Hornets don’t expect Devonte’ Graham’s role to change after selecting LaMelo Ball with No. 3 pick

photo by: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives to the basket past Miami Heat guard Kendrick Nunn (25) and forward Derrick Jones Jr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Charlotte Hornets took arguably the most well-known prospect in this year’s class when they selected point guard LaMelo Ball with the third pick in the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday night.

From a Kansas basketball perspective, though, it was hard not to wonder what that meant for Devonte’ Graham when Ball’s name was called that early in the night. I know that was my immediate thought at least, given that Ball was drafted so highly while Graham was picked by the Hornets in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft.

The selection meant that Charlotte now has three capable options at point guard, a room that also includes five-year veteran Terry Rozier. But Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak told local reporters after the NBA Draft that he doesn’t envision it being an issue to find minutes for all three players.

“I don’t think it will be a problem,” Kupchak told local reporters via his zoom call, which is available on the Hornets’ official website. “First of all, LaMelo is not going to be given minutes because he was drafted No. 3. There are going to be expectations, and I think the kid is going to work hard and I think he will earn some minutes.”

Ball might have the higher draft capital, but Graham has already made an impact at the NBA level.

Graham made a big leap in his second year with Charlotte. He averaged 18.2 points per game to go along with 7.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per contest. Graham also shot 37.3% from beyond the arc, while averaging 3.5 triples per outing. Graham averaged 35.1 minutes per game, starting 53 of Charlotte’s 63 contests during a 23-42 campaign.

The noticeable jump in his second-year led to some serious consideration for Graham to be named Most Improved Player, in which he ultimately finished fifth on the list. Rozier also averaged 18.0 points and 4.1 assists per contest. He started all 63 games, playing 34.3 minutes per outing.

Ball, meanwhile, has played professionally in Lithuania and most recently in Australia. He is the younger brother of Lonzo Ball, who is a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Devonte’ and Terry, I’m sure they will welcome him as a teammate,” Kupchak said. “But they want to play and they are going to compete.”

Part of the reason why the Hornets don’t seem concerned about finding minutes for everybody is because they seem comfortable playing multiple point guards at the same time.

“There is a strong argument that the way we played this game 30 years ago is not the way we play this game today,” Kupchak said. “You can literally have three ball-handling guards. And LeMelo at 6-6, you can look at him as a point-wing perhaps. Who knows how it is going to play out.”

In Graham’s case, in particular, it certainly helps that he could fit stylistically with Ball. According to basketball reference, Ball only shot 25% from long range in 12 games with Illawarra during the 2019-20 season. Ball’s passing ability was the trait that most analysts raved about when discussing his potential as a pro.

While Ball has time to improve his perimeter game, that is already something that Graham is known for. So it is certainly possible that the combination of Ball and Graham could actually bring out the best in each other.

Regardless, it doesn’t appear there is any reason to worry about Graham’s role with the Hornets just yet.

“Once again, I don’t think there will be any problem,” Kupchak said. “You might look out on the court next year and see five players under 6-7 on the court at the same time.”


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