By Sam Perley
It's a couple hours before the start of a Dec. 22 road game in Milwaukee and second-year Hornets forward Treveon Graham is running wind sprints up and down the green-and-white court of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
He's attempting to loosen up his lower back a bit, which has forced him to miss the previous two outings because of reoccurring spasms. A short while later, Stephen Silas - the team's acting head coach at the time - pulls him aside to gage his physical wellbeing for that night's contest.
"No, I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready yet, but I'll be ready," said Graham after feeling his back wasn't quite where it needed to be. "Tomorrow. I promise," he insisted.
Roughly 24 hours later, Graham had just finished putting together a career-high 14-point performance, helping the Hornets rally from 18 points down to beat the Bucks back in Charlotte.
"That's just him. He's just one of those guys who's always, always ready," said Silas after the game.
Readiness. It's a term that has been synonymous with Graham from high school, college, the G League and now the NBA. Injuries like the one he recently experienced are inevitable, but they do little to curb Graham's tireless preparations regardless of his playing status.
"When you are in the position that he's in where you're not getting time on the court or you're sitting out games, you have to be a good listener to be effective in the games and that's him," said Silas.
He added, "He listens during the huddle, practice time, shootaround time when he's over on the side. That's a special talent because a lot of guys don't have that same focus at those times. Whether it's a timeout, a shootaround or a practice, he has the ability to do that and carry it over to the game and not make any mistakes."
Since returning from the aforementioned three-game absence, Graham is averaging 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds over 17.4 minutes in 18 games, while also shooting 48.3 percent from three-point range. He recently matched that 14-point outing in a road win over the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 31, after taking advantage of an injury to starting forward, Marvin Williams.
"He was great. We really needed it and it was at both ends of the floor. He was really, really good. Really good," said Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford following Graham's big night in Atlanta.
While his numbers don't explode off the page, Graham has become a master of the intangibles. He's built a reputation of playing "mistake-free basketball," as evidenced by his 1.1 turnovers per 36 minutes (T-3rd on the team).
Not necessarily a high-volume shooter either based on his playing time, Graham's knocked down 46.7 percent of his three-point attempts since the start of last season. That conversion rate is the second-highest mark of any player in the league with at least 75 long-distance shots during this time frame (Pau Gasol; 48.2 percent).
The biggest benefit of having Graham on the roster is undoubtedly his overall positional versatility. During his four years at Virginia Commonwealth University, then Head Coach Shaka Smart utilized him everywhere on the floor. It's a skill that has certainly carried over to the NBA.
"Ever since I got to VCU, they asked me to basically know all the positions, so that really helped me when I got [to Charlotte]," says Graham. "I knew already how to watch different positions, know what to do and kind of jump into whatever position they put me in. I think VCU really helped me in that situation."
Graham has spent the majority of his time on the floor this season at small forward (69 percent), while also playing some shooting guard (24 percent) and power forward (8 percent). No other player on the Hornets roster has percentages as high as these across three separate positions on the floor as Graham does.
It was also at the Richmond, VA school where Graham picked up the nickname "Freight Train," a moniker first designated to him by best friend and former college/Charlotte teammate, Briante Weber.
"One time I ran over a couple players at practice and [Briante's] been calling me Freight Train ever since. It kind of stuck to me over the years and I still use it. It was one of my first practices [at VCU]. I had a lot of energy and just ran over a couple players, but I've calmed down from there. [It comes from] the way I play, the energy I play, how hard I play. That's where I got it from."
The nickname certainly does seem to embody characteristics Graham has had for years: resiliency, toughness and determination. Gifted mentally just as much as he is physically (6'6" and nearly 220 pounds), not much has been able to slow down the Freight Train lately.