How 'bad offense' earned Devonte' Graham a compliment and a fan
FORT WORTH, Texas — Before leaving Schollmaier Arena, Fort Worth-native Clayton Orlie, 14, needed to pass along his message.
Waiting in lower bowl of the cozy venue, Orlie and his friend and fellow area-native Connor Hadley were able to get the attention of Devonte’ Graham and pose for a picture with the KU guard despite the TCU attire Hadley sported.
As Graham walked away, heading back into the tunnel after the Jayhawks’ 88-84 road win over the Horned Frogs, Orlie shouted out to him.
“Say hi to Frank Mason for me,” yelled Orlie, before dropping his voice to a whisper. “I love Frank Mason.”
The message didn't come from nowhere.
Last season, Orlie was able to make the trip out to Allen Fieldhouse for his birthday. He said his father, who attended college near KU, told him he just had to take in the experience.
Orlie, who says his favorite teams are KU and TCU, was paying attention, not only the season before, but to the current one as well.
“Lately, he’s been playing a lot more like Frank Mason,” Orlie said of Graham. “Frank did that his senior year.”
What Orlie and his friend saw in Graham is exactly what the senior has been trying to work on.
While Graham has shown the ability to play with the ball in his hands in the past, too often he’s only been a threat to score from the perimeter.
Graham, a 44-percent 3-point shooter two of the last three seasons, has had 11 career outings where all his field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. He’s played 20 career games where all his made field goals have been 3s, 10 of which came in his junior season.
While there’s nothing wrong with that model for a complementary piece, as a point guard logging heavy minutes, Graham has looked for a change.
“I’m trying to (drive more),” Graham said. “That’s really what I’ve been focusing on, just trying to get in the paint, get to the foul line, get easy baskets and make plays for others.”
The foul-line part of that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
In the seven games from Graham's sophomore season to now where all his field goal attempts were 3s, he shot a combined 13 free throws. In two of them, both coming last season, he got to the line 0 times.
Conversely, Mason had 0 games from his sophomore to junior seasons where he failed to log a 2-point attempt. As a senior, Mason averaged 6.6 free throw attempts per game, compared to 3.4 attempts by Graham going into the game against Texas Tech.
That was where the change began.
Against the Red Raiders, Graham went 13 for 13 from the line. He was more aggressive driving the ball in the second half, and his coach wanted to see more, even if the way he described Graham's play wasn't the most appealing.
In the post-game press conference, Bill Self referred to the concept of "bad offense," speaking not to the quality of the results of each possession, but to the idea that those sequences involved only one player putting his head down and getting to the rim.
In that aspect, the "bad offense" was anything but that.
“He did great. He did great driving the ball,” Self said. “The thing that Devonte' did really good, and I think you cited the second half, are things he needs to do the entire game."
Against TCU, Graham shot 15 free throws and made 13. He attempted five in the first half, more than he’d taken in nine of the Jayhawks 14 previous contests.
(Now, three of those foul shots were the result of Graham being fouled on a jumper, but there were other instances, both in transition and in the half court, where Graham made an effort to get into the lane.)
Ultimately, a pair of TCU intentional fouls helped inflate Graham’s game totals, but it wasn’t by chance he was the one holding the ball late.
“I feel like, if anything, the ball should be in my hands to make plays down the stretch,” Graham said. “And I was getting fouled and definitely wanted to be the one at the free throw line to try to ice the game.”
Other fouls, though, Graham earned — bruises and all.
With just over two minutes left, Graham poked the ball away from a TCU guard and sprinted the length of the court. He was crashed into as he attempted a layup and fell to the ground.
The thud of Graham hitting the court was audible all the way across the arena.
“I just landed on my butt wrong,” Graham deadpanned.
After a beat, Graham got up and knocked down two free throws.
The toughness impressed his coach — “To me, Devonte’ just willed us to win,” Self said after the game, “he showed some (guts) tonight. Good God, he was good.” — and it even won over a new fan.
“I don’t watch a lot of Kansas, but I know about Kansas,” Hadley said. “Tell if I’m wrong on this, (but) since Frank Mason left, it looks like he’s stepped up as a leader — not only on the court, but as a person, making sure he got those dimes to all those people, crashing in with all those close free throws at the end to help secure the dub.”