assignment and not with the team and to join the team and get thrown in the fire and for him to play like he did tonight I thought it was huge. Not only for him, but the team. And I’m proud of his effort.”

There was a pretty sequence in particular Bouknight executed, sparked initially by a smooth catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. On the Mavericks’ ensuing possession, Bouknight guarded Kyrie Irving and made things difficult, igniting a fastbreak.

Bouknight capped off the mini flurry by splitting a pair of defenders for a nifty layup that quickly made the rounds on the NBA’s official Twitter feed. His tantalizing ability was on display in that rapid span, bringing attention back to the natural gifts that highlight his athleticism.

“It’s super exciting,” Dennis Smith Jr. said. “I don’t think NBA fans understand how talented Bouk really is. You can watch him make 20 3s in a row, and that’s regular for him. Super talented, super athletic. So, for him to come in and have an impact like that, especially after what he did in the G (League) the other night, I think that’s major for his confidence, and it was a big lift for our team tonight. We needed it.”

As does Bouknight. His season didn’t get off to the best of starts after getting arrested for driving while impaired in October. He’s appeared in only 29 games, with the bulk of those coming prior to the new calendar year, and is averaging a modest 4.1 points and 1.9 rebounds – numbers that were expected to rise following an up-and-down rookie campaign.

The sun hasn’t quite set on Bouknight for 2022-23 just yet, though. Utilizing the next two weeks to garner some positivity is all he could ask for after the rough patches he’s experienced over the past five months.

“I think that’s the most important thing,” Bouknight said, “just being able to be consistent and take it one game at a time and be able to put a game – like this game is over. So, now it’s time to get ready for the next one and be ready to perform the same way.

“You just try to be as consistent as possible and get ready to have a good summer.”

In other words, running with the newfound chance to show what he’s got is key.

“I just think it’s an opportunity for him,” Clifford said. “He can now use this as a springboard into his summer. One of things that hurt his year this year was he didn’t have a summer last year. He was injured, so he wasn’t able to do anything. Regardless of how old guys are, most of their year is set up in the summer. Rarely do guys have bad summers and come back and have great years.

“So, hopefully these last, whatever, six games … I’m going to play him a little bit more, a little bit more. And again hopefully it can be positive and like I said be a springboard into his summer.”