Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham met the NBA’s “starter criteria” on Sunday, ensuring that he’ll receive a higher qualifying offer if and when he reaches restricted free agency this summer.
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Typically, a player who will qualify for restricted free agency at season’s end can meet the starter criteria by starting at least 82 games (41 per year) in the two seasons before his contract ends. Because 2019/20 was a shortened season and 2020/21 will be too, the thresholds have been adjusted, as first reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Graham’s Hornets played 65 games last season and have a 72-game schedule this year, meaning he needed to surpass 68.5 total starts (34.25 per season) to meet the starter criteria. The 25-year-old started 53 games a year ago and has now started Charlotte’s first 16 games this season, good for a total of 69 and counting.
As a result of meeting the starter criteria, Graham’s qualifying offer in restricted free agency will now be worth $4,736,102 instead of $2,079,826. While he’s more likely to negotiate a multiyear deal, he could accept the one-year QO if he doesn’t like any offers on the table and/or wants to reach unrestricted free agency in 2022.
An in-season extension that keeps Graham off the 2021 free agent market altogether remains a possibility, though his slow start may dissuade the Hornets from aggressively pursuing a new deal for the time being.
Although he has been more productive within his last few games, Graham’s overall averages are down, from 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game last season to 13.4 PPG and 6.4 APG in the early going this year. He’s also struggling with his shot so far, making just 33.3% of his field goal attempts.
Graham is the second 2021 RFA-to-be to meet the starter criteria, joining Duncan Robinson. Lonzo Ball (nine more starts), Lauri Markkanen (10 more), and John Collins (13 more) are on track to meet the criteria in February, assuming they stay healthy. Jarrett Allen (five more starts) and Kendrick Nunn (seven more) are close too, but they’re currently coming off the bench for their respective teams.