Hornets Insider: How Devonte’ Graham aims to finish strong and block the noise

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How key is the 3-point shot to your overall game?

Testing, testing

That’s when Graham cuts them off.

Just show them that I can be a part of the team and make an impact with the things I do — rebounding making the open shots and just playing with great pace and playing great defense. So that’s all I want to show really.

“Play freely and understand that we all need each other for us to win. It’s just about going out there and playing with a lot of confidence. That’s the biggest thing. And taking those shots that you know you work on and are capable of making and obviously doing what it takes to win.”

He’s learning the importance of taking mental breaks now more than ever, better ensuring he doesn’t get too worn down from a psychological standpoint. It’s not strictly about the physical aspect of things.

That’s why they will do their best to refrain from grinding him too much while also give him ample time to foster his growth.

60 seconds with Jalen McDaniels

I’m real comfortable. I’m just doing the little things that I do on the court — just playing high energy, playing defense, try to be the best defender on the floor. Rebound, getting the ball, push, making the right decision. Getting to the rim, making open shots. So I feel like I’m way more comfortable from Minnesota to now.

Consider it a final exam prior to school letting out for the summer.

Beginning with the matchup Friday with Toronto, 10 of the Hornets’ next 16 games are against teams in position to make the playoffs. This also starts a nearly month-long span in which the Hornets have a game virtually every other day.

That includes trying to rectify his struggles beyond the arc. He’s misfired on his last 10 attempts and is shooting 21.9 percent from 3-point range. So most of his points have come on those determined drives to the basket or at the free throw line. He’s aware that can only last so long and it’s imperative to just let it fly without thinking about it.

In his limited action, one can see the glimpses of potential in rookie Jalen McDaniels. He’s averaging five points in 16.1 minutes and shooting an impressive 46.2 percent from 3-point range. His general hustle has caught Borrego’s eye and he appreciates what the slender 6-10, 200-pounder brings for the Hornets.

“I just feel like I’ve got to pay more attention to myself,” he said, “I don’t want to get 60 games into the season and start taking games off and stuff like that. If I want to learn to be in the league a long time I’ve got to learn how to play all 82 games. Guys like LeBron (James) and them, they compete all 82, then go to the playoffs and end up playing 100 games. So I’ve just got to be able to take care of my body and sustain that.

Going through the gauntlet, if nothing else, should provide the young players with valuable experience.

What do you want to show the coaching staff in these final 20-plus games?

“I think overall activity,” Borrego said. “You see his length, his impact in the game. He had six rebounds (Wednesday) and I felt it. I think he’s going up to get those rebounds, he’s challenging stuff at the rim. I’m seeing his impact more on the defensive end right now. His versatility on the defensive end. But he made some very mature plays. He didn’t speed up and he’s trying to make the right play on offense as well. I think just overall activity.”

“They’ve been saying this is my first time, I didn’t get to play that much last year, it’s new to me, new to my body. So it’s still learning and then next year I will know what I can do, what I need to do, stuff to keep me fresh.”

It’s hard for Devonte’ Graham to distance himself from it all, even when he’s chatting with some of those close to him in those spare moments he’s not outfitted in basketball gear.

Over these final two dozen games, the Hornets will walk a fine balancing act with Graham. His off-the-charts play makes it easy to forget he was third string in his rookie season. But he’s already logged nearly three times the number of minutes this season (1,995 to 676) as he did in 2018-19.

“I think especially during a little bit earlier I was shooting it with a lot more confidence and obviously I’m still going to take those shots when I get them,” Martin said. “I think the biggest thing for me is not rushing it and just taking those shots and understanding I can make those shots. And I think sometimes I second-guess myself. I’m kind of in-between myself sometimes of whether I want to shoot it or drive and it’s just making a decision and understanding that when I make decisions that they aren’t selfish decisions. Just take those shots and my teammates tell me to take those shots. So I’ve just got to go out there and do it and do it with confidence.”

“You’ve kind of just got to stay locked in,” Graham said. “When I get out of the gym and I’m around family and friends, I try not to talk about it a lot. I try to keep my mind away from basketball. When I’m by myself, if I’m watching film with the coaches or whatever the case may be, then I will lock in. But my peoples always want to call me and are like, ‘Aw man, you shot this many …’”

How much more comfortable are you compared to, say, two weeks ago in Minnesota before the All-Star break? 

“I think what I like about that type of schedule is this is how you earn respect in the league, is going against the best,” Borrego said. “Whether it’s respect from your opponent, from players individually, from the league. This is where respect is earned and grown, is going against these top teams. So I expect our guys to play with that appropriate fear, that intensity. There’s nobody walking in here that we should take lightly. Not one team.

“And I think it’s that type of mentality that we’ve got to have moving forward, that this is a place that when teams come in they know they are going to best our best challenge. And I think that is where we are learning and growing as a team. This team hasn’t found that home-court advantage that we need moving forward, but here’s good (24)-game sample to build that.”

Martin had scored in double figures in his two games before being accidentally popped in the nose by Cody Zeller chasing down a loose ball, including netting a career-high 13 points. But unable to get it going in his first three outings following the All-Star break, he went 5 for 21 from the floor and couldn’t find the rhythm. He rediscovered it against the Knicks, nearly registering his first career double-double with nine points and nine rebounds as he continues carving out his role.

“‘Man, I don’t feel like talking about basketball right now,'” he’ll say. “I’ve got to talk about something else because it’s just 24/7. So that will wear you down mentally and just you have to get your mind off it for real.”

Here’s 60 seconds with McDaniels on his start:

Graham isn’t impervious to the long-term significance and potential benefit of powering through the season’s tail end smartly. He understands pace is paramount.

Besides the aforementioned teams, the Hornets also have home dates with Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the LA Clippers. And oh yeah, the Southeast Division-leading Miami Heat have yet to make any of their annual two regular-season visits.

“We want him to finish strong,” Borrego said. “He’s put together a heck of a season so far and I don’t want him limping down the stretch. I want him attacking the final stretch here going into the summer with some momentum. And if that means I’ve got to watch him with his minutes I’m going to do that. But I think (Wednesday) was a great response. We have a heck of a schedule ahead of us. And I’m going to continue to monitor him because I want him finishing strong here down the stretch, not limping down the stretch.”

They have only a pair of two-day breaks remaining: March 22-23 sandwiched between games against the Lakers and Trail Blazers. The other comes March 9-10, bookended by games with the Raptors and Wizards.

In the G League, I made a lot of them, shot a lot of them. So I mean that’s a part of my game. That’s who I am. I can make threes, so I feel like just keep knocking them down. That’s what I’ve got to do.

“The schedule is a great challenge for us right here,” Borrego said. “Really good teams, playing every other day. It’s going to really stretch us. But I think that stretching is what helps you grow and develop. We are going to be thrown in the fire and I keep saying that. We are in the fire right now and it’s about to be burn. It’s about to get blazing with all these teams coming in here. But it’s good for our group.”

Martin could get more of a chance to do just that. So, too, could his twin brother Caleb. With Malik Monk suspended indefinitely, it frees up a good chunk of minutes for a reserve wing to potentially slide into.

“Lately I’ve felt good,” he said. “Obviously the last few games, I’ve struggled offensively. Just missed shots and that’s the way the game goes sometimes. But it’s about how you bounce back and I think just my mindset right now is just try to be as consistent as possible. And my teammates and my coaching staff is doing a great job of encouraging me to just go out there, and play my game and do what I do.”

Cody Martin vows to keep shooting

After missing three games, forced to sit out while recovering from a broken nose and being in concussion protocol, Cody Martin is slowly regaining the form he was in prior to getting injured in Houston on Feb. 4.

Serving as the focal point for the opposing defensive game plan has been exhaustive enough for the Hornets’ second-year guard, leading to coach James Borrego giving him a game off earlier this week against Indiana. The last thing Graham needs is to be consumed by his stats, role and responsibilities.

“Yeah, that situation, obviously it sucks because you never want to see that happen,” Martin said. “Especially with your own teammate. At the end of the day we are here to support him, whatever he needs. I don’t really know much about the situation. It just means that there is an opportunity, and not only for me, but every guy on the roster. Again, it sucks that that has to happen like that. It just means that someone has got to step up, that we all have got to step up collectively as a group and just take advantage of those minutes and just go there and play with more confidence.