Charlotte’s bench has been a weakness for years. Too often in previous seasons, they blew leads that the starters gave them. This year it has a chance to be a strength. So far, the second unit has struggled defensively, but with everyone getting back healthy it has improved to an extent. One move that has helped is replacing rookie Malik Monk with Jeremy Lamb. I know fans want to see Monk, but he just isn't ready to defend at an NBA level. The Hornets are better when Lamb comes in for Nicholas Batum. Even though with Batum injured again Monk should see some minutes.
There is one more change that head coach Steve Clifford should consider to stabilize the rotation: replace rookie Dwayne Bacon with Treveon Graham. Graham is the better defender and helps with ball movement on offense. Bacon has had some nice moments on the court, but most of the time he has hurt the team. No fault of him, he is a rookie, he is supposed to struggle, the NBA is tough. If Charlotte wants to make the playoffs and do something while they are there, they need to give Bacon’s minutes to Graham. The numbers show he has made more of an impact while on the court.
Graham has only played in ten games, so this is a limited sample size. There is work to be done, but the early signs are encouraging. According to Synergy Sports, Graham ranks in the 81st percentile defending spot-up action. Graham spends most of his time defending spot up shots, 40 percent of the time to be exact. He does a good job using his length to contest shots and prevent drives. Currently, he allows a scoring frequency of 31 percent, and an adjusted field goal percentage of 41 percent on the spot-up action. These are encouraging signs for a player who is playing his first real NBA minutes.
Graham also can get steals. Graham is averaging 0.8 steals per game. A healthy number considering he only plays 20 minutes per game. Now I know steals don't make you a good defender, but combine steals with a strong team and individual defense; however, and there are the makings of a good defender.
The advanced numbers show his value. Graham is 21st among all shooting guards in defensive RPM. That doesn't sound amazing, but it is essential to keep in mind how inexperienced he is. Graham still needs to work on rebounding.
His best asset on defense may be his ability to defend at a high level without fouling. He is third among all shooting guards in foul percentage, at only 5.5 percent — a hard skill especially for a young player. Graham ranks above average overall on defense, but does need to improve his pick-and-roll defense. Currently, he allows a score frequency of 52 percent when defending pick and roll ball handlers. Defending the pick-and-roll is the toughest thing to do for any young defender, give Graham time he will get better.
Bacon, meanwhile, has been slightly better defending the pick and roll than Graham. He allows a score frequency of 45 percent compared to 52 percent. That said, looking at the rest of the defensive numbers, Graham has the edge. Overall Graham ranks in the 53rd percentile, compared to Bacon who only ranks in the 23rd percentile. Bacon is worse defending spot-up action and has been getting killed in isolations. He ranks in the 25th percentile defending isolations, and it’s clear teams have picked on him at times.
Graham also does the little things on defense. He is sixth in deflections among all Hornet players who play at least 20 minutes a game. Bacon ranks ninth. He is also third on the team in loose balls recovered, compared to eight for Bacon. He is willing to sacrifice his body. Need more proof? Graham is also third on the team in charges drawn, compared to ninth for Bacon.
One area he needs to improve is contesting and blocking shots. Graham does not have a block this year and ranks low in contesting shots. Something to work on, but overall the Hornets have to be thrilled with his effort and intensity so far.
Another area where Graham helps the Hornets is passing. Charlotte only ranks 27th in assists, so ball movement is an issue. Graham averages 1.7 assists per game, with an impressive 24.5 assists ratio. Even better, he only has a turnover ratio of 7.2. His assists per 40 minutes is a solid 3.3, and his assist percentage is 12.9 percent.
Bacon’s assist ratio is only 14.5, compared to Graham’s 24.5 mark. He only averages 2.1 per 40 minutes and 1.1 assists per game. Plus, Bacon turns it over more than Graham, and Bacon’s assist-to-turnover ratio is just 1.5. His points per possession when you combine assists is only 1.033, ranking in the 17th percentile. Bacon’s turnover ratio is 9.7. All of these marks are worse than Graham’s.
Graham also passes the more willingly on passes that are not assists. He is fourth on the team in secondary assists (or hockey assists) with 0.2 a game; Bacon ranks ninth in this department. His points per possession when you count assists is 1.239, which ranks 67th among wings, which indicates he dishes out assists without turning it over. Graham merely plays smart and unselfish basketball.
Here, Graham gets the ball from Kemba Walker in the corner. He takes two hard dribbles into the pain and then zips the ball out to the top of the key for a Marvin Williams three. Great court vision by Graham.
Additionally, Graham functions as a good screener small thing in the NBA that matters is screening. That is why the Hornets plummeted without Cody Zeller last year. Among players who play at least 20 minutes a game, Graham ranks 5th on the Hornets in screen assists. He knows how to contribute to the offense he needs to pass and set screens. Also, make threes, but we will talk about that later.
So far this season, Graham is just 5 for 17 from deep, for only 29 percent. Not good, but there is promise here. He has improved his free throw shooting, which currently sits 75 percent, up from 66 percent last year. Graham also is pretty good at drawing fouls, ranking 21st among all wings, and drawing a shooting foul on 4.4 percent of possessions. Free throw shooting is a good indicator if a player will be good from a distance, and so far Graham is trending up.
All of Graham’s made 3-pointers have been set up on an assist, indicating he has promise as a catch-and-shoot player. He may benefit more playing along guys like Batum and Michael Carter-Williams, good passers who will find Graham in his spots. The good news is he is showing promise shooting from the corners, shooting 43 percent so far. If inserted back into the lineup Graham needs to keep firing these shots, and the Hornets need to look for him. His ability to make corner-3’s show his promise as a shooter.
I know a player who has an 8.3 PER doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. Graham still has big holes in his game and a long way to go. The bright side is there is already a lot to like, and he seems to get better every game. He plays with maximum effort and is willing to do what it takes to get a win. Charlotte needs to invest its time in Graham. Right now he is a rotation player deserving of minutes.
He should get an opportunity over Bacon, particularly given Bacon’s recent stretch of play. Bacon has a season PER of 5.35, and is only shooting 37 percent from the field. Even Bacon’s strength which is supposed to be scoring isn't good, and it cant make up for his weaknesses yet.
Currently, Graham offer a bit more experience than Bacon and helps Charlotte in the short run. I know a lot of fans won't like both rookies sitting on the bench, but its best for the team right now if they do. Graham may not last past this season in Charlotte, but he deserves a chance to prove otherwise. In the future, both may be valuable rotation players, but the job is Graham’s and should be until Bacon shows significant improvement.