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Evaluating Bryce McGowens’ Fit in Charlotte

June 25, 2022

Bryce McGowens seemed to have a wide range of potential landing spots heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft, but in the end he fell to the lower end of that range as the Charlotte Hornets traded for the 40th pick to select him.

“Bryce, we had him rated much higher, and we scrambled to move up in the draft to take him,” Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said in his post-draft press conference.

Nebraska fans didn’t get to see their first Husker taken in the first round since Tyronn Lue in 1998, but they did get to witness their third draft pick to come out of the program in the last four years. Now the work truly begins for McGowens.

Whereas all first-round picks get guaranteed contracts, the second-round is another story. NBA teams have been increasingly more willing to invest in second-round picks in recent years, but the level of investment continues to vary. Multi-year guaranteed deals, two-way contracts and straight G League assignments are all options teams use for their second-round picks.

Isaiah Roby (No. 46 in 2019) and Dalano Banton (No. 45 in 2021) both signed guaranteed deals. The 40th pick in last year’s draft, Jared Butler, signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract with the Utah Jazz. However, it doesn’t appear as if McGowens will follow in their footsteps as Kupchak let it slip that they plan to sign him to a two-way contract.

“He’s going to basically be a two-way — I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say that,” Kupchak said when discussing Charlotte trading away the 13th pick and a number of young players on the roster.

If that is true, it’s not an ideal way for McGowens to start his NBA career, but it does provide an opportunity to earn more. If you’re not familiar with two-way contracts, each team gets two spots they can use that don’t count towards the normal 15-man roster. The idea is for those players to essentially split their time between the NBA club and the G League with a limited number of NBA appearances allowed. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported the two-way details for the upcoming season.

Once the player hits the maximum games played figure, the team must convert his deal into a standard contract in order for him to play any more or be eligible for the postseason. Last season, the Hornets used their two-way slots on Scottie Lewis and Arnoldas Kulboka, who each played just two games in the NBA and 13 games in the G League.

In total, the Hornets currently have eight players on their rookie deals set to be on the roster next season, including last year’s lottery pick in James Bouknight, and they have 13 players officially under contract overall. However, that includes a few players whose deals aren’t guaranteed, and they also have a key part of their core facing restricted free agency in Miles Bridges. Charlotte’s roster is very much still in flux and it’s hard to see where McGowens might fit in for that reason.

Perhaps the biggest reason I don’t love the fit for him (in addition to their apparent plan to have him on a two-way instead of a guaranteed deal) is the presence of Bouknight. The Hornets drafted the lanky 6-foot-5 scoring guard out of UConn with the 11th pick in the 2021 draft, yet he made just 31 appearances and averaged less then 10 minutes per game, and he struggled mightily in those minutes as well.

McGowens has a bit more positional flexibility as he has a couple of inches on Bouknight, but I see them playing similar roles in the NBA if they stick — scoring off-guard. If it’s at all close between the two of them, Bouknight will likely get the benefit of the doubt.

However, the Hornets are assembling a fun core with LaMelo Ball, Bridges (if they re-sign/extend him) and Mark Williams, the center out of Duke they selected with the 15th pick on Thursday. 

I already mentioned Bridges’ status, but Kelly Oubre Jr.’s deal isn’t fully guaranteed, there are rumors circulating about Charlotte trying to move Gordon Hayward and Cody Martin is a restricted free agent. Depending on how all those situations play out, Charlotte could look much less crowded on the wing as we get closer to the season.

Regardless of where he might fall on the depth chart in year one, I think Charlotte views him as more of a developmental prospect. I think his potential excites them more than his present.

“He’s a local kid; he’s from Greenville,” Kupchak said. “That’s not why we drafted him, right, but people on our staff knew him from high school. We brought him in, worked him out, we’ve watched him play. He has great size. He’s young; he’s 19, maybe a little bit older than 19 but not yet 20. You can just look at him and you can see that he has long arms, good body, good speed, and you can just look at him and look at his body and you know it’s going to fill out and it’s going to get stronger. He knows how to play. I think he’s a fine young prospect.”

The other factor at play here is the coaching situation. Kenny Atkinson — who earned a strong reputation as a developmental coach after doing well with a young Brooklyn team prior to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving arriving — backed out after reportedly agreeing to become the franchise’s new head coach. They moved quickly, however, and announced on Friday that Steve Clifford is returning for his second stint as the Hornets’ head coach.

Clifford coached Charlotte from 2013 to 2018 before the Hornets fired him. He spent the last three seasons as at the head coach of the Orlando Magic before the franchise parted ways with him.

I personally would have liked the fit for McGowens and an overall young Hornets team under Atkinson, but Clifford is known for his defensive prowess which is interesting because most of their core pieces (save for Williams, who has yet to play in the NBA) are known more for their offensive capabilities. That includes McGowens, who struggled on the defensive end during his lone season of college basketball. 

McGowens realized his dream of hearing his name called on draft day, but sticking in the league as a second-round pick is not easy. McGowens looks to have the talent and tools to make it happen, though, and the work starts with the NBA Summer League which tips off in Las Vegas in less than two weeks.

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