The Greensboro Swarm is just two games away from reaching the (somewhat) halfway point of the 2021-22 NBA G League season and will be back in action this week for the Winter Showcase in Las Vegas, NV.
Through its opening 12 outings this season, the Swarm owns a 3-9 record, although has gone 3-3 in its last six appearances and lost by single digits in all but two of the nine overall defeats. New Head Coach Jordan Surenkamp spoke about both the challenges the team has had to endure, as well as the recent progress it’s made.
“I think it’s been a really productive and good year,” he says. “We came into the year knowing we were going to have a lot of young guys in their first year of playing professional basketball. We knew the learning curve was going to be substantial very early on with teaching guys how to play at this level. With the speed and physicality of the game, it’s significantly different than college. From Day 1, our guys have bought into being about the right things, playing the right away and trying to emulate what’s happening in Charlotte.”
Each of the Hornets’ rookies – James Bouknight, Kai Jones, JT Thor, Scottie Lewis and Arnoldas Kulboka – plus second-year center Vernon Carey Jr. have all spent time in Greensboro this season. Whether it’s live games or even just practices, taking advantage of every single rep possible has been key to building the organization’s developmental process.
“In terms of the assignment guys, they’ve all bought into the mentality and growing [in Greensboro],” adds Surenkamp. “Being able to get game-like reps that they don’t necessarily get night in and night out in Charlotte, that’s been successful. I think we’ve seen that with James Bouknight, JT Thor, Kai Jones and Vernon Carey Jr. getting opportunities unfortunately with the COVID situation that happened [recently with the Hornets]. The confidence those guys had coming into games in Charlotte, I think the reps they got in Greensboro helped with that.”
Bouknight in particular had quite the coming-out party in a 124-123 home win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday, Dec. 10, a game that the Hornets had just nine available players for, counting two-ways Lewis and Kulboka. The reigning 11th overall pick finished with a team-high 24 points, nine more than he had in his first 10 NBA appearances combined.
“[It comes down to] roster balance and how things are going with the parent club,” explains Surenkamp. “I think it’s no different here with Bouk. He hasn’t done anything wrong and that’s the biggest thing that we have to tell guys. It’s not a punishment to come to Greensboro. It’s an opportunity to get more game reps that allow you to stay fresh, stay sharp and see the game sometimes at a slower pace. It just really prepares you for whenever your opportunity comes.”
He adds, “One of the biggest things coming into this season was replicating a lot of the same actions, philosophies and stuff like Charlotte has. [Bouknight’s] time in Greensboro has been about putting him in positions not just to score the ball, but to make reads for teammates offensively and then understanding schematically how we play defense. He’s still learning and growing as a player – same with JT and those other guys as well. Even just those five games [Bouknight] played in Greensboro helped him from a comfort standpoint.”
Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody (both Golden State), Joshua Primo (San Antonio), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans), Tre Mann (Oklahoma City) and Jalen Johnson (Atlanta) are all – like Bouknight and Jones – rookie top-20 picks who have played in the G League this season.
And having a pair of third-year players on the roster – Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels, both of whom are former second-round picks now having breakout seasons – is not only a luxury for the Hornets’ rotation, but also provides the younger players prime examples of how buying into the process works.
“That’s a testament to what we’re doing here in Charlotte. [Having] guys like Cody Martin, who also spent time in Greensboro, and seeing how well they’ve played allows guys like Bouk, Kai, JT and Vern to see that there’s success when you get those reps in Greensboro. It’s an opportunity that a lot of our guys have really embraced and that’s why they’re seeing success in Charlotte.”
Greensboro’s two games this week will be against the Memphis Hustle (Monday, Dec. 20 at 11:30 PM ET) and Iowa Wolves (Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 3 PM), both of which will be televised on NBATV. Jones, Thor, and Carey are all currently with the Swarm, after being assigned by the Hornets over the weekend.
After that, the G League standings are complete reset and Greensboro will open its 36-game regular-season schedule at home on Wednesday, Dec. 29 against the Windy City Bulls (note: all games up to this point have been part of the Winter Showcase Cup Tournament’s regional group play). Prioritizing development over winning is a tricky balance in the G League, but also something the Swarm plans to keep attacking as the 2021-22 campaign unfolds.
“We’re not a results-driven team and we’re not going to be,” explains Surenkamp. “I don’t want guys staring at the scoreboard throughout the game. We are a process-driven team and that’s something I’ve harped on and our guys have bought into. Losing those games by single digits, it’s because our guys compete every night. I think the important part is playing the right away, being about the right things and competing every night. If you do those things and buy into the system, the results take care of themselves. The experiences those guys are getting matched with the idea of being process-driven will put us where we want to be at the end of the year.”