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Let’s Watch Devonte’ Graham Play Against the Kings

A look at some of Te’s pluses and minuses early in the season via Wednesday’s matchup in Sacramento

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Hey guys! My name is Mat, and sporadically throughout the 2021-2022 season, I will be doing film breakdowns of certain Pelicans players (or sometimes the entire team). If you like these and want to recommend a particular player or game you want me to breakdown (I’ll even do games from past seasons), let me know in the comments section below. Now without further ado, let’s breakdown my favorite Pelicans player, Devonte’ Graham.

Offense

Let’s start with the obvious, Graham is one of the best playmakers out of the pick & roll in the entire league, and his ability in this department will make him the ideal running mate to pair with Zion. If he ever comes back (I’m only half-joking).

On this play, he decides to go on the opposite side of the screen, which leads to a miscommunication between Tyrese and Holmes, leaving Jonas wide-open for three. As Bulls Announcer Stacey King likes to say, that is “hot sauce.”

Here’s another example of his brilliance as a playmaker in the pick & roll. Seldomly is he ever phased in these situations, and even if he has already taken flight, he’s able to survey the landscape and make the correct decision.

As an offensive player (we’ll talk more about the other end in a moment), his feel for the game is a notch below prodigious. If we had to grade him against the league, I’d say he finishes within the top-15th percentile with ease.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about can be observed in the next clip. This interaction seems like minutiae, but having the presence of mind to simultaneously keep the ball away from the defense and create an open look demonstrates to me that his cognition skills are next level.

Despite his upper-tier mental processing and ability to manipulate the pieces on the board to his advantage, he can’t be asked to be a high-level team’s 1st or 2nd best offensive player because of his inability to pressure the rim. Here he creates an advantage with his speed, but thanks to his lack of size/lift, all that comes of his leverage creation is a turnover.

Graham’s lack of size/lift also makes it difficult for him to find the roller on pick & rolls where the defenses’ big hedges on his right hand. The Kings started doing this more in the second half, and that’s a big reason he was held scoreless in that span. In my opinion, this sequence is the most important one of the whole night when it comes to assessing a team’s ceiling with Graham as its primary shot creator. (Hint: not very high)

Defense

Not too much to say about him tonight on this end of the court, which makes sense since teams typically try and hide their smaller guys (like Graham) on the opposing team’s weakest offensive players, so in that sense, the Pelicans and Graham did well. Still, there were a handful of blunders I noticed on that end of the floor Wednesday night, which I find a bit ironic considering I literally just praised him for his spatial awareness on the other end of the court. On this play, his positional transgression leads to Valanciunas being out of position and unable to stop Holmes from ramping up speed on his way to the rim.

Moving forward, if Graham ever wants to be a net neutral on defense, he needs to tighten up his positioning on that end of the floor.

Closing

I’m going to try and save my more concrete takes on these players for later on in the season when I have a larger data set on them. As the season progresses, I plan on giving more in-depth opinions on where I think some of these players fit in the Pelicans season.

For now, I will bid you ado. If you enjoyed this breakdown, be sure to follow me on Twitter to keep up with all the other work I’m doing around the league. Thank you for tuning in, and like I said before, if there is any game/player you want to see me breakdown for The Bird Writes, be sure to let me know in the comments section below.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @matissa15.