Devonte' Graham's unlikely emergence gives beleaguered Hornets hope following Kemba Walker's crushing departure

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Devonte' Graham's unlikely emergence gives beleaguered Hornets hope following Kemba Walker's crushing departure

Post by admin » Thu Nov 21, 2019 8:17 am

Every game, Charlotte Hornets second-year point guard Devonte’ Graham receives a flurry of texts from his mother while he’s on the court.

Typically, the texts read like they were posted by a frustrated fan on Twitter.

Too many turnovers

Shoot the ball

Why are you passing up shots?

“She acts like she’s talking to me in real life,” Graham says with a laugh.

But after the 24-year-old marksman hit a career-high nine 3-pointers on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden — including the game-winner with 2.8 seconds remaining to give the Hornets a 103-102 win over the New York Knicks — Dewanna King had a different message for her son.

Way to shoot

The Hornets executed their final sideline out-of-bounds set to perfection with Graham playing hero — just the way they practiced it.

As designed, Graham came up the floor with a head of steam. He faked right and went left to gain separation from defender Frank Ntilikina. All that remained: taking a bounce pass from rookie P.J. Washington and draining his final 3-pointer of the night from the top of the key.

“I definitely watched ‘SportsCenter’ that night,” Graham told Yahoo Sports. “My social media blew up. You dream of stuff like that.”

Graham — a 6-foot-1 second-round pick who spent time in the G League last season — has been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA during the early portion of the 2019-20 campaign. He’s was averaging 18.3 points and 6.9 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range. And the Hornets — projected by some to be the worst team in the league after losing franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker to Boston in free agency — have gotten off to a surprising 6-8 start.

“I wouldn’t say I’m replacing Kemba, but I just knew that my role would be bigger this year,” said Graham, who learned a lot from Walker and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker in 2018-19. “I knew I had to work this offseason — no matter who stayed or who left — to have an impact on the team.”

“We didn’t expect him to be at this point right now in the season,” Charlotte coach James Borrego told Yahoo Sports. “And I don’t want to put a ceiling on him.”
A chip on his shoulder

Graham is the ultimate underdog story.

He was 5-foot-3 as a freshman in high school. And his lack of height led to a lack of interest from college programs. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native committed to Appalachian State before realizing he’d made a mistake following a growth spurt and a spectacular senior season.

Appalachian St. coach Jason Capel, however, wouldn’t let Graham out of his commitment — Capel’s refusal stemming from allegations of tampering by other schools — leaving Graham stuck in basketball purgatory. He couldn’t talk to other coaches, so he wound up spending a year at Brewster Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire, contemplating an uncertain future.

“Some nights I actually cried because I just didn’t know what I was gonna be able to do,” Graham said.

Still, Graham teamed up with backcourt mate and close friend Donovan Mitchell and guided Brewster to a 33-0 record and the national prep championship in 2013-14. Capel ultimately got fired from Appalachian St. and Graham was released from his letter of intent by Capel’s successor, freeing him up to attend Kansas and learn under coach Bill Self and point guard Frank Mason.

His stats improved in each of his four years with the Jayhawks, and he was named Big 12 Player of the Year as a senior. The Hornets acquired Graham’s rights after he was taken with the No. 34 overall selection in the 2018 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks.

In 46 games with Charlotte as a rookie, he averaged just 4.7 points and 2.6 assists and shot only 28.1 percent from 3-point range. He also spent time with Greensboro in the G League.

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