The Charlotte Hornets’ new mantra is “Play Simple,” which sounds, you know, simple…
Except it’s not when you’re dealing with basketball players gifted enough to make millions of dollars practicing their craft. There’s always a portion of their psyches wanting to enthrall and amaze, which is often the shortcut to error.
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That made Sunday’s 94-90 victory over the Miami Heat at NBA Summer League satisfying on multiple levels. A new coaching staff is trying not just to evaluate a crew of young players, but also send messages about how this team will function — what it values — when training camp convenes in September back in Charlotte.
They played smart, committing just 17 fouls and shooting 48 percent from the field. That shooting percentage was in part a function of simple, smart plays, and no one more epitomized that than rookie point guard Devonte Graham.
Graham, a Raleigh native who spent four seasons at Kansas, didn’t shoot particularly well (3-of-10), but everything else was on point: Seven assists to one turnover and six trips to the foul line (all made) in 27½ minutes.
That’s efficiency. That’s simple.
“We keep talking about being great at basic. If you do basic at a high level, you’re going to win a lot of these late-game,” said assistant Jay Hernandez, who is coaching the summer-league team.
“Devonte has learned a lot, being a four-year guy. He came in here very poised. He takes criticism very well and he goes on to the next play.”
A decision early in this game so reflected that: Graham dribbled the lane, drew a massive help defender and made a precise, fundamental handoff to Hornets center Willy Hernangomez for a layup so open it looked like a 5-on-none drill.
That’s not to say Graham isn’t also capable of the spectacular. In the second half, he threw a bounce pass in transition between two defenders, perfectly guiding J.P. Macura for a layup and a free throw.
Graham was chosen 34th overall, after the Hornets traded two future second-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks to get into position to select him. There was clearly excitement in the front office after the draft about Graham that was not typical of how the Hornets viewed second-round picks in general over the past few years.
Hornets coach James Borrego said recently he could see Graham in the rotation sometime this season. He will have great teachers in that locker room between Kemba Walker and soon-to-sign Tony Parker. There is definitely something to work with in Graham’s potential.
“Just make the simple play,” Graham said postgame, reciting the new gospel. “If (a defender) steps up to me, then you’ve got to hit (a teammate). Just make the pass to make the pass.”
Some other thoughts off two games so far in Las Vegas:
Dwayne Bacon shot poorly in Friday’s opener, then went 8-of-16 from the field Sunday for 22 points. Bacon’s energy plays were reflected in six rebounds and six free-throw attempts. But at times he seemed to be pressing, making six turnovers.
Bacon knows there’s opportunity this summer, but also that this is a crowded roster at small forward. It looks at times like he’s pressing.
Center Willy Hernangomez made one of four attempts from 3-point range Sunday. That sounds bad, but not really, in that it’s him trying to expand his offensive game. That’s what he should be doing in July after two NBA seasons.
Hernangomez has the post-up and midrange stuff already figured out. If he can complement that by making opposing defenders guard him a greater distance from the rim, he’ll be so much more dangerous.
The hole in rookie small forward Miles Bridges’ offensive game at Michigan State was creating free-throw attempts. Four attempts in 30 minutes doesn’t sound great, but if you watched Bridges Sunday, he attacked, rather than settle for jump shots.
Hernandez said the coaches aren’t pushing Bridges to get himself fouled because if he sticks to that “keep simple” mantra — reading what the defense is doing, and making quick, decisive moves — he’s naturally athletic enough that the foul shots are inevitable.