Two transitioning rookies go head-to-head in the backcourt Sunday night when the Charlotte Hornets visit the Phoenix Suns.
The game will feature two of the highest scoring guards in the NBA in the Hornets' Kemba Walker and Suns' Devin Booker. Each has been playing in tandem in recent games with a rookie who was a former college star now finding himself in more of a complementary role.
Charlotte's Devonte' Graham and Phoenix's De'Anthony Melton began the season as G-Leaguers and NBA backups after having been second-round picks last June. But each has shown flashes of his collegiate brilliance, enough to warrant start spots on teams desperately searching for young talent.
Graham, the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year last season at Kansas, took a detour through the G-League for six games before working his way up the Hornets' ladder, finally earning a starting spot Wednesday at home against Dallas when Jeremy Lamb couldn't go because of a hamstring injury.
The 23-year-old was ready, having just had his first two NBA double-figure scoring games (11 and 10 points) off the bench.Graham scored 10 against the Mavericks, then turned his attention to being more of a ball distributor Saturday in Denver at the start Charlotte's six-game trip, contributing a season-best eight assists to complement 10 points in a competitive effort that resulted in a 123-110 defeat.
"He's just solid," veteran teammate Tony Parker analyzed this week. "The way he makes decisions, the way he plays, you feel like you can trust him."
Likewise, Melton had five games of G-League experience at the start of his pro career earlier this season after sitting out last year as part of a national recruiting scandal that affected his status at Southern Cal.
And like Graham, he quickly has regained prominence, becoming a starter in just his ninth game for the Suns on Dec. 7, a spot he has retained ever since.
Within a five-game stretch, he demonstrated his versatility with a season-high 21 points against Sacramento, a season-high eight assists against the Los Angeles Clippers and a season-high seven rebounds against San Antonio.Booker has become a big fan.
"The point guard position, I'd say, is the toughest, especially in the Western Conference," Booker insisted recently. "Every night, you're matching up against a top player in the NBA. His ability to defend, his length, to keep his composure and not getting starstruck or anything like that ... He's not scared of anybody."
Melton has shot 50 percent and averaged 8.5 points in his last two games.
The college standouts never met during their days at Kansas and USC, respectively. Graham played four seasons for the Jayhawks, while Melton suited up for just one for the Trojans before being denied last season.
Chances are they'll become quite acquainted in the next two weeks. After their meeting Sunday in Phoenix, the clubs will hook up again in Charlotte in two weeks.
The Suns will take a five-game losing streak into Sunday's game, with all five losses having come at the start of a seven-game homestand that ends Tuesday against Sacramento.
Updated January 5, 2019