For most of his rookie season, Charlotte Hornets guard Aaron Harrison was an afterthought.
The next two weeks, the former University of Kentucky star will be the centerpiece.
With Frank Kaminsky having chest surgery and the Hornets intending to trade rookie Malachi Richardson to the Sacramento Kings, Harrison is the only player on the Hornets’ roster playing in summer league in Orlando, Fla. The Hornets are holding two-a-day practices for the summer roster this week and start playing games Saturday in Florida.
“It’s definitely for him,” Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing said of Harrison. “He knows all the things we want out of him, what we expect out of him.”
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Harrison was a bit of a sensation in Orlando last summer. He went unselected in the 2015 draft after turning pro out of Kentucky. He grabbed the coaches’ attention for his scoring ability off the dribble at summer league and earned a regular-season roster spot.
But predictably, he spent much of his rookie season inactive for games. He made appearances in 21 games, averaging just over four minutes per appearance.
That required some adjustment.
“This was probably the first time since I was 8 years old that I was on a team where I didn’t play much and was one of the better players on the team,” Harrison said. “Sitting on the bench was different.”
Not that he failed to put his bench time to good use. Harrison, a 6-foot-6 combo guard, stuck close to fellow Kentucky alumnus Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed most of the season with two shoulder injuries.
“He knows,” Harrison said of Kidd-Gilchrist’s basketball savvy. “I feel like he’d fit into any team in the NBA, based on the way he plays. That’s about effort and I think that’s how I’ll find my way into a rotation. Do everything. And he helped a lot.”
Harrison had to make practice his competition and the games his classroom. And he wasn’t just learning from teammates and coaches.
“If you’re not watching and learning, then you’re not invested in the game,” Harrison said. “The thing I could do was sit back and learn — from our team and the other team’s best players.”
The Hornets are starting an NBA Development League team in Greensboro next fall called the Swarm. The Hornets will supply coaches and players, and the Swarm’s offense and defense will be a copy of the Hornets’ systems.
That could have been of big benefit to Harrison had the Swarm started a year earlier. It would have allowed him to practice with the Hornets, drive to Greensboro to play a home game, then be back in Charlotte the next day for a practice or home shootaround.
It would have been a competitive outlet he lacked as a rookie.
“The Swarm definitely would have helped, just for my happiness,” Harrison said.
Now he’ll be the center of attention on a summer roster full of players looking for training camp invitations, whether that be with the Hornets or the Swarm.
Ewing, who will coach the summer league team, made sure Harrison understands the goals.
“It’s not just scoring, it’s all the other things he has to do — passing, shooting and defending,” Ewing said.
“He’s going to have to showcase all the things he’s learned. Put it all together. He’ll get significant time (in Orlando), where before he was only playing here and there.
“We expect a lot out of him.”