If you were to signify the biggest roster hole over the past five seasons for the Charlotte Hornets, we can all agree that it’s been the lack of a second point guard.
As Hornets captain Kemba Walker started his ascend into becoming the face of the franchise in 2015, there was always something holding the team back. That was when Kemba would go to the bench for rest, the Hornets took a complete 180 offensively. Without their go-to facilitator, Charlotte had a rough time setting themselves up for good looks. The squad drops off in nearly every offensive category without their number one man controlling each possession.
This point guard epidemic ultimately leads to what seemed like the neverending revolving door of unsuccessful ones off the bench. In 2017, when the Hornets took a reclamation project on struggling guard Michael Carter-Williams, it was looked at as a low-risk, medium-reward situation. As we all know, the whole situation ended up being a total disaster.
Guards Julyan Stone, Briante Weber, and Ramon Sessions were all called into the Queen City in order to establish a clear bench presence. Unfortunately, they were only able to efficiently facilitate the ball but dramatically failed to provide any sense of scoring threat to opponents. The only true outlier in this forensic was Jeremy Lin, who proved to be a viable six man running the second unit. But, Lin could also be viewed as the team’s shooting guard behind Kemba, which disqualifies him from the discussion.
In short, the Charlotte Hornets have been desperately waiting for someone to provide a spark on offense with Kemba off the floor. Fortunately, this year has proven that they have found their grouping with not one, but two new additions.
Tony Parker was called upon to be that next man up to help the Hornets second unit. Parker’s goal coming into this season was to provide that veteran presence on the court that was apparent in all those years in San Antonio. So far, he’s been as good as advertised for a 36-year-old. Averaging 9.5 points and close to four assists per night, he has become a true commander to the Hornets younger pieces and has drastically helped the Hornets when they count upon him.
But, we aren’t here today to talk about Parker and his leadership. Instead, we are focusing on Devonte Graham, the Hornets’ second-round draft pick in 2018.
Graham’s college experience has been the key factor in his overlooked rise to respectability among the Hornets organization. During his last three years at Kansas, where he earned the starting spot, Graham averaged 14 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds per night. He was an instrumental part in the Jayhawks’ overall play.
Using a number of different areas to attack, he was able to become a crafty finisher driving to the cup. This eventually leads his defenders to sag off on man coverages, allowing him more space out on the perimeter. Graham gradually shot more three-pointers per game through those three main years, shooting a cumulative 40 percent from deep.
Apart from talent, the most instrumental aspect that Graham learned in college was his leadership. Being the main facilitator on teams that made it to at least the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament during his starting years proved that he was able to take control a group, and have successful results because of it.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be under the coaching of one of the best minds in college basketball: Bill Self. Self was even noted as saying “He [Graham] has been as good a leader as we ever had here at Kansas.” Having a credible remark from one of the most respected coaches in the NCAA is a shining remark to how well Graham is as a leader of a group.
As he has transitioned over to the Hornets, the same positive feedback has been made. Although Graham, as well as teammate Dwayne Bacon, have seen their fair share of time in the G-League with the Greensboro Swarm, Hornets coach James Borrego has also seen Graham’s intangibles on the court.
hen Graham has gotten the chance to play real, contributing minutes this season, he has made the most of it. Although small in size at 6-2, 185 pounds, coach Borrego has played the former Jayhawk alongside Kemba Walker in small ball situations. Situations that have been expanded upon in his three starting appearances this season.
Defense is Graham’s calling card as his quick agility makes him a pest on the perimeter. Although defense has been the exclusive positive for the Hornets, due to his lackluster shooting overall, he has still been able to produce far better than the team’s previous options at the point.
Greensboro has been a place where Graham has shined, and shine in a dramatic way. Currently averaging 23.6 points, five assists while shooting 39 percent from three, he has proven to show his ability on the court when given a consistent level of playing time. Graham has simply taken control of the Swarm’s offense during his assignment games and is able to control the pace of play while also being a lockdown defender on the other side of the ball.
As I began constructing this piece, Graham went off like a man on a mission against the Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards affiliate. He scored 42 points while also dishing five assists and grabbing six rebounds. It was a stellar performance all the way around, and one that showed a glimpse into what Graham can provide for the Hornets long term.
At only 22 years of age, he has plenty of time to develop more consistency with shots off the dribble and other smaller nicks that need adjusting.
Devonte Graham has the whole Hornets organization on his back. He has displayed the leadership and performance on the court that has been a steady transition between the BIG 12 and the NBA.
No matter what happens at the during the offseason- ie. if Kemba Walker leaves- there is something that will remain pat with the Charlotte Hornets franchise. It’s that they have finally found their long-term option at the point guard position.