If Devonte’ Graham wasn’t in the national spotlight by December 11th, then the second-year guard’s 40-point outbreak against the Brooklyn Nets definitely gave him the attention he rightfully deserved. 

Leading the way for the most improved player – with a 14.3 point per game increase from his rookie season (1st in the NBA) – Devonte’ Graham has been a silver lining for this Hornets team. Charlotte, who entered the season with rock bottom expectations, found a gem in Devonte’ Graham. As one of the league’s greatest surprises this season, Graham has been the Hornets’ offensive centerpiece, replacing All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker. 

Graham’s had opposing defenses throw numerous looks his way since early December. Teams have begun to direct their scouting reports against Charlotte into limiting Devonte’ from knocking down three-pointers in bunches. This has resulted in a drop in Graham’s shooting efficiency. He is shooting just 29.2 percent from the field (30.5 percent from three) following his 40-point outing. 

This certainly has been an adjustment period for Graham. Going from playing just 14.7 minutes per game (46 total games) in his rookie season – as Charlotte’s third point guard in the rotation – to a player with a usage rate (28.9 percent, 89th percentile amongst guards) in the proximity of (and higher than) players such as Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and Jimmy Butler. Defenses are honing in and restricting his ability to shoot the three-ball.

Commanding attention: there’s beauty in it

James Borrego has been impressed with Graham’s ability to adapt and adjust to various defenses. 

“He’s a bright kid; he watches [film] and understands what defenses are doing,” Borrego said last Tuesday. “They’ve been different looks. Some teams switch him, some teams bring the big up. Memphis sat the bigs back in the paint and threw a bunch of size at him every single possession.

“The beauty in this is that we have a player that’s growing and commanding attention. And that’s great for our program right now. Now we just have to figure out how to play off of that.”

For Devonte’, he’s had to get the ball out of his hands quickly to create advantages, along with having to run through more off-ball actions. “Just trying to get more movement,” Graham said. “Coming off the ball, pin downs, just things that make it harder to double.

“Teams know I can shoot it coming off the pick-and-roll,” Graham told The Painted Lines. “They’ve been blitzing me, so I’m just trying to making the right play. I’m just trying to create an advantage. So when they’re doubling me, somebody’s going to be open. They can shoot or drive from there and create another advantage from there.” 

Devonte’ Graham is in the process of learning how to play off the attention, but his teammates need to do so as well. James Borrego said along with Devonte’ moving more without the ball, the team can’t have ball stick in one guy’s hands – a key part of Borrego’s offensive ideology.

“The ball has to continue to move no matter what they’re doing against Devonte’, and I think this is growth for our team,” Borrego said. “We’re not sitting around and waiting for Devonte’ to make a play. He’s got to make the right play and the group around him once he does make that kick.”

Graham’s assist numbers are encouraging

Despite Devonte’s poor shooting numbers recently, he is still making his imprint on the hardwood on a nightly basis. Graham is rightfully commanding the attention he deserves, and it is opening up high-quality looks for others.

During the Hornets’ previous six games, the Kansas product is averaging 10.7 assists per game. While his three-point shot has been limited, he has used that to his advantage to find open teammates. To emphasize this, Graham is second in the NBA in total assists at the rim this season.

Additionally, the point differential with Devonte’ on the floor is +17.5 (99th percentile), along with the Hornets scoring 16.5 points per 100 possessions (100th percentile) with Graham on the floor according to Cleaning The Glass. This just highlights how valuable Devonte’ is. His shooting numbers are down, but his impact continues to shine, as the stats illustrated.

“It should continue,” Borrego said, explaining Graham’s lofty assist numbers. “The more attention you get, there should be open bodies as you drive and as you kick it. That is valuable for us. Our passes are moving up, and his assists are moving up.”

Kemba Walker: “It’s a respect thing.”

Learn, grow, adapt. That was Kemba Walker’s advice to Devonte’ Graham. 

Graham’s mentor and former teammate experienced a similar transition early into his career in Charlotte. 

“He’s doing a great job… Showing the whole NBA how great of a player he is,” Walker said following the Celtics’ win over the Hornets on December 31st. “That kind of attention is going to come. You have to accept it. It’s a respect thing. He just has to embrace it, which is what he’s doing. I’m so proud of him and the work he’s putting in and how great of a player he’s becoming. I’m super happy for him.”

With the technological advances today, watching film has become essential to every team’s preparation and development during an NBA season. With an 82-game season, practice time is limited, but film sessions are convenient and a daily necessity for any NBA player. This is ever more so important to a player like Graham who is the quarterback of this team. Numerous defensive schemes and looks are thrown at him every night, making film time with the coaching staff especially pivotal.

Kemba Walker has been the top priority for opponents’ defenses for most of his career and agrees with how imperative film time is for preparing and learning from the different looks you see on a night-to-night basis. 

“When you’re playing, things are moving so fast you don’t get really get an opportunity to really know what’s going on. So you have to learn through film. You play so much, so it’s hard to practice a lot, so you just have to learn through film.”

James Borrego has echoed similar sentiments continuously, and we have begun to see the fruits of those labors. Saturday night, Graham had his best game since December 11th. He scored 27 points and added 13 assists in a 123-120 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks. Saturday was Graham’s first game since Brooklyn, where he shot above 37.5 percent from the field. Graham shot 47.1 percent on 8-17 shooting.