CHARLOTTE — Is Devonte' Graham now “the man” for the Charlotte Hornets?
It’s too early to definitively draw that conclusion, but I agree all the signs are there. Particularly after Graham made nine 3s Saturday night, including the game-winner, in a one-point road victory over the New York Knicks.
That was Graham’s fifth game of 20 or more points in a 6-7 start and he also has three points-assist double-doubles. If Graham can maintain this in his second season, he has to be in the discussion for NBA Most Improved Player.
That leads off your questions in this week’s Hornets mailbag:
Is Graham the real replacement for Walker?
Graham is definitely the purer point guard right now, and I don’t see that changing. Where this gets more complicated is accounting for all the different things Walker provided as a Hornet.
Walker was as much the Hornets’ primary scorer as he was the table-setter. Remember, in crunch time last season, James Borrego would play Walker and Tony Parker together, with Walker playing more off the ball and Parker as point guard. That relates to how this now fits together; Rozier is playing off the ball as much as on it. He’s comfortable with that, and it makes for a better blending with Graham.
The Hornets had to diversify the offense after Walker left for the Boston Celtics. They are evolving in a direction where Graham, Rozier and Malik Monk are all free to create for themselves and others and each one has shined in the last three games.
Should fans be pleased with how the season has started?
Absolutely. Coach James Borrego said he would lean toward youth in close decisions, but not freeze out the veterans. That’s a tough balance to strike, but he has done it.
It’s easy to explore Graham’s potential in a rebuild after he showed promising signs late last season. It was more bold to use second-round rookie Cody Martin at the end of a close game against the Golden State Warriors. Borrego had a hunch Martin was ready, and he was right.
Some fans tell me the Hornets are winning “too much.” That’s being fixated on a draft pick in June. Particularly after the NBA flattened the draft-lottery odds, putting all your hopes in where the Hornets pick in the first round is wrongheaded.
Borrego said he’d value development above winning individual games this season. If young players improving leads to winning a few extra games in 2019-20, that’s a plus. The only way this season would be a failure is if next spring the organization still doesn’t have a fix on the young players’ potential. That’s happening.
When Batum and Bacon come back, whose minutes get reduced?
I was surprised just how much Batum played against the Knicks in his first game back from a fractured finger — 29 minutes, most among Hornets non-starters. Many of those minutes were chipped off Miles Bridges in a game in which Bridges missed all eight of his shots.
The Hornets need Batum’s defense, positional versatility and ball-movement. Bridges was constantly asked to guard the opposing team’s primary scorer early this season, and I think it’s wearing him down. Rationing your energy between defense and offense in a role such as that is an adjustment.
Bacon struggled as a shooter early this season, and I think he’s going to be worked back into the rotation slowly as the inflammation in his right knee recedes.
I don’t know whether Martin will stay in the rotation, but I know this: The Hornets’ guideline is if a young player isn’t in the rotation, he’s better off getting big minutes with the Greensboro Swarm.