COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Fitting in can be hard. Sure, gone are the days of high school cliques roaming through the hallways, but even in the NBA, a sudden offseason trade can drastically alter a player’s career. Relationships are formed and routines are built, but all of that changes as a player enters a new locker room.
For Jerami Grant, his transition with the Nuggets has proved to be seamless throughout the early stages of training camp. “Everybody's been accommodating,” Grant said following his first practice on Monday. “Guys have been teaching me the plays and about the organization in general.”
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was quick to point out on Media Day that Grant has already been an ideal addition to the locker room. “Just getting to know Jerami and seeing how he has bonded with his teammates, it's a seamless fit into our culture and into our locker room.”
“He's a guy who we targeted because of his impact on our culture,” Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly said Monday. “I think he's a seamless fit. We've been very fortunate to have guys come into our program under Mo (coach Malone) and the staff and they've grown, and I think Jerami fits that to a T.”
After spending three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Grant joins the Nuggets as an uber-athletic, versatile forward that can contribute on both ends of the floor. The 25-year-old posted career highs in several statistical categories last season, including points per game (13.6), rebounds per game (5.2), 3-point shooting (39.2 percent) and win shares (7.3).
Grant is certainly best known for his defensive abilities. Whether it is using his long wingspan to disrupt the passing lanes or his explosive jumping ability to block shots around the rim, Denver added an extremely versatile piece to the frontcourt.
“The versatility, the shot blocking, that guy (Grant) is one of the quicker jumpers that I've seen,” Malone added when asked about Grant’s addition to the team’s defense.
Grant is aware that he excels on the defensive end of the floor and is looking to provide another boost to Denver’s defense, which made significant strides during the 2018-19 season. “Yeah, I would say defense is the strength of my game,” Grant said at Media Day. “I think that was the reason why I got into the league and now I’ve been trying to expand my game from that. I definitely think to be a great team you need to have a great defense.”
On Tuesday, Grant spoke to Nuggets.com about his first training camp with the Nuggets and the transition he has experienced as he adjusts to Denver’s unique style of play. After spending several seasons alongside players such as Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Grant is now in a free-flowing offense that emphasizes player and ball movement.
Consider the fact that Oklahoma City’s offense was set up to emphasize Westbrook and George’s scoring brilliance last season. The Thunder finished second in the league in the frequency of isolations and were dead last in passes made per game (242.4).
Denver’s offense couldn’t be more different. The Nuggets ranked 25th in the league in the frequency of isolations and were fifth in the league in passes per game (312.5). The structure of Denver’s free-flowing offense encourages players to not hold the ball and ensures that the ball keeps moving, thus opening up more opportunities for a player like Grant.
“I’m extremely excited to play in an offense like this,” Grant added on Media Day. “You never know who's going to get the ball but I've definitely seen that they make the game easy for everybody in the offense.”
“He's good. Sometimes he surprised me how athletic he is,” Nikola Jokić said following practice on Tuesday. “He is shooting the ball really well right now. If he plays like he did last year in OKC, I think he's going to be really good.”
Although Grant projects to come off the bench behind Paul Millsap, he has already benefitted from having the 14-year veteran as a teammate. “We’ve definitely been talking,” Grant told Nuggets.com. “Just been figuring it out and watching a lot of film. SAP (Millsap) has been showing me the ins and outs, where to cut, where to space out and things like that. So I'm just getting used to it now.”
However, while Grant’s offensive game is an ideal fit on the Nuggets, his main contributions will be on the defensive end of the floor. Standing in at 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan, he has the length and mobility to guard nearly every position on the floor. That size and skill set is what can take Denver’s defense to the next level, and Malone is more than aware of that.
“Jerami is a guy that we feel can only strengthen that identity on the defensive end of the floor,” Malone said after Tuesday’s practice. “Jerami’s versatility, his athleticism, his length, and I know I said it yesterday, but his ability to get off the floor quickly is remarkable. He is a rim protector. He's a shot blocker. I think he understands, in Oklahoma City they played really good defense. So Jerami understands what helps you win games. He understands that that's a big part of our identity here in Denver. And he's all in.”
When Denver needs a defensive stop in crunch time, Malone will now have the ability to throw out Grant alongside Gary Harris, Millsap and even Torrey Craig, forming a versatile and active defensive lineup. Given the focus on defenders that can guard multiple positions in today’s NBA, the Nuggets added one of the most versatile wing stoppers in the league.
“The sky is the limit,” Grant told Nuggets.com when asked about the potential of the team’s defense. “We have a bunch of different and versatile pieces that can guard multiple positions and I think especially in today's NBA, that will go a long way.”