Devonte’ Graham credits Bill Self for smooth transition to NBA

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas head coach Bill Self and Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) have a talk on the sidelines during a break in action in the second half, Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Since joining the Charlotte Hornets as a second-round draft pick, former Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham has encountered, and been accountable for processing, loads of information.

Learning how to best complement his new summer roster teammates and playing within new offensive and defensive systems is just the beginning for the rookie, who signed his contract with the Hornets on Friday.

Still, Graham told reporters earlier this week that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by it all. He credited the man who spent the previous four seasons coaching him, Bill Self, for setting the stage for a smooth transition.

“I mean, I feel like coming from Kansas, with Coach Self, I feel like in the preseason we put in so many plays early on that it kind of helped me get adjusted to this,” Graham said during the Hornets’ mini-camp, before the team left to play in the Las Vegas Summer League. “Coach Self putting the pressure on me to know what all five guys got to do in each play really helped me as a player with my IQ and stuff like that, which has really helped me pick up stuff here pretty well.”

Though still a rookie with a lot to prove at the NBA level, Graham explained why he can embark on this high-pressure journey feeling more comfortable than many of his fellow 2018 draftees might.

Calling him one of the nation’s best coaches, Graham said Self’s demanding style and the way the hall-of-famer trained the Jayhawks to “play together and fight every night” allowed the point guard to take on a professional approach before he ever joined the NBA’s ranks.

“We would do stuff that you would do at this level. I feel like a lot of our guys leave there and come here to the league and adjust pretty well to it just because of the way he coaches and his coaching style,” Graham said.

The 23-year-old’s basketball upbringing hasn’t gone unnoticed by Charlotte’s first-year coach, James Borrego.

“Devonte’s come in, I see the maturity in him. I see why he’s played four years at Kansas,” Borrego told reporters in Charlotte. “This kid has played at a very high level, well coached, good head on his shoulders and I expect him to run the group at a very high level this week.”

As Borrego referenced, Graham will serve as the Hornets’ primary point guard during summer competition, as he teams up with fellow rookie Miles Bridges, second-year guard Malik Monk and various other prospects, many of whom went undrafted and/or don’t have NBA contracts lined up.

His responsibilities likely will diminish considerably once the regular season begins months from now, as the Hornets already have an all-star point guard in his prime, Kemba Walker. Plus, reports surfaced Friday afternoon of Charlotte agreeing to terms with longtime San Antonio floor general Tony Parker.

But during Las Vegas exhibitions Graham will be trusted to make the same types of decisions he did at KU. The rookie doesn’t anticipate his obligations becoming burdensome.

“It’s just different plays. We didn’t do like delay action and stuff like that (at KU),” Graham shared. “But pick and roll, coming off ball screens, coming off the 4-man or the 5-man, double-picks and stuff like that, we always did that. That was our main thing. I probably did 40, 50 ball screens every game, so it’s just about reading the defense and making plays based off that, which I’m pretty used to.”

Further adaptations await him on the defensive end of the floor, where the presence of more talented, versatile players than existed at the college level and a longer 3-point arc will inevitably ask more of him, just as it does every newcomer in the league.

“Defensively it’s just the spacing. Everybody’s so spaced out and it’s not all clogged up,” Graham noted of the differences he already has experienced at the next level. “You can’t just sit in the paint — defensive three seconds and stuff like that — so you’ve got to close out a little bit further than you would normally have at the collegiate level. But it’s something that I’ve gotta get adjusted to — getting in and out of the lane and jumping over to the nail and having to close out, just different things like that. But for the most part it’s the same.”

Borrego already has stated publicly he wouldn’t hesitate to insert Graham, the No. 34 overall pick in the draft, into the Hornets’ rotation.

According to Graham, the franchise’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, said from the get-go he envisioned Graham, who now projects as the third point guard, doing a lot of the same things that made Graham successful at KU.

“Just play my game and when I’m in there, making the right reads. If I’m playing off the ball you’ve gotta be able to knock down shots — if I’m playing with Kemba or somebody off the ball — because those guys get a lot of attention, so they might leave me open and stuff like that,” Graham said of possible scenarios outlined by Kupchak. “But if I’m running the point just make the simple plays and get us in the offense. Don’t turn the ball over, just little things like that, which I’m definitely capable of doing.”

Graham makes his Hornets debut against Oklahoma City at 4:30 p.m. Friday (ESPNU).

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