Charlotte Hornets rookie point guard Devonte Graham will play at least two games with the G-League Greensboro Swarm before returning to the Hornets.
That’s the plan, according to Hornets coach James Borrego, and it’s open-ended when Graham, a second-round pick who grew up in the Raleigh area and played at Kansas, will be back in Charlotte. This is nothing like a demotion. It’s a way to get Graham heavy playing time with the Swarm, whose coaching staff is tasked with using the same offensive and defensive schemes as the Hornets.
The Hornets are in a stretch of four consecutive home games over eight days, with at least one day off between each game. Those days off make it easier for Borrego to rely on 36-year-old Tony Parker to back up Kemba Walker at the point without the backstop of Graham’s availability. However, that schedule also means there won’t be a lot of heavy-exertion practices on the off days.
“This is where young guys get lost,” Borrego said of the brief workout the Hornets held Wednesday before Thursday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s more mental exercise here, less work on the court. There is not a lot of development opportunity for (Graham). He’s not going against pace, he’s not banging against guys.
“These are critical moments (with the Swarm) to go play meaningful 5-on-5 games. We can’t replicate that for him right now. And even if I could get him into the game - last night to get him two or three minutes of run - it’s not the same as sending him to Greensboro and playing. I’m excited for him and he’s excited to play.”
Graham wasn’t declared active for Tuesday’s victory over the Miami Heat, the fourth time in the season’s eight games he’s been inactive. The Swarm opens the season this weekend with road games in Wisconsin Friday and Washington, D.C., Saturday.
Signing Parker, who won four championships with the San Antonio Spurs, was intended not only to stabilize the point guard position behind All-Star Kemba Walker, but to address a Hornets bench that was a clear liability the past two seasons when Charlotte missed the playoffs.
The results have been impressive, particularly on offense: The Hornets are third in the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 47.4 points per game. The bench is 26th among 30 teams in scoring defense, allowing 44 points per game, but having a net plus-3.4 points per game is clear progress.
Parker is the biggest difference for the second unit, but far from the only change. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is coming off the bench after spending most of his prior six NBA seasons as a starter. Rookie Miles Bridges, the 12th overall pick, is having an impact. And Malik Monk, who had an uneven rookie season a year ago, is coming off a 20-point game Tuesday in which he made four 3-pointers.
Parker is both holding the second unit accountable and uplifting the expectations.
“We take it personally. I’m in Malik’s head and Mike’s head, telling them to go. ‘Bring the energy? Bring the energy!’” said Parker. “The starters play a lot of minutes and are playing well. It’s our job as the second unit to come in and give that boost.”
Borrego was particularly complimentary Wednesday of how Kidd-Gilchrist has adapted to a new role as a reserve and playing more power forward, rather than the small forward he played previously.
“He deserves all the credit. I gave him sort of a vision of what he could look like in today’s NBA. He’s exceeded my expectations. He is so far ahead of where I thought he could be at this point, on both sides of the ball,” Borrego said. “He’s affecting so much of our game right now (in ways that) don’t even show up in the box score.”
Borrego, 40, is a full-time NBA head coach for the first time (he was interim coach of the Orlando Magic for 30 games in 2015).
Seriously as he takes this responsibility, he’s conscious of the balance of being a husband and father to three school-age children. So he was determined to spend part of Wednesday just being a dad on Halloween.
“This is a job. I love it and I put everything I have into this job,” Borrego said. “But time flies and you only have a certain amount of time with your kids. I’m trying to find my rhythm. I’m getting better.
“When I go home, I try to be home (undistracted) and enjoy my family. And then do some work after they go down to sleep. But these are precious years for them and I don’t want to lose sight of that.”