Charlotte Hornets: Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier forming dynamic backcourt duo

Devonte' Graham of the Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Devonte' Graham of the Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Charlotte Hornets defeated the Mavericks in overtime on Saturday night, thanks in large part to Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier.

On Saturday night, the Charlotte Hornets stole an overtime victory in Dallas as guards Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier combined for nearly half of the team’s 123 points. Rozier led the way with 29 points, while Graham finished with 27 of his own to go along with 13 assists. After the Hornets led by as much as 20 earlier in the game, the team trailed the entire fourth quarter before Rozier tied the game with 19 seconds to play to force overtime. During the extra period, Graham and Rozier either scored or assisted on all but two of the Hornets’ points–including four free throws to ice the game within the final 10 seconds. Charlotte can now turn its attention to the Pacers on Monday night in search of the team’s third-straight win.

Graham has been one of the most surprising players of the season, and is a frontrunner for the Most Improved award.

Coming into the 2019-2020 campaign, Rozier was the unquestioned starting point guard; however, after him, things weren’t quite as clear. Graham, a second-year player out of Kansas, spent part of his rookie year with the Hornets last season, although most saw him as nothing more than an extension of Charlotte’s youth experiment. In other words, no one expected him to break out the way he has this season.

Through 38 games, Graham leads the Hornets in scoring with 19.0 points per game, while also leading the team in assists with 7.9 per game. In fact, he has been so good on the offensive end that only James Harden has made more threes than Graham this season, and only LeBron James and Ben Simmons have more assists. Perhaps the biggest explanation for his sudden success in Year Two is his much-improved three-point shooting. Last year, Graham barely shot 28% from beyond the arc, whereas this year he’s making nearly 40% of those attempts. At just 24 years old, Graham is under contract through the end of next season, and will have cost the Hornets slightly more than $4 million over the entire duration of the deal. The loss of Kemba Walker this past offseason certainly hurts, but my is Graham doing his best to ease that pain.

When Walker left this past offseason, the Hornets acquired Rozier through a sign-and-trade deal with the Celtics.

Following the departure of the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Charlotte acquired Rozier through a sign-and-trade deal with Boston. The deal sent Walker to the Celtics, while bringing Rozier to the Queen City. The fact that the Hornets failed to retain Walker angered many fans; however, that anger was only furthered when it was announced that the team had given Rozier a three-year, $56.7 million deal–not much less than what they had low-balled Walker with. More importantly, though, the deal initially appeared to add to a long string of bad contracts on the Hornets roster. After a bit of a slow start, the fifth-year point guard has come on as of late.

On the year, Rozier ranks second on the team in scoring and assisting, averaging 17.8 points and 4.4 dimes per game. Prior to this season, he had never been a starting guard, which only increased the scrutiny surrounding his contract. So far, though, Rozier has scored 30 or more three times, highlighted by a career-high 35 points on December 18th in Cleveland. He is currently enjoying career bests in nearly every major statistical category, and is having his best year yet shooting the basketball. Graham has been the surprising “replacement” for Walker, yet Rozier continues to show that he may just be worth the money Charlotte paid him this offseason.

Since the franchise’s inception in 1988, only two backcourt duos have been more productive than that of Rozier and Graham.

During the Hornets/Bobcats’ 30 years of competition, only two guard combinations have averaged more points per game than Rozier and Graham. Walker and Nic Batum combined for 38 per contest during the 2016-2017 season, while the other came last year when Walker and Jeremy Lamb combined for more than 40 a game. Currently, Rozier and Graham’s 36.8 combined points per night would rank third all-time among Charlotte backcourt duos. With neither being older than 25, and with both appearing to be long-term pieces of the team’s future, the Hornets’ current guard pair has the potential to be its best backcourt combination ever.

Aside from Muggsy Bogues, Graham could prove to be one of the best passers in franchise history. Rozier is a good rebounder and a good defensive guard, and has shown growth as a shooter this season. Behind them, Malik Monk has continued to show flashes of promise this year, albeit he remains inconsistent. Likewise, Dwayne Bacon has yet to completely put it all together at the NBA level, and rookie guard/forward Cody Martin has proven to be primarily a defensive stopper. The Hornets have shown plenty of encouraging signs this season, yet the biggest of them all continues to be the growth of Rozier and Graham in the backcourt. If Charlotte is hoping to compete any time soon, it’ll be largely on the shoulders of its two young guards.