In mid-February, there arguably wasn’t a hotter player in basketball, whether it’s college or NBA, than former Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. Through his senior season, Hield was lighting it up from beyond the arc and seemingly scoring 30+ points on a night-by-night basis. The biggest example of Hield’s dominance was in an instant classic against Kansas. Despite Oklahoma losing 109-106 in triple overtime, Hield was the star that shined brightest, as he put up 46 points and 7 assists on 13-23 from the field and 8-15 from beyond the arc.
However, in Oklahoma’s next game against Kansas, the tides would turn. Over the course of the game, Hield had one of the least efficient games during his senior season, as he put up 24 points on 5-15 from the field and 5-11 from beyond the arc. Although that may not seem like such a bad game, it’s a significant downturn for the player that maintained a 66% True Shooting Percentage as a senior.
As Hield was struggling, a young Kansas guard was having one the best games of his career. That young player was sophomore guard Devonte Graham. who just put on an absolute show in Oklahoma. During that game, Graham had a career-high 27 points on 8-13 from the field and 6-9 from beyond the arc. Although Graham had plenty of great moments over the course of that game, one singular moment that really stood out to me.
With 8:15 left in the 1st half, Kansas were in possession of the ball while maintaining a solid 20-12 lead over Oklahoma. To start off that offensive set, seniors Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis were working together in a side pick-and-roll, which allowed Selden to work towards the center part of the perimeter. After working over, he delivered a short pass to Graham. With Buddy Hield right on him, Graham shakes the All-American out of his shoes on his way to hitting a smooth perimeter jumper.
That perimeter jumper is probably the best introduction to describe Graham’s style of play. Confidence is probably the biggest key behind Graham’s success as a player as it seems like he knows that Kansas will score whenever he has his hands on the ball. Graham’s confidence is definitely warranted as Graham was extremely efficient during his sophomore year. In 32.6 minutes per game, Graham averaged 11.3 points and 3.6 assists per game on 46% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc. Those averages push Graham to having a pretty solid 60% True Shooting Percentage.
Graham’s perimeter jumper is probably the biggest part of his offensive game. As might’ve been evident from that jumper over Hield, Graham has a beautiful shooting stroke that’s quick and has a high release point. Graham can launch the jumper whether he’s working off the dribble or through catch and shoots. That work off-the-dribble also allows him to be a solid mid-range shooter as Graham does a nice job of working around off-ball screens and getting in position to hit the jumper.
While on the topic of his off-the-dribble play, Graham is a very solid on-ball cutter. Helped by a quick first-step, Graham has shown an ability to get around most opposing defenders. Once he gets around that initial defender, Graham is really hard to beat as he can change speeds on a dime and can drive to either the left or right side of the basket. Despite his smaller 6’2 frame, Graham looks comfortable working around the rim, as he can see from the play below.
Despite spending most of his junior year working as a smaller 6’2 shooting guard, Graham shows a lot of potential as a facilitator. For someone that’s such a solid scorer, it’s impressive to see how unselfish he is as a player. That unselfish nature is helped but how solid his court vision is, as he’s able to find teammates whether he’s working on the perimeter or driving towards the paint. Graham’s work as a drive-and-dish player is seen in the play below, as he works towards the paint and makes a smooth dish to Perry Ellis.
From a defensive perspective, Graham is the prototypical definition of a pest. I mean that in the most respectable way, as Graham stands as a player that stick right onto opposing players while being an aggressive force in passing lanes. In regards to that second statement, Graham stood as a phenomenal ball hawk as he averaged 1.4 steals per game, the 10th highest average in the SEC last season.
As Graham heads into his junior season, he might be pegged as the leader of a Kansas Jayhawks squad that looks to compete with Duke and Kentucky as the best squad. On a roster that features Frank Mason, Carlton Bragg and stud freshman Josh Jackson, Graham will have a jam-packed group of great college players to play with. Despite that talent, Graham is likely to be that dependable go-to scorer that Bill Self will depend on in the clutch. And although he’s still very young, I have a feeling that Graham would be ready to grasp onto that role and be the leader of Kansas.