Pace of Charlotte Hornets’ preseason has rookies’ heads spinning - | WBTV Charlotte

Pace of Charlotte Hornets’ preseason has rookies’ heads spinning

Charlotte Hornets (Source: WBTV/File) Charlotte Hornets (Source: WBTV/File)
CHARLOTTE, NC (Rick Bonnell/The Charlotte Observer) -

Undrafted rookie Rasheed Sulaimon knew he was getting into something new and challenging when he accepted a training camp invitation from the Charlotte Hornets.

Just maybe not quite this new and challenging.

“I’m an undrafted rookie. The majority of my career I’ve either been ‘The Guy’ or at least one of the guys,” Sulaimon said. “Now it feels like I’m a freshman again, only this time I’m a walk-on.”

Sulaimon, a 6-foot-4 guard, played the highest level of college basketball – three seasons at Duke followed by a transfer to Maryland. He had a good senior season with the Terrapins, averaging 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assist, but went unselected in June’s draft.

Sulaimon believes he can end up an NBA player despite not being drafted. He also knows three weeks into the Hornets’ preseason it won’t be easy to grab the organization’s attention.

The Hornets are more connected to the nonguaranteed players this preseason because of the start-up of the Development League Greensboro Swarm this fall. But that counts for only so much.

“I’m here to work hard every day and get (veteran) guys ready for the games,” Sulaimon said. “Also, staying ready because you never know. Stay ready and stay confident.”

Maintaining confidence isn’t easy for any of these guys on the fringes of the roster. The Hornets entered training camp with 13 guaranteed contracts for a maximum 15 regular-season roster spots.

The rookies are dealing with a pace of play in NBA practices nothing like what they previously experienced.

“My college experience was completely different because of the way we played at Virginia – a slow-down pace,” said rookie center Mike Tobey.

“This is so fast for me with the 24-second shot clock. And adjusting to very different rules like three seconds in the lane on defense. It’s been an adjustment, but a fun one.”

The Hornets have five undrafted rookies on the preseason roster – Sulaimon, Tobey, Treveon Graham, Andrew Andrews and Perry Ellis. Typically, coach Steve Clifford doesn’t want that many spare bodies around the preseason. His habit has been making cuts close to the end of the exhibitions, so he can focus remaining practice time on core players.

Clifford probably won’t make a bunch of cuts until the roster deadline, since some of these unguaranteed players might end up with the Swarm. For the new D-League team to have maximum value, its players have to be as familiar as possible with the Hornets’ style of play.

Clifford, a former college coach, appreciates what a shock all this newness is for any rookie.

“The transition from even the highest level of college (basketball) to the NBA is a tough go,” said Clifford. “The defense is so different. The players are all so good. There are things you can cover in college with two guys. In the pros it’s three, particularly in the pick-and-roll game.

“Think of all the times over the years that in a guy’s second year (in the NBA) or at the end of the first year he starts to play well. Somebody asks him why and he says, ‘The game is slowing down for me.’ That speaks to coverages and being a step late.”

Sulaimon has started figuring that one out. He hangs out as much as possible with the Hornets’ veterans – particularly Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker – looking for pointers. Best thing he’s heard: The video room is a great resource.

“That’s when you really see the movements, how offenses are learned,” Sulaimon said. “Marvin and these other guys, they’ve been in the league for years and they still watch film every day. It gives you an advantage, a slight edge. You learn the other team’s tendencies, and it helps raise your basketball IQ.”

Sulaimon said understanding the NBA game is about both speeding up and slowing down, as in keeping up with what he calls a “whirlwind” pace, but still being deliberate enough not to make constant mistakes.

Graham, a former star guard-forward at Virginia Commonwealth, put it this way: “The skill level is so different. Everybody here was ‘The Man’ on his college team. Now I’m seeing how much further you have to go to be part of this team. The competition level is so fast.”

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