Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham has started the 2020-21 season in a shooting slump, to put it lightly. Through eight games, he’s averaging 10.0 points per game while shooting 25.3% from the field and 30.6% from three. He hasn’t made a shot from inside the arc in any of the team’s last four game, going 0-for-15 in that stretch. The misses are frustrating, especially given the volume with which Graham gets his shots up. Those misses combined with a talented rookie guard waiting in the wings have frustrated fans, and the calls to make a change in the starting lineup are getting louder and louder.
But we’re not hear to add fuel to the bench Devonte’ fire. We’re here to explain why Graham still has all of head coach James Borrego’s trust, and why he has held onto his starting spot despite the shooting struggles.
The long and short of it is this—shooting is the only thing Graham is struggling with. His 6.3 assists per game lead the Hornets by a rather substantial margin, and his 7.14 assist-to-turnover ratio is the second best in the league among players who average at least three assists per game. The only player is Monte Morris, who averages 3.3 assists per game and plays a bench role on a team with a transcendent passer playing center. The stats page on nba.com credits Graham with .201 defensive win shares, second best in the league. His 96.7 defensive rating from that same source is eighth among players that play at least 20 minutes per game.
Individual metrics are cool, but what really matters is how well the team performs when a certain player is on the floor. Cleaning the Glass hasn’t updated as of the time of this writing, but coming into Wednesday night’s win against the Hawks, the Hornets were 31.9 points per 100 possessions better with Graham on the court compared to when he was off. Only four players in the NBA have a higher on/off. Normally we’d talk about small sample size and all that jazz, but this is a continuation of what we saw last season when Graham’s +11.3 on/off rating was fifth among players who played at least 1000 minutes and ranked in the 96th percentile of all players. On Wednesday, the Hornets were +12 with Graham on the floor and -4 with him off it, which continues the trend we’ve seen for over a season now.
Graham was the Hornets best player last season and deserves more than eight games before we write him off as a nonfactor. He also should actually become a nonfactor before we treat him as such. Right now, he’s just in a shooting slump, albeit a bad one. Everything else he is doing is helping the team win, and the coaching staff clearly knows that. His shooting will come around eventually. We’ve seen flickers of it in the last two games when he hit five 3-pointers against the 76ers and a couple of big threes down the stretch against the Hawks. We just have to give it time. Until then, we can appreciate all of the other things he’s doing well to keep the Hornets competitive.