Welcome to Pounding the Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the next edition, we will be taking a look at Devonte’ Graham’s performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 20 games, 13.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 38.4% FG, 35.8% 3pt
2022-23 Salary: $11.5 million
Contract Status: 2 years, $24.7 million remaining (1 year, $12.1 million guaranteed)
The trade deadline was always going to be an eventful day for the Spurs. With expiring veteran contracts like Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson on the roster and the team spiraling toward the worst record in the league, San Antonio was well equipped to acquire future assets for their rebuild. They did just that, flipping Poeltl and Richardson for a combined first round pick, six second round picks, Khem Birch and Devonte’ Graham from the Raptors and Pelicans. Of their trade haul, Graham was the only player to suit up in a Spurs jersey.
After seeing a reduced role with New Orleans, Graham saw major playing time with San Antonio. In 53 games with the Pelicans, Graham averaged 15 minutes a game, 5.3 points, 1.4 rebounds 2.2 assists and had 37/35/75 shooting splits. All of those numbers increased in his 20 games with San Antonio.
Graham exploded in his Spurs debut, scoring 31 points in a double overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. The veteran guard brought microwave scoring off of the bench that had fans comparing him to past Silver and Black scorchers like Patty Mills. Graham could erupt for hot scoring stretches but was also prone to overshooting and forcing offense that was not there.
He was not an efficient scorer. He took 10 shots a game in San Antonio,\ and shot just 38% from the field. He was an average three-point threat, shooting around 36% on 7 attempts from range, but he didn’t always get them within the flow of the offense. A lot of the guard’s shot attempts came in transition, off of the dribble or on ball screens, but the Spurs needed someone to take shots on the nights they ran out a depleted roster. When the attempts were falling, like against Detroit, it’s a beauty. When they weren’t, it could be incredibly frustrating.
Despite his tendency to chuck threes, Graham brought a veteran presence to the squad. Outside of Doug McDermott and Gorgui Dieng, he was the oldest player on the roster. He was always the first one to come off of the bench after a timeout and congratulate a player on making a big play. You could see him on cutaways to the Spurs bench spitting game to the young players he typically planted himself next to. Those kinds of intangibles matter on a young team.
Graham is on a guaranteed contract for the 2023-24 season, but that doesn’t mean he will be earning it with the Spurs. When a team is looking to stockpile assets in order to pick more in the draft or trade those assets down the line for a star, veteran role players don’t typically stick around for long. Poeltl and Richardson can tell you all about that.
But what exactly is Graham’s value right now? Are teams clamoring to acquire an undersized guard who doesn’t defend and is an inefficient scorer? Perhaps a team like the Miami Heat or the Toronto Raptors, who lack shooting could be interested in his services. What would he net the Spurs in return? A second round pick or two? Is that worth it for someone who has been a good locker room presence?
Veterans are vital for rebuilding teams. Look at the Houston Rockets, who sorely lacked vets to teach the young guys the ropes and now have a new head coach telling the media they will be looking to get older this offseason. Players have praised Heat veteran Udonis Haslem for being a crucial part of the roster despite not playing in most games. Just because Graham isn’t a perfect basketball fit doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be valuable to the team, but the fit is still has questions, nonetheless.
The Spurs will need to find playing time for Tre Jones (assuming they retain him), Malaki Branham, Devin Vassell, Blake Wesley and Keldon Johnson in their backcourt. That’s not including the potential ballhandlers they could draft in the lottery or second round. It doesn’t seem like Graham will be someone they prioritize, given the need to develop those younger pieces. If they elect to go with a few guards in the draft, there is certainly a chance Graham is moved. However, it may benefit San Antonio more to keep him around, even if they don’t play him as much as last year.
February 10th vs. Pistons: 31 points 9-22 shooting, 6-16 from three
Final Grade: C+
Up Next: Blake Wesley