Charlotte Hornets

How playing less point guard now can make Devonte Graham a better point guard later

Charlotte Hornets summer league

Hornets assistant coach Ron Nored on summer league victory Friday
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Hornets assistant coach Ron Nored on summer league victory Friday

It’s pretty common at NBA summer league to hear of teammates complaining about a player’s shooting.

Not so common when that complaint is to shoot more.

“It’s frustrating sometimes when he passes up a shot that is open,” Charlotte Hornet Dwayne Bacon said of teammate Devonte Graham. “I kept telling him, ‘All those pump-fakes you’re doing? Just take the three!’”

Graham listened when Bacon and Miles Bridges prodded him at halftime Friday. He launched three of his 10 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter, when the Hornets pulled away from the Golden State Warriors for a 93-85 victory.

Graham, the second-year point guard out of Kansas, had a laugh post-game about the peer pressure he received.

“I’d been passing up good looks,” Graham said after finishing with 21 points and four assists. “I decided to just let it fly.”

That’s positive in a way that matters beyond a random summer-league game. Graham proved his rookie season he’s proficient at play-making, with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But to evolve into a complete NBA player, he must become a more aggressive and capable 3-point shooter.

Teams could play off Graham last season, focusing defensively on his driving and passing lanes, because he made only 28 percent behind the arc.

To see the importance of a point guard making 3s, look back on the career of Kemba Walker, the Hornets’ all-time scorer: Over his first four seasons, Walker never shot better than 33 percent from 3. Over his next four seasons, he never shot worse than 37 percent. That difference changed how teams had to guard Walker, opening driving lanes and transforming Walker into an All-NBA player.

Opportunity

Walker is leaving the Hornets, headed to the Boston Celtics in free-agency. Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker retired after one season in Charlotte as Walker’s backup. So there is a major opening for Graham, even with the Hornets intending to acquire veteran point guard Terry Rozier via a sign-and-trade with the Celtics.

“Such an opportunity for me with those two guys leaving,” Graham observed. “I’ve got to stay in the gym and make the most of it.”

The Hornets’ track record of drafting and developing second-round picks has been poor for most of the last decade. But between Bacon (who scored 25 points Friday) and Graham, that seems to be changing.

Graham has an old-soul personality — wise and understated — that quickly made him popular with teammates and Hornets staff. He soaked up everything he could learn from Walker and Parker last season, then applied that knowledge in G-League assignments with the Greensboro Swarm. By the end of last season, Graham was getting Parker’s minutes as first point guard off the bench.

Experiment

This is going to sound counter-intuitive, but the coaches are looking to make Graham a better poiint guard this summer league by giving him the ball less.

Ron Nored, the assistant coaching the summer-league team, told Graham last week that he’d play a lot of shooting guard in Las Vegas. The intent is to refine how Graham moves without the ball on offense and reinforce the importance of his taking open shots. That’s the sort of experimentation summer-league games provide.

Graham said this isn’t all that foreign to him: He played a lot of shooting guard his first two college seasons at Kansas. But he agrees that what Nored is asking of him is important to his development, particularly finding and taking those 3s

“It really helps him, and it helps us,” Nored said. “He didn’t shoot (the 3) great for us last year. If he can shoot it consistently, like he did today — like he has all summer — it really adds a degree of shooting. And we really need shooting.

“It kind of carves out a role, a niche, on our team that is a must need.”

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