NBA second-round picks typically watch, wait and wonder when something will happen to grant them opportunity.
It’s not like that for Charlotte Hornets rookie point guard Devonte Graham. Coach James Borrego says he doesn’t want to cap what either rookie (Graham or first-round picks Miles Bridges) might do this season, and circumstance works in Graham’s favor.
For now, at least, there’s a gap at point guard behind starter Kemba Walker. Combo guard Malik Monk and Graham are the alternatives to play the point, though it’s general manager Mitch Kupchak’s stated intent to sign another ball-handling guard.
Borrego is new, so he has no preconceived notions as to who should play next season. So Graham, who played four seasons at Kansas, will have real stakes when he suits up for the Hornets’ summer-league team in Las Vegas starting Friday.
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Graham’s approach: Don’t over-complicate.
“Just to come in and do what I was doing at Kansas,” Graham said Wednesday. “If I’m running the offense, make the simple plays and don’t turn the ball over. Which I’m definitely capable of doing.”
Graham appreciates that NBA offensive and defensive strategies are that much more complex than those in the college game. But between his presence at a top national program, staying all four seasons and playing the position that demands the most cerebral approach, he’s better prepared than most rookies – particularly second-rounders – might be.
“I feel like, coming from Kansas with coach (Bill) Self, during the preseason we put in so many plays early on that it kind of helped me get adjusted to this,” Graham explained.
“Coach Self put the pressure on me to know what all five guys have got to do on each play. That really helped me as a player with my IQ, which is helping me pick up stuff here pretty well.”
In a sport where prodigies are often discovered at 13 and top NBA prospects typically turn pro after a single college season, Graham’s path to the pros was different. He grew up in Raleigh and signed a letter of intent to play at Appalachian State. After the coach who recruited Graham, Jason Capel, was fired, Capel’s replacement, Jim Fox, released Graham from that commitment.
Graham played well enough at Big 12 power Kansas that the Hornets acquired the 34th pick (early in the second round) from the Atlanta Hawks to select him. As Borrego told the Observer recently of Graham and Bridges, “both of these guys could absolutely be in our rotation” this season.
The Hornets' summer team has been practicing twice a day since Monday before flying to Las Vegas Thursday afternoon. Graham has been a significant part of the new coach’s focus.
“He’s learning the speed of the NBA; he’ll find that out Friday,”Borrego said of the Hornets’ summer-league opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (5:30 p.m. EDT on ESPNU). “It’s a different level of athleticism and speed. There are more possessions and the possessions are much shorter.
“So you can’t take a second off.”
Borrego’s constant theme is quick, assertive decisions with the ball. That’s important at every position, but particularly for a point guard.
For Graham to seize this chance at being in the rotation as a rookie, that has to be his mantra. So far, anyway, he doesn’t seem rattled by the flood of information.
“It’s just different plays,” Graham said.
“Pick-and-roll or coming off ball screens with the (power forward or center), or double picks, we always did that (at Kansas). I probably did 40 or 50 ball screens every game. It’s just about reading the defense and making plays off of that.”