Charlotte Hornets: Why Devonte’ Graham is having a breakout season

NBA Charlotte Hornets Devonte' Graham (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
NBA Charlotte Hornets Devonte' Graham (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Devonte’ Graham is having a breakout season because of a philosophical change within the Charlotte Hornets organization

There is a sense of surprise around the league surrounding the success of Devonte’ Graham over the first 35 games of this season. Pablo Uggeti of the Ringer wrote an article two weeks ago stating that Graham’s success has come out of the blue.

However, one can argue that Devonte’ Graham’s success this season is due to a strategic adjustment from the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets were strictly focused on winning games last season. According to the Charlotte Observer, the newly hired head coach, James Borrego, told the media two weeks before the team opened training camp that his sole focus was on winning every single game.

Berrogo’s comments were bad news for Graham as he suffered a condylar lesion in his right knee during the third game of 2018 Summer League that kept him out till training camp. According to, a condylar lesion is a “a tear or fracture in the cartilage covering one of the bones in a joint”.

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The injury removed any possibility of him being in the rotation as Summer League was his best opportunity to show James Borrego that he could be a contributor on an aspiring playoff team. Therefore, he was limited to 14.7 minutes per game in 46 appearances. The lack of playing time didn’t allow Devonte’ to show his true skill. Devonte’ was known in the amateur ranks as an elite pick and roll player.

According to Bleacher Report, he was in 92nd percentile in terms of pick and roll passing during his career at the University of Kansas. His pick and roll passing helped him amass an assist percentage of 31.4 percent. Not only was Devonte’ an elite pick and roll passer, but he could also score out of a pick and roll. 71 of his made field goals came off of a screen.

Unfortunately, due to his injuries prior to the beginning of the season, he wasn’t allowed to run a significant amount of pick and rolls. He only averaged 1.7 possessions per game last season. Devonte’ scored 1.6 points in these 1.7 pick and roll possessions. The 1.6 points accounted for 29.8 percent of his total scoring output as he averaged 4.7 points per game.

Unfortunately, Charlotte didn’t qualify for the playoffs as they finished 9th in the Eastern Conference with a 39-43 record. The lack of a playoff appearance propelled the organization to let go of its best player, Kemba Walker. The organization was aware that re-signing Kemba Walker would put them over the luxury tax.

Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer that owner Michael Jordan didn’t want to go over the luxury tax as the team wasn’t in a position to make a deep playoff run. Consequently, the organization shifted its focus to player development. According to the Charlotte Post, James Borrego emphasized competing every night and player development as a mantra for the team heading into this season.

The change in organizational philosophy opened the door for younger players to get more playing time. Graham averaged 24 minutes per game in five preseason games. He was able to amass 12.2 points with 3.8 assists while 40 percent from behind the arc. His preseason numbers were the catalyst behind him getting a spot in the starting lineup.

Once he was put in the starting lineup, James decided to accentuate his pick and roll skills. Graham is currently averaging 9.6 pick and roll possessions per game this season. He is creating 9.1 points for the team from the pick and roll possessions. The 9.1 points account for 47.6 percent of his total scoring output as he is averaging 19.1 points per game.

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In conclusion, full health and the change in organizational philosophy open the door for Devonte’ Graham’s breakout season.