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New Orleans Pelicans adding Devonte’ Graham via sign-and-trade from Charlotte Hornets

A good player, but it’s coming at a cost — the Pels are dealing away a protected 2022 first-round pick

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New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are adding Devonte’ Graham via a sign-and-trade from the Charlotte Hornets, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

On the surface, a 4-year deal averaging less than $12 million dollars a season for a solid starting guard sounds like a big win on paper.

Graham, a 26-year-old and a 3-year veteran, is on the doorstep of his prime, is already a dependable catch-and shoot 3-point bomber (2020-21: 42.6 3PT%; 2019-20: 41.8 3PT%) — exactly the type of player you want to put next to Zion Williamson, has established himself as a clutch performer (see below) and he’s very good with the basketball in his hands.

Only Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan and Ricky Rubio posted better AST:TOV ratios among players who appeared in at least 10 games, averaged 25+ minutes and posted an assist percentage higher than 20%.

Among the listed point guards in ESPN’s database, Graham ranked 6th in Real Plus-Minus, trailing only Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Lonzo Ball, Mike Conley Jr. and Kyle Lowry.

No surprise, Kevin Pelton ranked Graham as the 6th best free agent of the 2021 class.

Of course, there are drawbacks, and this is not including the fact that Graham is not a noted defender, not an effective or frequent driver, or particularly efficient inside the 3-point arc (38.0 2PT%), the Pelicans are giving up their 2022 first-round pick, albeit with lottery protections.

That’s a steep price to pay, especially when considering the Pelicans could have perhaps re-signed the younger Lonzo Ball and watched him continue to grow and develop into a better overall player in the league one day soon.

Perhaps there’s more to this deal that hasn’t been announced yet, but as of this writing, the Pelicans have likely filled one of their starting backcourt positions in Devonte’ Graham.

John Hollinger’s BORD$ projection system — which estimates the value a player is expected to have next season — says that Graham is worth $19,073,555 for the 2021-22 season.

People don’t really think about Devonte’ Graham much, and he got a bit lost at times last season with the productivity of the LaMelo Ball-Terry Rozier backcourt in Charlotte. Nonetheless, he’s a good guard who can shoot and pass, and at 26, the team signing him is likely buying the sweet spot of his career.

This number still feels a bit on the high side, but only a bit … like, you wouldn’t be shocked at all if he got three years, $55 million. The issue is that he’s a restricted free agent and the Hornets are in a very strong financial position to match offer sheets; the perception that Charlotte will match is likely to dry up his offer-sheet market.

On the other hand, it could provoke a team to offer something completely bananas in hopes of scaring the Hornets away. Such is the game with restricted free agency, where the rules tend to bifurcate the market into offer-sheet overpays and team-friendly underpays.

Well, Graham’s expected to produce more value than the Pelicans paid for next season — good!

But this is coming at the cost of a future first-round draft pick — not good!

Stay tuned for more NBA free agency news and a deeper look a Devonte’ Graham.

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 @OlehKosel.