|Hornetsí Graham irked and inspired by NBA most-improved player snub|
|Guard takes on leadership role on, off floor|
|Published Tuesday, September 29, 2020 6:29 pm|
|PHOTO | CHARLOTTE HORNETS|
|Hornets guard Devonte Graham was overlooked in the NBA most improved player of the year balloting despite high praise from All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant.|
The Charlotte Hornets guard went from role player in Kemba Walker’s shadow to the largest scoring improvement in the league over the course of a season, yet he wasn’t a finalist for the award. Although top players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant criticized the snub, Graham, who averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game, admits it stung.
“Obviously, I was upset about it but pretty much over it now,” he told media last week. “You see everybody talking about it and saying that I should have won and then you see guys in the NBA coming out saying things about it. I just know that the people who are really watching and are around basketball know.”
A lot has changed for Graham, who averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 assists as a rookie. A year ago, he opened camp as a second-stringer behind Terry Rozier, who was signed to replace Walker. But Graham quickly created an opportunity for himself with an improved offensive stockpile that earned him a job in the starting rotation. Going into his third season, Graham is continuing to evolve as a player who understands he has to keep improving on both ends of the floor.
“My leadership role has definitely increased,” he said, “and guys are looking at me for things that they weren’t last year around training camp time. The coaching staff, they’re looking for more out of me, just vocally [I’ve] got to be better and just making sure guys are working. But … it starts with me, so I’ve got to be in the gym, I’ve got to be in a weight room and then kind of trickle down to the other guys like that.”
While much of the NBA’s attention is now on the finals, the eight teams that didn’t qualify for the season restart in Orlando have been in limbo since March when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the regular season. The Hornets are in the final week of league-sanctioned workouts at Spectrum Center, which gives them a chance to re-acclimate as a team after an extended break from normalcy.
“We haven’t been together since March so as a team, it is good to get around each other,” Graham said. “I remember what it was like when we got out of the room the first day [back.] It was just good to be able to be around each other, laughing and joking and cracking jokes on each other, cracking jokes on the coaches. Those things you can’t do when you can only have two or three guys in the gym at a time.
“So, obviously competing in the gym like we’ve done the last few days, we missed that as well. Just trying to get that chemistry back together, a little bit of the terminology that we use and just talking, and coach has been letting us really run the show. He wanted us to be the ones out there leading and talking, calling what defense we want to call and different things like that.”
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