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Friday, June 22, 2018

Devonte’ Graham ready to learn behind Kemba Walker in Charlotte

Charlotte Hornets draft picks Devonte' Graham, left, and Miles Bridges, right, pose for a photo with general manager Mitch Kupchak during a news conference for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, June 22, 2018.

Charlotte Hornets draft picks Devonte' Graham, left, and Miles Bridges, right, pose for a photo with general manager Mitch Kupchak during a news conference for the NBA basketball team in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, June 22, 2018.

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Devonte’ Graham understands how much his time playing at the University of Kansas helped prepare him for professional basketball.

So it was no surprise when Graham boasted a blue Kansas tie at his introductory press conference with the Charlotte Hornets Friday, which took place a little over 12 hours after he was selected by the franchise with the 34th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

At the press conference, both Graham and Michigan State forward Miles Bridges, who the Hornets ended up with in the first round, were asked about their fit with the new team. Graham confidently explained to the reporters in Charlotte that he believed he had the necessary skills to make an immediate impact.

“I think coming from KU and playing with coach (Bill) Self, (I’m) able to be that floor general,” Graham said. “I’m able to make plays. I played the 1 and the 2, so I can play off the ball and knock down shots.”

Graham’s flexibility is certainly a desirable trait for any team. After all, the Hornets sent two future second-round picks (2019, 2023) to the Atlanta Hawks to help complete the trade.

"We felt he would not be available in the mid-40s," Charlotte GM Mitch Kupchak said during the introduction, lauding the benefit of stockpiling picks. "They're valuable. This guy would not be sitting here without second round picks."

At least at the moment, Graham’s immediate role appears to be set in stone.

All-Star point guard Kemba Walker is currently manning the starting point guard position for the Hornets, who went 36-46 in 2017-18. Last season, Walker averaged 22.1 points and 5.6 assists per game in his seventh season. Walker, who played for the University of Connecticut, was drafted by Charlotte with the No. 9 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

“I remember watching him play when he was at UConn,” Graham said. “I’m just excited to learn from someone like that. Just to be around someone like that. He’s a winner, he knows how to win and compete. I’m looking forward to being able to learn from him.”

Walker has been linked to trade rumors this summer, though he’s the lone point guard on the roster other than Graham. Michael Carter-Williams, who was Walker’s backup last year, is no longer with the team.

Malik Monk, a first-round pick last season, also filled in at point guard during stretches. However, his natural position is off the ball.

As a result, Kupchak appears set on keeping Walker firmly in his role with the team.

"(Walker) is a player we hope that is with us for not only the next couple of years, but to end his career here,” Kupchak said during the same press conference.

Graham should provide serviceable depth behind Walker after a prolific senior season.

In his final year with the Jayhawks, Graham transitioned to point guard following the departure of Frank Mason, who was picked by the Sacramento Kings with the 34th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Graham was named Big 12 player of the year and netted All-American honors during his final campaign.

Graham averaged 17.3 points, 7.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game in 37.8 minutes. He helped lead the Jayhawks to their first Final Four since 2012. In addition, Graham demonstrated his shooting touch by hitting 40.6 percent of his 3-pointers.

“Devonte, playing four years, is going to help us get quicker to where we want to,” Kupchak said. "It makes our job a little bit easier knowing (Graham and Bridges) came from top programs against great competition with great coaching. It's a combination of talent and the upside and also who can help us get to where we need to get to as quick as possible."

Graham will likely get started in the NBA Summer League, which spans from July 6-17 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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John Fitzgerald 11 months, 1 week ago

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