One year ago, it was Spencer Dinwiddie who took advantage of an opening created by injuries to spring to prominence as the Nets’ starting point guard for 58 games. Now, it’s free-agent Treveon Graham who is benefitting from injuries to starters at the three positions he plays to make room for himself in the playing rotation before Wednesday’s regular-season opener in Detroit.
Power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin), small forward DeMarre Carroll (ankle) and shooting guard Allen Crabbe (ankle) all have missed substantial preseason time but are hopeful of being ready for the opener. In their absence, Graham showed he might be ready to make a much bigger impact than he did in his first two NBA seasons in Charlotte.
“Treveon has been a big surprise,” coach Kenny Atkinson said after a win over the Knicks on Friday that evened the Nets’ preseason record at 2-2. “He’s a guy you can trust on the defensive side of the floor. If he can make some threes, he’s going to push for a decent amount of playing time.
“Guys were out. I don’t think he would have been getting the minutes he’s gotten [had they been healthy]. The good thing about him is that you can plug him into different spots. He can play the two, three and four without a problem. He’s going to be a versatile guy off the bench for us.”
Playing 26.5 minutes per game in the preseason, Graham average 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals. He didn’t shoot well, making .355 percent overall and only .167 percent from three-point range, but in three of his four preseason games, Graham was plus-10, plus-15 and plus-10 when he was on the court. His career three-point percentage of .438 also suggests he can shoot much better from the perimeter.
“I know there’s a lot of guys out right now, so things may change once they do come back,” Graham said. “But whenever I do get on the court, that’s my time to show what I can do and to help my team win. That’s the biggest thing, is to get more wins than we did last year.”
Graham admitted even he didn’t have high expectations for consistent playing time, just a dogged determination to make the most of whatever opportunities were presented. As his plus-minus and rebounding numbers show, he’s made a strong impact on defense, where the Nets need to make big improvements.
“That’s what I do well,” Graham said. “I play pretty good defense, and physicality is kind of my thing. If my shot isn’t falling, there’s always things you can do to help the team win other than scoring.”
In the Nets’ system, where Atkinson likes to spread the floor at the offensive end and keep at least four shooters on the floor, Graham’s versatility is a big plus from shooting guard to both forward positions. “I feel I’m versatile enough to play those positions,” Graham said. “Whoever is on the court, I feel like I can play off them and find my spot on the court.”
Point guard D’Angelo Russell likes what he has seen from Graham and understands the value of having quality depth after the Nets struggled with injury problems last season. “He can help us,” Russell said of Graham. “He’s a tough guy, he rebounds, he can guard multiple positions, and he knocks down shots. So he can help us.”