The Charlotte Hornets should shake up their lineup. I know I’m not the first one to say it. There have been pieces written about this same idea in other places, and just about every mention of the Hornets on the main social media platforms is demanding it. Everyone and their mother wants the Hornets to start LaMelo Ball over Devonte’ Graham.
It’s an easy reaction to have. Ball has been making plays and is putting up big numbers. He ranks third among rookies in scoring, eighth in rebounds, second in assists, and first in steals. His 1.8 steals per game are even good enough to tie for the eighth most in the entire league, rookie or not.
Meanwhile Devonte’ Graham is on a slump of monumental proportions. Graham is yet to have a good shooting game, and it’s reached critical levels in the Hornets last two contests. In those games, he’s made just two of 20 shots from the field and two of 12 shots from the arc. He’s scored eight total points.
The natural reaction is to say Graham=bad, Ball=good. Therefore, Ball starts and Graham sits. But it’s not that simple.
James Borrego has tried to weather the storm of bricks that Graham has been laying, and for good reason. Graham was arguably the Hornets best player last season and possibly the most improved player in the league, award or not. He’s earned the right to work through his struggles, no matter how extreme they may be and how well the player behind him is playing. On top of that, Graham hasn’t been playing poorly. He’s just been shooting poorly. Yes, the two are different. Graham is averaging 7.0 assists per game, first on the team and tenth best in the league. In the tiny sample that’s been the 2020-21 season, the Hornets are 36.5 points per 100 possessions with Graham on the court compared to when he’s off, which ranks in the 98th percentile league wide. That continues a trend from last season when Graham’s on/off ranked in the 96th percentile. The Hornets play well when he’s on the court, even when his shot isn’t falling.
That said, a change may be good for all involved.
Devonte’ Graham started last season on the bench, and he was so good in that role that he quickly played his way into the starting lineup. Maybe a change back to that role can help him recapture that magic. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a lineup change help Graham find his groove. Last season, Graham laid two stinkers coming out of the All Star break, hitting just one of 17 shots from the field and scoring six points across the two contests. Borrego gave him the next game off, and it paid dividends. In the final seven games of the season after that game off, Graham shot 44.6% from the field and 40.6% from three while scoring 22.9 points per game. A shift to the bench could provide a similar spark.
Meanwhile, Ball is going to start for the Hornets at some point. The team didn’t draft him third overall to sit on the bench for years, and he’s forcing their hand with his play of late. He brings a notable burst of energy when he checks into the game, which has been much needed in recent games after the Hornets got off to lethargic starts.
If it doesn’t work, no worries. The Hornets can mix and match lineups all season until they find combinations that work all game long. And even if they do elect to stick with Graham, it’s an entirely defensible move. Graham is a good player, and he’s not going to shoot 30% from the field all season. But the Hornets have options, and it might be time to try another one out to see how it works.