Joey and Stephen Graham may look identical, but their respective journeys so far in the NBA have had different paths. It’s taken both players four years to find their groove in the NBA, but it looks like they have found niches on their respective teams this season.
Heading into this season, both players had combined to play for six teams while playing in a combined 255 games. Stephen’s so unknown that when doing a Google search on his name you get more hits for the actor than you do the basketball player.
After both brothers have toiled in relative obscurity the past four seasons, this season it’s like we’re seeing different players as they have combined to play in 28 of their teams 42 games while playing prominent roles. So far this season Joey is averaging 6.6 points in 15.0 minutes of burn while Stephen is 30 minutes away from surpassing his total minutes played for all of last season.
Hardly stats that will get the attention of casual fans, but for fans of the Raptors it’s the kind of contributions they’ve been waiting to see for the past four years from Joey. For Pacers fans it’s the kind of steady play they need from their bench if they want to be successful this season.
For Stephen it’s not just a matter of getting minutes, it’s the fact that he’s earning the respect of his teammates and coaching staff.
“It helps a lot knowing that the coaches have a lot more confidence in me,” Stephen admitted to Hoops Addict when asked about being the first wing off the bench this season . “It puts me in a better position when my number is called to go out and play.”
Despite getting the respect from his head coach it’s clear Stephen has plenty of room to grow.
“I’m not sure in Joey or Stephen’s case that they’ve hit their groove,” a brutally honest O’Brien told Hoops Addict when asked if Stephen has found his groove this season. “It’s early in the season and I think Joey and Stephen would both admit their playing on teams that are sub-.500.”
Still, having a solid role on an NBA team is a far cry from where Stephen’s been the past few seasons. Indiana’s young wing has played on five teams – Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Portland and Indiana – yet he’s only suited up in 58 games. It’s the kind of resume that finds most players in Europe if they aren’t careful.
“I think it was a learning experience,” Stephen admitted sheepishly to Hoops Addict when asked how his first few years in the NBA has molded him into the player he is today “It’s definitely built up my character as a person and then as a player it’s pushed me harder and helped motivating me. Hopefully I’ve found a home in Indiana. It’s been pretty good so far and I hope to continue from here.”
Despite some hesitancy to herald Stephen or Joey as breakout stars this season, Pacers head coach was willing to concede that both players are currently playing a valuable role on their respective teams.
“I think given opportunities both Graham’s will score the basketball and do good things,” Pacers head coach O’Brien told Hoops Addict. “I think Stephen is a very good shooter and we need someone to space the court. Whether guys like the Graham’s stay in the lineup is not only about them scoring, it’s about them doing the other things like defending.”
While Stephen has been struggling to stick in the NBA, Joey has spent the past few seasons firmly entrenched in Sam Mitchell’s doghouse. Things had gotten so bad that Raptors fans would joke about whether “Good Joey” or “Bad Joey” would show up for games. He’s long been heralded as the king of Raptors practices but it’s been a source of wonder why he hasn’t been able to translate this into actual games. Turns out a coaching change may just be the thing to cure his lack of confidence as he’s scored in double figures in his last five games while averaging 12.4 points.
According to new Raptors head coach Jay Triano, the increased confidence is directly linked to his increased playing time.
“I think anytime Joey has had an extended chance to play minutes he’s always done well,” Triano explained to Hoops Addict. “When I think back to a couple years ago when (Jorge) Garbajosa broke his leg, Joey stepped in and had 15 great games where we won a bunch of them. I think it’s just a matter of routine, confidence and knowing when you’re going to get into the game.”
If you ask Joey, the change in confidence really isn’t a change. He’s always been confident, he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to show it.
“I’m always confident. If I come out and be aggressive then hit a couple of shots then of course my confidence will go through the roof. I just got to stay at it.”
Things have come so far for Graham this season that he’s heard the boos trickle down from the rafters earlier this season to having fans chant his name during a recent game against Atlanta.
While those cheers are partly in jest, the truth is both Joey and Stephen are having big impacts on their respective teams as both Indiana and Toronto rely heavily on their bench production to win games.
So far both teams have struggled early in the season due to tough schedules but if they continue to get solid contributions from their respective Grahams it might just be what they need to turn around their seasons.
Not bad for two fringe players who looked to be headed to Europe when this season started.
Photo Credit: ICON Sports Media