The New Orleans Pelicans made their first signing of free agency Monday night, sending a first-round pick to the Charlotte Hornets in a sign-and-trade deal that netted them guard Devonte Graham. The deal is for four years and worth $47 million.
Graham is entering his 4th year in the league after being a second-round pick by Charlotte back in 2018 following his collegiate career at the University of Kansas.
He struggled as a rookie, splitting time between the Hornets and their G League affiliate, the Greensboro Storm. In his second season, Graham took a sizeable leap, starting 53 games in the COVID shortened season. He increased his scoring output by 14 points per game while also shooting an impressive 37% from beyond the arc.
Last season Graham wasn’t able to reach the same heights, in large part because he had to share minutes with talented guards LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. The Hornets had an embarrassment of riches at the guard spot, which made Graham the odd man out.
How does Devonte’ Graham impact the New Orleans Pelicans?
The Pelicans struggled to space the floor last season, finishing 25th in the NBA in 3-point shooting. Graham helps give an instant injection to that problem, boasting a 37 percent mark from downtown this past season. On catch-and-shoot attempts, that percentage inflates to 42 percent, one of the best marks in the NBA.
Although Graham shows great prowess as an outside shooter, he has problems with efficiency. He has a career 37.6 percent field goal percentage, which is abysmal. Graham even struggles with open looks, making 40 percent of shots in which he has over four feet of space.
Even though Stan Van Gundy didn’t use this aspect of his game, Lonzo Ball was a maestro with the basketball and gave the Pelicans a unique element few teams had. Graham is optimal of a modern combo guard, more focused on scoring himself rather than running the offense.
Graham is a fine player but is a clear downgrade from Lonzo Ball, regardless of contract differential. The scoring potential is exciting, but the Pelicans still lack a consistent third-scoring option.
Overall Grade: C+
If Graham is a starter this upcoming season, I am worried about the trajectory of this team. He is best used off the bench but would seemingly be blocking the development of young guards Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The deal provides more questions than answers.