The sophomore Hornets guard has a case for this season’s Most Improved Player, but is he a key piece moving forward for this rebuilding Charlotte squad?
One of the biggest surprises at the midpoint of this season has been the second-year Charlotte Hornets point guard Devonte’ Graham. After he spent his rookie season going back-and-forth with G-League affiliate Greensboro Swarm and the Hornets, Devonte’ started the season with a bang and quickly earned a starting spot.
He’s averaging 18.7 points and 7.7 assists on the season while shooting 39 percent from deep, making 3.6 a game. That amount of threes a game puts him third behind only James Harden (five) and Davis Bertans (3.7).
What’s even more impressive is that he’s taking (and making) a lot of those threes off the dribble in pull-up situations, those shots accounting for just under 40 percent of his makes. He’s in the 96th percentile in the league in non-corner threes and a lot of them are coming off a high ball screen.
He recently hit this cold-blooded deep ball to seal a win against the Cavs:
It’s clear that he’s an elite shooter, and that newfound skill has unlocked his passing ability and his ability to stretch out the defence has made it easier for big men to roll and get easy looks:
Thanks to his spacing and vision, teammates shoot almost ten percent better (!) at the rim when he takes to the court according to Cleaning the Glass. That number only trails Luka Doncic, as expected, and Robert Covington… what the heck?.
Graham has assisted on over 35 percent of his teammates’ scoring opportunities this season, good for the 94th percentile among guards according to Cleaning the Glass. His on/off numbers echo his ability to facilitate an efficient offence as the Hornets improve by 16.3 points per 100 possessions in his 35 minutes.
He has even occasionally unleashed the skip pass to the corner; a must-have for primary ball handlers in today’s game:
But Graham’s leap this season presents the Hornets with some tricky questions. Good questions to have, but tricky.
Will he be on the next great Charlotte team?
At 24-years-old, Graham came into the league older than most rookies. For perspective, Devin Booker, Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell are all in their age-23 season.
The Hornets most likely haven’t even drafted their next superstar, the next player to lead them to the playoffs and (hopefully) beyond.
But that presents another set of challenges: as the Hornets aren’t winning many games this season, they’re likely to draft high in the 2020 NBA Draft, a draft class that currently features a lot of lead guards (LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Nico Mannion and Cole Anthony) in the early lottery.
Following the end to LaMelo’s NBL career (tear rolls down cheek), Bleacher Report mocks seven guards in the lottery.
If the Hornets draft one of those guys, they will obviously prioritise their young prospect ahead of the second-round pick who put up big numbers.
But hang on… can’t Devonte’ play alongside another point guard?
The elephant in the room
‘Scary’ Terry Rozier is in the first year of his three-year, $58 million contract and it looked like an overpay the second his pen touched the paper. By the way, congratulations Terry, get that bag.
But in terms of team building, the Hornets might have a bit of a tricky decision to make.
Devonte’ is already starting alongside Terry and the two have performed… well fine, fine for a bottom-dwelling team. The two have a Net Rating of -7.9 in nearly one-thousand minutes (the Hornets as a team are 26th in Net Rating at -7) and have been as expected for two guards on a losing team.
If the team goes in the direction of drafting another guard, something they should do if they believe the best player available at their draft slot plays the position, they might have to move on from one of their point guards.
Is there anybody in the league right now that would take on Rozier’s contract? Teams like Memphis, Atlanta, New York and some other bottom dwellers have quite a bit of near-future cap space available but do they want to take it on?
Why would the Grizzlies take the ball out of Ja Morant’s hands? Same for Atlanta and Trae Young? Same for New York and… actually, not the same for New York but you get my drift. And keep in mind, attaching draft picks and other assets to move off a contract while rebuilding is a big ‘no no’.
So, not even a year into the Rozier experience for Charlotte and there are issues.
Selling high on Devonte’
Should the Hornets look to sell high on one of their lone bright spots this season?
The candidate for Most Improved Player is getting paid around $1.5 million for this season and the next with a cap hold of around two million in the 2021/22 season, extremely tradeable and he could add some much-needed value to a contender’s bench squad.
He can handle the ball on second unit squads, space the floor out when alongside better players and even provide another look when teams look to score.
Try and tell me that the 76ers wouldn’t prefer Graham over Trey Burke right now. He could even step into the Furkan Korkmaz/pseudo-JJ Reddick role. Tim McMahon of ESPN recently reported that the Sixers are in the market for shooters and playmakers this trade deadline.
“The Sixers’ poor spacing is of particular concern, especially for Embiid. Sources say the Sixers will search the trade market for perimeter shooting threats with playmaking ability, a need that was apparent as Philadelphia went 6-of-27 from 3-point range Friday night,” he writes.
I threw that paragraph into Google Translate and out came Devonte’ Graham’s name.
Whether or not the trade partner is Philly, it wouldn’t necessarily be a case of matching salary; the Hornets could shop him around and try and pry the most assets out of any interested teams.
What if he is on the next great Charlotte team?
The reason teams tank is to rebuild and gear up for a run at a title. If Devonte’ can keep this kind of production up for the next few years, we may be talking about the deadly Graham/James Wiseman pick-and-roll.
Even if Graham doesn’t end up being the starting point guard on a good team, his skills are valuable when evaluating other players. You don’t want to throw a young big man into the NBA surrounded by no outside threats and ask them to find their way in the league.
Look at Karl-Anthony Towns right now in Minnesota. While we already know he’s probably the best big man in today’s game and he’s struggling to win games when surrounded by sub-par shooters (and Robert Covington).
If the Hornets actively shop Graham this deadline, I think that they’ll be surprised with the wealth of offers on the table.
Alternatively, they could hold on to their cost-controlled shooting guard and let him grow alongside this young core.
There are a few avenues to go down here and there are plenty of arguments for each, not a bad problem to have at all. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy watching this exciting guard stake his claim for the leagues best shooter and Most Improved Player.