Sometimes Charlotte Hornets fans dog on Devonte Graham, and I understand why.
He’ll never have LaMelo Ball’s upside and he occasionally has shooting games like Friday, when he went 3-of-16 from the field.
But what that narrow appraisal discounts is his precision and his grit. He’s smart and low-mistake, which counts extra at the point guard position. He makes the Hornets more organized just by being on the court.
Sunday was a fine illustration. The Hornets dominated the Boston Celtics 125-104 in possibly their most complete game this season. Graham shot well — 7-of-14 from the field and 6-of-11 from 3 — but that isn’t even the thing he did best.
He maintained this team’s flow on a day when the Hornets had a season-high 39 assists (nine by him). He took pressure off fellow guard Terry Rozier to carry Charlotte offensively. He made everything easier.
That’s what coach James Borrego foreshadowed pre-game when he was asked about Graham’s poor shooting Friday.
“No matter what he shoots, he is a positive for this team,” Borrego said, noting that Graham had 10 assists and no turnovers versus the Cavaliers.
Graham’s uncertain future
Graham becomes a restricted free agent this season, and I’ve stopped trying to predict whether he’ll be back in Charlotte. So many variables play into that outcome beyond Graham’s performance: Is a backup to Ball a Hornets priority, with Rozier available to swing between guard spots? How important is starting for Graham? What might another team needing a point guard pay in the form of an offer sheet?
I do know that LaMelo’s magnetism sometimes diminishes Graham’s public perception. That isn’t LaMelo’s fault — he’s both entertaining and impactful in a way that grabs eyeballs. He is the Hornets’ future.
But that sometimes prompts a glass-half-empty view of Graham. I asked him post-game Sunday if the scope of what he provides might be undervalued.
“No. Not by the right people,” Graham answered, referring to his teammates and coaches. “They know what I bring to the table, the energy. Making shots (or not), that doesn’t affect how I play. Go out and get open shots for other people. Be in attack mode to open things up.
“Whether I make shots or not doesn’t make me play bad.”
Sunday, Graham’s backcourt pairing with Rozier (45 points and 20 assists) was both entertaining and dominant. They set a tone in a victory that stabilized Charlotte’s playoff pursuit. To do that, with this team so shorthanded that Borrego used only eight players in real time, says plenty.
A Charlotte Hornets template
Borrego knew from the start of training camp he had a roster full of willing passers. They don’t always make open shots, but they consistently create them for each other.
The difference Sunday was that from tip-off they complemented that unselfishness with energy and physicality. When the Celtics challenged, cutting the deficit down to eight late in the third quarter, the Hornets hit back.
“From start to finish this was probably our most complete game we’ve had all season,” Borrego said. “We knew they were going to make a run and there was no panicking.”
Rather than just admire the work, Borrego emphasized post-game that this should be the expectation over the last 12 regular-season games.
“We can always point back to this game. No matter what happens the rest of the way, this is the standard,” Borrego said. “When we go play Milwaukee Tuesday night, it’s got to look like this. And it should look like this.”
Whether or not he’s back next season, Graham is a standard-bearer: Someone Borrego trusts to be smart, reliable and precise.
Whether Graham’s shot goes through the hoop every game won’t change that, no matter what fans think.