Tom Keegan: Michael Jordan won championships playing with guards of Devonte’ Graham’s ilk

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) raises up the Fieldhouse during a timeout in the second half, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

It’s not at all surprising that Devonte’ Graham was acquired on NBA draft night by Michael Jordan’s franchise, the Charlotte Hornets.

For reasons that have nothing to do with Graham and Jordan both growing up in North Carolina, Graham in Raleigh, Jordan 185 miles to the west in Lenoir, the former Chicago Bulls great knows the value of guards of Graham’s ilk.

Don’t forget, Jordan didn’t hit all of the big shots in leading the Bulls to six NBA championships.

John Paxson, fed the ball from the baseline by Horace Grant, was all alone on the left wing when he made the title-clinching 3-point shot against the Phoenix Suns for the Bull’s third title.

A starter for the first two Bulls’ titles and a reserve during the third, Paxson didn’t average in double figures for a title team, but Jordan liked playing alongside him, liked knowing he had a reliable open shooter available to receive the pass when he was double-teamed. Jordan also liked Paxson’s pesky defensive contributions.

Four seasons later, by which time Paxson was retired, it was Steve Kerr who hit the title-clinching shot against the Utah Jazz, a wide-open jumper set up by Jordan drawing the double-team and dishing to Kerr a couple of feet behind the free-throw line.

B.J. Armstrong never hit a shot as famous as those stroked by Paxson and Kerr, but he was the most talented of the trio to fill the role of the small guard riding shotgun to Jordan. Armstrong was listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Kerr 6-3, 175 and Paxson 6-2, 185. The Bobcats list Graham at 6-2, 185.

Graham’s soft shooting touch and deep range were the primary reasons he was drafted. It also doesn’t hurt that he defends the way Paxson did.

The same qualities that enabled Armstrong, Kerr and Paxson to enjoy long NBA careers should lead to a long and lucrative basketball life for Graham.

He has two ways to make it. First is as a reserve point guard who can run the team, hit the open shot and defend. The other is as a point guard on a team with a superstar who needs the ball in his hands a lot and will need to be flanked by shooters who can benefit from him drawing multiple defenders.

Plus, Graham’s smart and humble, qualities that will help a novice in any profession stick.

He might even decide to stay in basketball beyond his playing days, as did the aforementioned ex-Bulls. Armstrong is Josh Jackson’s agent. Kerr has coached the Golden State Warriors to three NBA titles in four seasons. Paxson has been in the Bulls’ front office for 15 seasons.


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