His 6’5”, 241-pound frame, his versatility, defense and shooting ability all caught the eye of the third-year Net head coach instantly, and Graham was able to take advantage of some early injury woes and crack a spot in the rotation in pre-season.
And then, a hamstring injury only two games into the season – reported as a tear, which Atkinson refuted – put Graham on the shelf for just over two months. No minutes, no rhythm in an all-important contract year. He has a non-guaranteed $1.6 million on the table for next season.
“Treveon’s been a big surprise,” Atkinson said of the 25-year-old following an impressive pre-season. “He’s another guy you can trust, trust on the defensive side of the floor. If he can make some three’s, he’s going to push for a good amount of playing time.”
On Monday, only Graham’s 11th game of the season, the third-year NBA swingman showed his mettle. The VCU-alum – who once hit a game-winning jumper against Joe Harris and the Virginia Cavaliers in college – locked up the much improved Buddy Hield, limiting the 20-points per game scorer to 0 points on 0-for-3 shooting in the second half.
“I thought our defense was excellent. I thought T.G.’s job on Buddy Hield was fantastic. I don’t think he scored in the second half. He was a real concern for us but great job on him and great defensive performance,” he said of Graham, who also has a 6’11” wingspan.
Hield rarely touched the ball after an 11-point first half, and finished the game shooting 4-of-10 for the field in 27 minutes. (Backcourt mates Iman Shumpert and De’Aaron Fox also combined for 5-of-24 shooting, and only 13 points.)
Graham’s contributions aided the Nets in a 123-94 victory over the Kings, including a fourth quarter where Brooklyn outscored Sacramento 30-9.
Before the game, Graham said that he’s still working his way back following the hamstring setback.
“Body-wise, I feel good. Our staff’s been really good at just keeping me healthy and making sure my body feels good on the court,” he told NetsDaily less than 90-minutes before tip-off. “I feel good, just waiting for shots to start falling consistently. It’s going to take time and work, but I think I’m on the right path of that.”
Against the Kings, Graham tied D’Angelo Russell in being a tied-best +28 for the night, where he started and logged 30 minutes only for the second time as a Net, ending Martin Luther King Day with eight points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block.
He only hoisted three shots for the day, which was two games removed from a career-high 21 points against Houston — hitting a three and grabbing an offensive rebound late — but is still searching for consistency on offense, especially from three.
Following a 1-for-2 display from deep against Sacramento, he’s only shooting 21.6% from three this season, but came from Charlotte hitting 43.8% from long range during his first two NBA seasons.
“Eventually that muscle memory is going to come back like it was before the injury, but you never know when it’s going to click, so you’ve just got to help the team in other ways,” said Graham, who also fought through a lingering ankle injury as a college season in 2014-15.
“Defense, rebounding, just being a good teammate, whatever it may be until that part of your game returns.”
Atkinson, he said, has also done a good job of keeping Graham’s spirits up while unable to produce on the floor.
“He just encourages me to keep playing my game,” said Graham. “No matter if I’m making or missing shots, he tells me to shoot if I’m open. Shoot it with confidence, and knowing I have qualities other than shooting that help the team out. So it’s just about focusing on everything I can focus on and the other stuff is going to come.”
Graham is someone who we’ve noted has worked tirelessly for everything he’s ever had at this level, and the 3-and-D versatile wing may very well become increasingly important as the Nets continue their playoff push.
Especially with performances like Monday’s on one of the league’s emerging backcourt stars. Let’s also remember that he helped force overtime in the big win over the Houston Rockets last week, contesting James Harden’s potential game-winning jumper.
For now, Graham is the Nets starting power forward, taking the slot from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. As long as he keeps the playing the way he has, he’s likely to hang on to the job.