How can Devonte' Graham help steady the New Orleans Pelicans' offense while Zion Williamson recovers?

Devonte' Graham for the Charlotte Hornets
Devonte' Graham for the Charlotte Hornets

Devonte' Graham has been riding the crest of a wave over the last twelve months, as his performances for the Charlotte Hornets earned him plaudits from around the NBA. After three years in North Carolina, Devonte' Graham has taken his talents south, teaming up with the likes of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram as Lonzo Ball's replacement for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Offensively, Devonte' Graham projects to be the Pelicans' tertiary option, operating in a supporting role while having the freedom to get his shots off at will. Ball served in a similar capacity last season, earning himself a move to the Chicago Bulls as a result. The difference with Graham is that he chose New Orleans; he wasn't traded there as part of the Anthony Davis trade like his predecessor.

Devonte' Graham isn't known for his passing in the same way Ball is, but little separated the two last season, with Graham posting a 1.17 assist to usage rate and Ball just slightly ahead with 1.21. But Devonte' Graham does something that his predecessor chooses not to: penetrate the defense.

Devonte' Graham can provide the New Orleans Pelicans with a new brand of offense

Granted, neither Devonte' Graham nor Lonzo Ball are known to pressure the rim, but Graham doesn't rely on perimeter creation to initiate offensive sets the way Ball does. The Pelicans don't want a rim pressuring guard to share the floor with Zion Williamson, as they need optimal spacing around their bulldozing forward. Hence why Devonte' Graham was such a shrewd pick-up for the Pelicans, considering 67% of his shots came from beyond the arc last season.

But there's something to be said about dribble drive penetration to bend a defense before kicking it to a cutter. Last season Devonte' Graham averaged 5.6 drives per game, passing out of 56% of those drives and assisting on 14% of those passes - not world-beating numbers. Still respectable and likely to increase now, the pass recipient will be Zion Williamson, especially considering the second-year forward was assisted on more than 50% of his made shots last year.

Unfortunately, that pass recipient is likely to miss the start of the season, or at least be on a minute restriction after news that Zion Williamson broke his fifth metatarsal during the summer. Luckily for the New Orleans Pelicans, Devonte' Graham has experience with both leading an offense and operating as a secondary scorer.

Last season the Charlotte Hornets found themselves in the enviable position of being awash with offensive talent. Devonte' Graham saw himself slide down the offensive pecking order behind Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. However, in the year prior, Devonte' Graham split his time between being the primary scorer and backing up PJ Washington as the Hornets looked to get him some offensive reps.

New Orleans will look for similar offensive versatility from Devonte' Graham in the coming weeks or months - or however long it takes to get Williamson back into shape.

Willie Green will be buoyed by having offensive mastermind Mike D'Antoni on his coaching staff. The seven seconds or less offensive principles will likely allow both Devonte' Graham and Brandon Ingram to get accessible scoring opportunities from a five-out offense that doesn't project to change regardless of Williamson's presence in the rotation.

With a high-paced offense centered around off-ball movement and curling off screens a likely outcome, Devonte' Graham could thrive as a floor-spacing guard capable of generating offense for both himself and others. Of course, Zion Williamson's presence in the rotation amplifies Devonte' Graham's presence, but while Williamson is recovering, the offense projects to be versatile and dangerous from the perimeter.

Brandon Ingram is no slouch on offense, and his mid-range game is the perfect foil to Devonte' Graham's perimeter-based scoring profile. Throw in Jonas Valanciunas, and the New Orleans Pelicans have a threat across all three scoring levels. Pick-and-rolls will give defenses tough choices now that Devonte' Graham will be the primary ball-handler - where teams could hedge Ball, they will have to anticipate a drive or zip pass from Graham. And when there are scoring threats rolling or cutting across each level, it quickly becomes problematic containing such threats.

No one player can fill the void left by a budding superstar such as Williamson, instead, it needs to be by committee. But with Devonte' Graham operating in place of Lonzo Ball, the offense projects to be quicker, with crisper decision making and a bigger onus on scoring the ball. Sometimes it's not about the talent of an individual, but the way their skillset meshes with a team's needs. While Lonzo Ball is arguably a more gifted player (mainly due to his defense), the Pelicans needed additional pace and perimeter scoring.

Devonte' Graham fills those needs, along with penetration and peskiness on the defensive end. He will help keep the offense ticking over until Zion Williamson returns and begins his quest of helping the Pelicans return to post-season basketball.

Quick Links

Edited by Prem Deshpande
Be the first one to comment