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Last night’s loss to the Pacers showed how important Devonte’ Graham is to the Hornets

Even when his shot isn’t falling, the second year guard provides a boon to the Hornets offense.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Devonte’ Graham was given the night off on Tuesday, the first game he’s missed all year. In his absence, the Charlotte Hornets stumbled and clanged their way to 80 points against a good-but-not-elite Pacers defense. That 80 points is somewhat kind too, as the Hornets fluffed up their numbers a bit in garbage time after scoring just 55 through the game’s first three quarters.

This may have been the first full game we’ve seen without Devonte’ Graham this season, but we do have over 1400 total possessions to look at while he’s been on the bench over the course of the season. In those possessions, the Hornets have an offensive rating of 96.8, which is nearly seven points worse than Golden State’s league-worst offense. No team has had an offensive rating that poor since the 2014-15 Process 76ers.

When Devonte’ Graham is on the court, the Hornets’ offensive rating jumps all the way up to 109.6. That’s middling by NBA standards, but it’s a massive improvement over the alternative. That 12.8 point jump ranks Graham in the 98th percentile among all NBA players, among guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, Trae Young, Devin Booker, and Damian Lillard.

With Graham on the court, the Hornets shoot more threes (mostly from Graham) and fewer mid-rangers. Their field goal percentage around the rim takes a huge jump up thanks in large part to Graham’s ability to facilitate the offense and find good looks for his teammates around the basket.

Graham has struggled with his shot in recent weeks, particularly inside the arc. His 3-point efficiency has taken a smaller dip, but he’s still a threat to pull up from deep with just a shred of space. Prior to his 0-for-8 shooting from three in the last two games, Graham had hit 33.9% of his 3-point attempts on over nine attempts per game since the start of 2020. That much volume forces teams to game plan for it. That draws significant defensive attention and opens up the floor for Graham’s teammates.

Without Graham, the Hornets don’t have anyone to draw extra defensive attention or put defenders in lose-lose situations. That leads to what we saw last night. As Chase put it in the game’s recap:

The offense looked slow, clunky, and had no purpose at times. There was a lot of dribble, drive, kick-out, dribble, drive, kick-out, dribble, drive, kick-out, etc. that resulted in little success.

The Hornets need Graham to give the offense direction, even if his shot isn’t falling. Last night’s loss to the Pacers showed that. Hopefully the night off will rejuvenate him and we’ll get early season Devonte’ back for the season’s home stretch if for no other reason than to make the game’s more watchable.

All on/off data from Cleaning the Glass.