|Devonte Graham's a changed man, to the Charlotte Hornets' benefit|
|Guard's scoring differential is NBA's best|
|Published Friday, December 27, 2019 11:00 pm|
|PHOTO | GETTY IMAGES|
|Devonte Graham has improved his scoring by an NBA-best 14.5 points per game in his second professional season.|
Devonte Graham is a reminder that a lot can change in a year.
The conversation surrounding the Charlotte Hornets guard as a rookie was that he did not need to score to show growth in December 2018 behind All-Star point guards Kemba Walker and Tony Parker. The Hornets were 17-17 this time last year. Parker has since retired, and Walker left for Boston in free agency, leaving a void filled by Terry Rozier and Graham. Not only has Graham embraced a starting role, he has entered NBA All-Star conversation, a far cry from the player who spent most of his time shuttling between the Hornets and their G-League affiliate in Greensboro last season. Now the Hornets are 13-21, and he has a starting job. Yet in early November coach James Borrego was not ready to put Graham in the starting lineup. Graham led Charlotte in scoring coming off the bench, and Borrego ultimately promoted him to the starting rotation every game since.
“Well, he deserves a ton of credit, just to be in this position right now, but it’s the time he put in—the work ethic,” Borrego said. “The understanding of what’s being asked of him. Learning last year under two very good point guards [Walker and Parker], embracing his role and growing. And you’ve got to give him a ton of credit. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for what he’s done this season.”
Graham scored a career-high 40 points at Brooklyn earlier this month and has scored 30-plus points twice this season, 20 or more nine times and 15-plus points 14 times. He tallied a team-high ninth double-double with 15 points and 13 assists in their 104-102 loss to Oklahoma City Friday, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Graham, who leads the team with 19.2 points per game, has improved his scoring by an NBA-best 14.5 points per game. Rozier, who averages 17.6 points per game, has the second-best improvement at 8.6. Graham is shooting 39.8 percent from three-point range and 38.2 percent from the field, while Rozier is shooting 41.6 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three-point range.
Walker’s departure was the best thing that could have happened to Graham. While Borrego initially intended to utilize him as a backup to Rozier, Graham has proven more valuable as a starter.
“At first [the plan] was come in, be the solid backup point guard, and just run the team while I’m in there,” Graham said. “It kind of transformed to, ‘you’ve gotta be more vocal. Be a better leader. Be more aggressive. Keep taking those shots. Stay on guys—in the locker room, on the court, and just take more ownership of the team.’”
Said Borrego: “I don’t want him to be satisfied, and I don’t think he’s satisfied. This is just the start for him. This is a long career. He understands that, and it is his job to continue to get better every single game, and I think he wants to do that. More than anything, this guy has a ton of pride, and he wants to get better. He wants to help this team win.”
In addition to leading the team in scoring, Graham also leads the team with 1,180 minutes played. That increased playing time means daily naps, which are the biggest change from his rookie season.
“No lie,” Graham said. “I think I nap almost every day. At least I try to, just to get a good nap in, make sure I’m resting. I drink way more water. I think those two things—just making sure I get that rest. I get way more treatment, massages—different things like that, that you just try to take advantage of—make sure I’m ready for the game.”
Said Rozier: “I haven’t seen too many second-year players get the opportunity to play that much minutes, but he’s making the best of it…he studies the game, and you know, it shows.”
Graham’s game has an element of maturity. What the 24 year-old lacks in league experience, he makes up in work ethic. He cemented his place in the second unit late last season. As a rookie, he made three starts in 46 appearances, averaging 4.9 points per game, with season highs of 13 points, nine assists and six boards.
Graham left Kansas as a senior, and has shown consistency at the next level.
“He’s just making the best of his opportunity,” Rozier said. “He’s a very smart guard…I feel like when he sees something, he picks it up so fast, and he applies it to what he wants to do out there, and it works out for him.”
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