Hornets, Brandon Miller struggle at start of NBA Summer League 

Charlotte is still winless in four games played this month

Hornets forward Brandon Miller, the second overall pick in last month’s draft, is defended by the Lakers' Maxwell Lewis during Sunday’s NBA Summer League game in Las Vegas. (John Locher / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The 2023 NBA Summer League is well underway for the Charlotte Hornets, who are still looking for a morsel of on-court success from a cast of rookies, young players and potential G League roster-fillers for the Greensboro Swarm.

The Hornets opened up July with two games in the California Classic Summer League, losing 96-77 to the San Antonio Spurs on July 3 and 98-83 to the Golden State Warriors on July 5.

Those two games served as a prelude to the NBA 2K24 Summer League 2023, which runs July 7-17 at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

In the league’s format, all 30 NBA teams play at least five games.

With four games between July 7-14, the top four teams advance to a playoff series featuring a semifinal on July 16 and a championship game on July 17; the 26 other teams are set to play a fifth game on either July 15 or 16.

It’s safe to say at this point that Charlotte will not be involved in a Summer League playoff matchup.

The Hornets began action in Las Vegas on July 7 with a 76-68 rematch loss to the Spurs. Two days later, Charlotte followed that with a 93-75 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Charlotte was set to square off with the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday and will play the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

There’s no way around it — it’s been a forgettable month so far for the Hornets, who have struggled at times to even get into a semblance of an offensive rhythm and have let opponents score at ease.

Making matters worse, No. 2 draft pick Brandon Miller has yet to demonstrate his sharp-shooting prowess that earned him SEC Player of the Year honors as a freshman at Alabama last season.

To Miller’s credit, he showed some potential in Charlotte’s Summer League loss to the Spurs when he outperformed French phenom and No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, recording a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Miller’s next game was not as positive: He was 0-for-7 on 3-pointers and made just 4 of 18 from the field for 10 points.

His two earlier performances in Charlotte’s California Classic Summer League games were an 18-point, five-turnover and five-foul effort that was followed by a six-point, four-turnover and eight-foul showing.

“I’m a little frustrated because I don’t like to lose, but I had fun out there,” Miller said after his first game. “Seeing a different environment from the college experience was fun. I think I was relaxed as far as emotions. Just let the game come to me, make all the right plays and just be there for my teammates.”

Facing the Lakers over the weekend, Miller was one of five Hornets who scored in double digits, but Charlotte failed to get into an offensive rhythm.

“I thought in the first half, we did a pretty good job emphasizing getting to the paint and creating our shots,” Hornets Summer League coach Marlon Garnett said afterward. “They have active hands, created some turnovers. In the first half, we took care of the transition for the most part. They ended up with 16 fast-break points in the second half off those turnovers. It was timely. We were right in the game. … It kind of went downhill from there.”

Nick Smith Jr., the No. 27 pick in last month’s draft, has shown some promise, as have fellow 2023 picks Amari Bailey and James Nnaji.

“We just have to run the offense,” Smith said. “Try to get people open, penetrate the middle, penetrate to the basket for open kicks and make shots.”

Second-year guard Bryce McGowens has been a bright spot on both sides of the ball.

Nnaji has shown a level of defensive intensity on a team sorely lacking in that category. Interestingly, he told a reporter from Mundo Deportivo on July 9 that he is still expecting to play another year with FC Barcelona before joining the Hornets.

Depending on how the rest of the summer goes, Charlotte’s rookies have a chance to make an impression and climb over struggling 2021 draft picks Kai Jones and James Bouknight as the new Hornets ownership assesses its roster.