Over the summer, Charlotte appeared to take a giant step back. While Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky were both great players in Charlotte, that is nothing compared to losing their franchise centerpiece, Kemba Walker. He spent his first eight seasons with Charlotte, leading them to the playoffs twice, which is a great feat, considering how poor some of those Charlotte teams were. He was the heart and soul of Charlotte, and him walking away, was devastating. Charlotte lost hope.
There were NBA fans who genuinely believed that this Charlotte team would be on of the worst of all time. They were a mix of overpaid veterans and low potential youngsters, or so they said. Charlotte was supposed to have lost their hope, but they found it again, in a new point guard, second round draft pick, Devonte’ Graham.
Devonte’ Graham was an unknown to most NBA fans, but college fans know, and fear him. He played four seasons at the University of Kansas, where he lead the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight twice, and the Final Four once. He won the Big 12 player of the year his senior year, as well as being named a First Team All American. He averaged 17.3 points, 7.2 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. He had multiple games with 30+ points, and even more games with 10+ assists. He was the real deal. The problem though, is that on draft day, he was already 23 years old. He won’t have the same longevity, due to the fact that he’s 3 years older than most one and done players. The reason you draft those kind of players is so you can have them for the long haul. Devonte’ Graham is a spectacular talent, but he’s already years into his career, rather than being at the start.
After a rookie season with very little opportunity, but with the departure of Kemba Walker, and a heavy load of minutes opening up in the backcourt, Devonte’ Graham has been something special for the Hornets. This season he’s averaging 18.9 points, 7.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 0.9 steals. He leads the league in minutes per game, is second in total 3 pointers made, and is top 20 in total points scored.
He’s shown superstar potential as a not only a shooter and playmaker, but as a leader as well. For a Charlotte team that seemed directionless, he’s lead them to a much better record than most anticipated. If he can make another jump going into next season, he could end up as one of the best guards in the league.
Devonte’ Graham has been amazing, but it’s not like he’s leading a shallow roster. Terry Rozier has been the perfect backcourt mate with Graham, with them both being talented shooters and playmakers, making it hard on defenses. Cody Zeller is one of the most reliable big men in the league, and the front court duo of P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges has shown a ton of potential. Malik Monk continues to grow, and with Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s contracts all being cleared up this summer, they have a lot of money to play with. They’ll more than $45 million in cap cleared up this summer, and an additional $27 million cleared up next offseason (via Nicholas Batum’s contact expiration.)
With how well Charlotte’s talent is developing, and with how much money they’re gonna have to spend, they could become one of the best Eastern Conference teams in a couple of years, and Devonte’ Graham will be the face of it. They’re currently the 9 seed in the East, and are 3 games back from that final playoff seed, but with how poor Brooklyn has been playing of late (7 straight losses,) they could find themselves in the playoffs, which would be invaluable in the development of this young core.
This isn’t a small market league, and with Charlotte not being the most desirable free agent destination, they’ll need to make their mark in the draft, and they have done that so far. If they can continue to develop this core, and make some moves solid moves in free agency, Devonte’ Graham might be able to lead them into the playoffs for years to come.