When the Charlotte Hornets announced Thursday that both Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller would miss time with injuries (a sprained ankle and torn meniscus, respectively), a look up and down the depth chart might have concerned some fans.
Of course the team still had its entrenched starters, a pair of reliable veterans in Marvin Williams and Dwight Howard, but beyond that? To many casual observers, the name Treveon Graham may not have inspired the most confidence.
But Friday against the Chicago Bulls, Graham not only put all those doubts to rest, he proved that the Hornets will endure for as long as their other big men remain on the bench. In Charlotte’s 119-111 overtime loss to Chicago, Graham had 12 points, including two 3-pointers on just three tries, with nine of those coming in the fourth quarter. That tied his career high from last season.
Even more than just his scoring though, he showcased the versatility that made him such an appealing option out of Virginia Commonwealth, also recording two assists and two rebounds while guarding a variety of positions.
“Treveon did a great job. I love that kid, the way he fights, the way he hustles, he made some shots tonight,” associate head coach Stephen Silas said. “Showed a lot of character, a lot of fight, and he has some skill, too.”
At VCU, Graham showcased that skill at just about every position (except center). He’s 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, and while Graham has suitable ball skills to handle like a guard, he also has the size to guard wing players and bang in the paint, if necessary. It made sense then when on Friday morning, Silas said he would play Graham at both forward spots against the Bulls.
And that’s exactly what happened. Graham matched up at both the 3 and the 4, and at both positions, he made a late impact that helped keep the Hornets chances of victory alive.
First on the perimeter, Graham helped match up on some of Chicago’s best 3-point shooters, the same ones who torched the Hornets for 17 3s on 34 tries the last time these two teams played. Along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, widely regarded as the team’s best defender, Graham limited the Bulls to just 6-of-18 shooting from behind the arc.
“Defensively, I just try to keep that energy up,” Graham said. “I’m just trying to help the team out in the best way I can, whether it’s rebounding, defense or scoring.”
Right, scoring. Especially in the fourth quarter, Graham showed flashes of offense that has to be encouraging both for Silas and loyal Hornets fans.
He was both an insider and outside scorer, backing into the post and spinning for close fadeaway jumpers, but also knocking down two tries from beyond the arc. With Kemba Walker and Nic Batum struggling offensively at times, it was Graham, playing more out of necessity than he would normally, who carried the scoring burden.
“That’s no surprise to see him walk out there and play as well as he did offensively,” Williams said. “He always plays well defensively, so I don’t think anybody in this locker room is surprised by the way he played.”
Now, Graham isn’t going to usurp Williams in the Hornets’ starting lineup anytime soon, but his ability to pull his weight will be crucial for the team in the coming games and weeks. He wasn’t on the court in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, but his play in the fourth quarter meant Williams could catch his breath and then play those crucial minutes.
The fact that the Hornets forced overtime only to lose the game late wasn’t a great sign for optimism, but Graham’s play was. And if the Hornets are going to snap out of the current funk they’re in, they’ll need Graham to keep playing the way he did Friday.
“I know my teammates have confidence in me to take those shots,” Graham said, “so when I take them and make them, it just gets me going.”