It was a promising season of change up in Greensboro under new Head Coach Joe Wolf as the long-time NBA veteran helped guide the Swarm to its best G League campaign thus far in the organization’s three-year existence.
With Wolf, Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Hornets Head Coach James Borrego and Greensboro General Manager Buzz Peterson leading the way, the Swarm was used more effectively than ever this season as a cohesive means of player development for both the G League and NBA levels.
The Swarm went a combined 35-65 over its first two years, although finished 24-26 this season and found itself in the G League playoff hunt until the final few days of the schedule. Although none of the team’s players were recalled by other NBA franchises, sustained continuity and minimal roster upheaval helped elevate the team to an encouraging eight-win improvement.
Kupchak spoke about the overhauled operation on April 12, stating, “One of the things that we did want to establish going into the season was our player development program. What is that? Well, we do have a G League team in Greensboro, the Swarm, and I think more so than any past team here, we did utilize the G League, specifically with Devonte’ [Graham] and Dwayne [Bacon].”
“What we did at the G League level, we also did at the NBA level. Our coach, Joe Wolf, was great at mimicking what Coach Borrego does at this level. I think the players felt that there was complete symmetry to what we do in Charlotte and what we do in Greensboro. Player development was a big plus this year. Prior to and after Hornet practices, there was a lot of individual work with players that did not go to the G League and I think that benefitted us.”
As mentioned, forward Dwayne Bacon and rookie guard Devonte’ Graham benefited the most out of any Hornet player from G League action. The latter led the Swarm in scoring (23.3 PPG) and steals this season (1.6), while ranking third in assists (4.7) over 13 appearances. Bacon averaged 22.2 PPG and finished second on the team in rebounding (7.0) and fourth in steals (1.2) over 17 outings.
Coming in behind the Graham/Bacon duo on the scoring leaderboard was two-guard Jaylen Barford (17.8 PPG), with rookies J.P. Macura (16.4) and Joe Chealey (16.3) neck and neck behind the University of Arkansas product. The latter pair also finished second on the team in steals (1.4) and assists (5.3), respectively.
Macura and Chealey had both parlayed strong showings at last July’s Las Vegas Summer League into two-way contracts with the Hornets before the start of the 2018-19 regular season. A feisty, all-around combo wing from Xavier University, Macura scored the first four points of his NBA career against Dallas on Jan. 2 and added another bucket three months later in Cleveland on April 9.
Former college teammate and now Windy City Bulls forward Kaiser Gates spoke about Macura during the preseason, stating, “He’s one of those guys that you play with and you love and if you played against him, you hated him. Really tough competitor. Makes hard plays on the ball all the time. He’s fearless. [Opponents] hated him and he loved it.”
“It’s been great,” said Macura when asked about his time in Greensboro back in January. “I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to play a lot of minutes and build relationships with my teammates. It’s very useful to have the same system as the Hornets.”
Macura’s backcourt mate, Chealey, a score-first point guard, got his first NBA basket up in Boston on Jan. 30, making him the third College of Charleston alum since 1975 to score points in the league. Unfortunately for Chealey, a torn left meniscus suffered on March 9 and the ensuing surgery ended his first professional campaign a tad prematurely.
“I think I’m learning and adjusting to the pro lifestyle,” he said after getting recalled on Jan. 27. “It’s just a blessing. A lot of people have been there along the way to help me out. [I’m] just worrying about what I can control. I knew if I got an opportunity, I would try and make the most of it.”
Reigning G League second overall pick and center Chinanu Onuaku also averaged 13.9 PPG on 51.0% shooting and team-high clips in rebounding (12.5 – third in G League; mini. 35 GP) and blocks (1.7) over 44 contests this season for Greensboro. Point guard John Gillon, who was acquired in a Feb. 21 trade with the Erie BayHawks in exchange for Cat Barber, finished the year with 11.9 PPG and a team-best 6.1 APG across 10 late-season contests.
Barford, Onuaku and Gillon were all invited to the G League Elite Mini Camp this week in Chicago (May 12-14), where 40 of the top G League prospects will work out in front of NBA teams and executives. Onuaku made six regular season appearances with the Houston Rockets from 2016-18, although neither Barford nor Gillon have reached the league as of yet.
G League rosters can shake up significantly in the offseason as the short-term deals allow players to move around different organizations (both domestically and overseas) in order to increase the likelihood of making an NBA roster or landing a more lucrative contract. Whether or not this current core of Greensboro Swarm players is around next season is undetermined, but this season serves as clear evidence that a blossoming player development system has emerged within the Charlotte Hornets organization.