How valuable is Devonte’ Graham? A look at how much KU struggles without him
Devonte’ Graham is averaging a team-best 17.3 points and 7.3 assists during his senior season. He’s on pace to finish just shy of the Kansas basketball program’s single-season assist record. And he’s probably more valuable than any of his individual numbers could indicate.
Since the start of Big 12 play, consider this: Graham has sat on the bench for a little more than 10 minutes. Without him on the floor, Kansas has scored on six of its 20 offensive possessions.
The highest-scoring offense in the Bill Self era revolves around Graham. There's a lack of scoring depth off the bench and the Jayhawks are still searching for a reliable backup point guard. Another part of it is the leadership Graham provides, directing players to the right spots on offense and defense.
In Big 12 play, Graham leads the conference with 38.8 minutes per game. He’s slightly ahead of Dylan Osetkowski (Texas, 38.5), Kenrich Williams (TCU, 38.4) and Nick Weiler-Babb (Iowa State, 38.1). Graham is well ahead of Frank Mason III’s average of 37.2 minutes in Big 12 games last year and Mason finished third in program history for minutes played in a season.
When Graham is sitting on the bench against Big 12 opponents, the Jayhawks have been outscored by 20 points. That number is magnified considering KU has won all six of its conference games by six points or less.
It’s a big reason why Graham has sat for 28 seconds of game time in the last four outings: wins over West Virginia, Baylor and Texas A&M, and a road loss to Oklahoma.
“It's hard to take him out,” Self said. “Nor does he want to come out.”
In some games, Self has tried to help Graham take a longer breather by subbing him out right before a media timeout. It hasn’t been effective because even in short spurts the Jayhawks aren’t the same without their point guard.
A look at how the Jayhawks have fared without their senior leader in Big 12 play:
Kansas 92, Texas 86
In a sign of things to come, Graham sat for a little less a minute-and-a-half. Leading by five points when he exited in the first half, the Jayhawks gave up a pair of 3-pointers on defense and only scored when Svi Mykhailiuk was fouled on a 3-point shot.
With Graham on the bench, the Jayhawks didn’t have the same level of ball movement. Shots seemed more forced. Sitting with a 22-17 lead, Graham returned in 88 seconds with the game tied at 25-all.
Texas Tech 85, Kansas 73
Trailing for the entire game, Graham played all 40 minutes.
Kansas 88, TCU 84
When Graham went to the bench, TCU’s offense thrived. In the first half, the Horned Frogs went on a 6-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers from guard Jaylen Fisher. Udoka Azubuike committed a turnover in the only first-half possession without Graham as he caught a breather for less than a minute.
Later in the first half, Self tried to give Graham a break before a media timeout. Lagerald Vick made a layup but KU’s offense shot 1 for 3 in less than two minutes while TCU cut into the Jayhawks’ lead with another pair of 3-pointers.
Kansas 83, Iowa State 78
If there was any question about Graham’s impact, look no further than a three-possession stretch without him in the second half. Graham took a breather at the 10:31 mark with KU holding a 66-59 lead.
On back-to-back defensive possessions, the Jayhawks lost track of ISU’s leading scorer Donovan Jackson, who drilled his fifth and sixth 3-pointers of the game. Those triples were sandwiched around a turnover when Vick tried to find Udoka Azubuike on a lob. In less than a minute, KU’s lead was down to one and Self called a timeout to bring Graham off the bench.
During the first half, Graham sat for about 90 seconds. The Jayhawks actually increased their lead by a point when freshman Marcus Garrett made his lone 3-pointer in conference play. KU still shot 1 of 3 without him directing the offense.
Kansas 73, Kansas State 72
Graham sat for nearly three minutes in the first half, his longest break of the conference season, because he picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes. The Jayhawks actually extended their lead by two points, holding the Wildcats to four points on 1 of 3 shooting. Azubuike led KU’s offense with six points in that stretch.
In the second half, Graham returned to the bench briefly after picking up his third foul. KU’s offense went scoreless in two possessions with Malik Newman and Garrett alternating at point guard.
Kansas 71, West Virginia 66
Helping the Jayhawks end a four-year losing streak in Morgantown, Graham played all 40 minutes.
Kansas 70, Baylor 67
Graham only sat on the bench for one possession in the first half with ESPN play-by-play announcer Rich Hollenburg saying, “Devonte’ Graham on the bench … something you won’t hear me say too often tonight.” Vick was called for an offensive foul while Graham sat for 17 seconds of game clock.
Oklahoma 85, Kansas 80
Entering the much-hyped matchup between Graham and Trae Young, Self said the plan was to sit Graham whenever Young went to the bench. Young played all 40 minutes. Graham fouled out with 11 seconds left when the game was already decided.
“We had one guy who I felt was really capable of keeping Trae in front of him,” Self said. “And Devonte' did a great job of that for the most part.”