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Hornets player review: Devonte’ Graham

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The Charlotte Hornets are hoping they found their future backup point guard in the second round of last year’s draft.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Charlotte Hornets went into the NBA Draft last summer with exactly one point guard on the roster- Kemba Walker. For the last few years, Walker has elevated the play of the Hornets to the point that the Hornets are a playoff-caliber team when he’s on the court. But when he sits, woo boy. It’s not pretty.

The Hornets last went to the playoffs with the massively underpaid Jeremy Lin backing up Walker on a one-year ‘prove it’ deal. Since then, the backup point guard position has been a revolving door of bad veterans. First it was the Brian Roberts/Ramon Sessions reunion tour. Those two players were far and away the worst players on the Hornets roster in 2016-17. The team went a different direction in 2017-18, prioritizing length and defensive ability. That led them to Michael Carter-Williams. Yeah.

In an attempt to end the Hornets backup point guard nightmare, Mitch Kupchak took a swing at an experienced point guard out of Kansas, Devonte’ Graham. The 23-year-old rookie spent most of the first couple months of the season with the Greensboro Swarm. He got his first bout of extended run as the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019 and represented himself well. After marinating on the bench from mid January to mid March, Graham again got extended run as part of the Hornets late season youth movement.

Devonte’ Graham is probably the Hornets’ most naturally gifted passer. He frequently looks for lobs to cutters and is quick to move the ball in transition. His 24.8% assist percentage was third on the team behind Kemba Walker and Tony Parker, but that came with a lot less possession of the ball. He dished at least six assists on five different occasions, including a season-high nine during the Hornets upset win in Toronto.

Despite being a little on the small side, Graham showed impressive physicality and determination on the defensive end. He drew seven offensive fouls in his limited minutes and tied Walker for the second best steal percentage on the team.

The major fly in the ointment for Graham this season was his scoring efficiency. He shot just 34.3% from the field and 28.1% from three. His 45.9% true shooting percentage was eighth worst out of players who played at least 500 minutes. His outside shot had a bit of a twist and hitch to it, which could easily be ironed out over the offseason if he puts the work in. His finishing around the basket should improve with more experience.

Devonte’ Graham looks like a solid second round pick for the Hornets. If he continues to develop, he could be the solution for the Hornets oft-maligned backup point guard problem. He wasn’t a positive player as a rookie, but he showed the mentality and enough of the skill required to get better over time, and that’s enough to be optimistic about his future.