Devonte’ Graham Emerging as NBA’s Newest ‘3-and-P’ Threat

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kemba Walker, it opened up a chance for young Devonte’ Graham to prove himself, even as the Charlotte Hornets bet far bigger money on free agent scoring guard Terry Rozier.

Graham has not only seized the opportunity, he’s one of this year’s most improved players and possibly the league’s biggest surprise.

The Hornets drafted him 34th in the 2018 draft, and he only averaged 4.7 points, 2.6 assists and 1.4 rebounds his rookie campaign. This season, those numbers have exploded to 19.0 points, 7.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He’s raised his true shooting percentage from 45.9 to 54.1, according to Basketball Reference and his Player Efficiency Rating from 10.3 to 17.0. His field goal percentage, three-point percentage and effective field-goal percentage are also all up, in spite of his recent shooting slump.

Most importantly, Graham’s value is reflected in the fact that the Hornets’ offense is 14.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, according to NBA.com.

While some of the jump in his numbers is due to more minutes, Graham has also developed into one of the best shooter/passer combos in the league, something I’ll dub “3-and-P.” He is one of just three players averaging over 3.5 threes and 7.5 assists per game. (The other two are the Trae Young and James Harden.)

Shooting

In some ways, Graham’s numbers reflect a “Harden-lite” type of scoring guard. The bulk of both players’ deep shots come on pull-ups: Harden leads the NBA in that with 4.6, but Graham is fifth with 2.3

He also has the same kind of insane range as guys like Harden and Steph Curry. Just look at the shot map of Graham’s deep makes:

Then, look at this bit of ridiculousness:

But where Graham differs from Harden is in the time he takes to get off a shot.

While Harden famously goads defenders, virtually hypnotizing them with this dribble, Graham decides to shoot and then does so, almost as if it doesn’t matter where he is on the court.

Look at the difference in how much the players dribble when they take their threes:

And here is Harden:

This is the sort of thing I mean. No muss. No fuss. Just accept the pick and drop it from deep:

Here Graham feigns like he’s going to drive to the rim and, for just a split second, Philadelphia 76ers wing Furkan Korkmaz commits to guarding the drive. In that moment, Graham pulls up for the three:

He does the same thing to New Orlean Pelicans forward Kenrich Williams here:

Graham doesn’t set up shots so much as anticipate them and then just step into them, and that’s what makes him so effective.

Passing

Graham has also become a legitimate passing threat. Even as his shooting has cooled off for the last few weeks, his assist numbers have gone through the roof: He’s averaging 10.7 dimes over his last six games. Only LeBron James has been better during that stretch.

And he’s not just racking up assists, Graham is setting teammates up for efficient shots, as they’ve scored 758 points on his 529 potential assists, meaning his fellow Hornets shoot an effective field-goal percentage of 71.6 off his passes.

No one in the league is ahead of him in both volume and efficiency.

And the key to his success there is the same as his with his shooting: He simply sees the court and anticipates.

Here, the whole defense collapses on him, but he’s able to thread this pass to center Bismack Biyombo:

Nothing special here, just Rozier shaking his defender and Graham seeing it:

Again, this isn’t a spectacular pass or anything, it’s just the right play with a spectacular finish:

And that’s the thing about Graham. He doesn’t make great passes, he makes the right passes great. And that tends to make it easier for his teammates, which is especially important on a squad that’s mostly devoid of fellow shot-creators, even as fellow youngsters like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges give the Hornets some young prospects to rebuild with.

While these developments mean that Terry Rozier may be looking at a sixth-man assignment again—something he eventually chafed at with the Boston Celtics—that also has again proven to be his most effective role. It remains to be seen whether he and/or the Hornets are content with him cashing starter’s checks while playing as a reserve, but Graham’s breakout season looks like it’s here to stay either way.

Even when hot shooting goes through a cold spell, his basketball IQ doesn’t drop. And while Graham’s much-improved sniping has been a huge asset for the Hornets at times, the passing has made him consistent.

Charlotte seems to have accidentally found its point guard of the future because of it.

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