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2019-20 Season Preview: Devonte’ Graham

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Kemba Walker has been replaced, and Tony Parker is gone. It’s time for the second-year pro to step up.

Devonte’ Graham is just like every other young player on the Hornets; now that Kemba Walker is gone, he’s going to see an uptick in his minutes and be given (mostly) free reign on the offensive end. Only, Graham has seen both of his veteran leaders move on since the end of last season. Not only has Walker been replaced with Terry Rozier, Tony Parker decided to hang it up. He only played in 56 games, but he’s one of the best point guards this decade and young playmakers could stand to learn a lot from him. Parker and Walker accounted for nearly all 48 minutes at point guard last season, but with both gone, Graham will see his role become much more defined.

The 34th overall pick in the 2018 draft after four years at Kansas (another typical Hornets draft pick), Graham spent plenty of time on I-85 last year shuttling between Charlotte and Greensboro. That will no longer be the case. Graham should assume backup point guard duties on opening night, as him and Rozier are the only true point guards on the roster. I could see him getting less minutes than the average backup, though, due to the team’s abundance of forwards and apparent preference to play big in a league that’s getting progressively smaller. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Nic Batum or Malik Monk slotted in as the primary ball-handler while Rozier rests. As much as it can hurt to watch, the team has to play the guy that’s making $25.5 million for at least a few minutes per game, and having a team of sub-24-year-olds typically doesn’t result in the most fluid and cohesive style of basketball.

It also doesn’t help Graham’s case that struggled so mightily shooting the ball last season. His splits were 34.3 FG%/28.1 3PT%/76.1 FT% with an unappealing 45.9% true shooting. Good offensive players typically hover around 60% TS. He was an above-average shooter from beyond the arc in college (40.9% over four years), which leads me to believe he just had some trouble adjusting to the longer three-point shot and overall speed of the NBA. When he played in Greensboro, his 3PT% went from 28.1 to 38.3. Hopefully, this season he can get comfortable and find the shot that he had back in college. If not, he may see his minutes stagnate.

One thing I would like to highlight is Graham’s playmaking ability, specifically his assist-to-turnover ratio. He recorded 121 assists to a mere 30 turnovers last year. That is an astounding number, especially for a ball-handler that doesn’t have overwhelming size or speed. His 4.03 ratio would certainly drop over a full season of consistent minutes, but it’s really helpful that even if his shooting doesn’t pick back up, he can always be relied upon to keep the offense steady and not give the opponent free possessions (something the starter, Rozier, can struggle with. I’ve watched a lot of Celtics games. Trust me.).

Graham may not have the upside or excitement around him that other Hornets prospects do, but he’s still a useful and interesting player because of his ability to actually “run the point,” a skill that’s been fading among lead guards coming into the league. Assuming Graham can bring his abhorrent shooting numbers up to at least league-average, the Hornets backup point guard spot should be solidified.