Bulls Can Upgrade Defense in Free Agency with Hornets Point Guard

Devonte' Graham

Getty Charlotte Hornets point guard Devonte' Graham

With the Chicago Bulls’ lack of luck in the NBA draft lottery, their best bet to rework their roster this offseason is through trades and free agency — though Chicago does still have the No. 38 pick.

Having missed the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and given the increasing competition within the Central Division, there is an even more pressing need for the Bulls to get better now. One of the main ways Chicago can improve is by addressing their biggest need: the point guard position.

Bigger name point guards like Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons have been popular ones linked to the Bulls, and understandably so. Those two players are ones who have the potential to easily and quickly propel a franchise.

But with two All-Stars in Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević, the Bulls don’t need another star. They just need a quality point guard and playmaker who can complement them, which could be a lesser-known player who saves the team money.

Devonte’ Graham, for example, could be a potential free agent target for the Bulls, as pointed out by Eric Pincus at Bleacher Report.

Graham is a restricted free agent, so that could make it tougher for the Bulls to acquire him. However, because the Hornets have another point guard in Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball, both sides could be more willing to part ways.

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Graham Can Play Well Alongside Stars

During his sophomore season in 2019-20, Graham was the Hornets’ star player. He put up 18.2 points and 7.5 assists in 35.1 minutes per game. But this past season saw the addition of LaMelo Ball. So Graham’s numbers inevitably took a hit, but it wasn’t by much.

Graham proved he could still be an effective player with Ball on his team, as he posted averages of 14.8 points and 5.4 assists in 30.2 minutes per game.

Aside from Ball, the Hornets also acquired Gordon Hayward last offseason. It was another major addition that also decreased Graham’s role from the year prior. But the fact that Graham still made such a positive impact in Charlotte this past year is telling of not only his ability to adjust and thrive in a smaller role but also his ability to complement star players.

When the Hornets’ season concluded, Graham acknowledged his transition to playing off-the-ball more and expressed contentment in making whatever adjustments are needed to win.

“Whatever role it is that I have to play, I can play that role,” Graham said during his exit interview. “People who know me know that I’m not a big ego guy, that I have to be starting or this and that.”

That said, it’s possible Graham could succeed in Chicago with LaVine and Vučević. He could even do so as the Bulls’ primary playmaker, giving him a chance to run an offense again. Coby White had achieved some success alongside LaVine and Vučević, but he offers scoring more than he provides playmaking whereas Graham could be more of a traditional point guard.

LaVine, however, can also be a playmaker. So a point guard in the same lineup as LaVine could find themselves playing off-the-ball at times. This is where Graham’s versatility can be of help, as he has played — and done well in — both roles.

A Defensive Upgrade

Graham could also be an attractive choice to Chicago because of the defense he offers.

For the 2020-21 regular season, Graham was one of the league’s best point guards from a defensive standpoint. According to ESPN, he ranked No. 7 in defensive real plus-minus at 1.97.

Jonathan DeLong of At the Hive lauded his difference-making defense this season: “Graham’s awareness and activity on the defensive end was the difference between the Hornets being a bottom dwelling defense and a passable one. He isn’t a big playmaker on that end, but he’s about as good of a team defender as you’ll find.”

Even though Graham isn’t an elite ball-stopper, he can offer the Bulls perimeter defense that they’re lacking.

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