Denver Nuggets’ Jerami Grant impresses in matchup against Kawhi Leonard
The Denver Nuggets’ 2019 offseason wasn’t marked by splashy free-agent signings or blockbuster trades that interrupted SportsCenter. Denver opted for low-key additions that made sense on and off the court. Jerami Grant, a lengthy forward that enjoyed a breakout 2018-19 campaign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, was the most notable addition.
Grant built a reputation for being a versatile defender that can guard multiple positions and defend the rim all while being an above-average 3-point shooter and athletic finisher around the rim. The 25-year-old forward needed time to adjust to Denver’s free-flowing offensive system and aggressive defensive schemes but has looked more at home in recent weeks.
Sunday, Nuggets fans were presented with an opportunity to see why the Nuggets were so high on acquiring Grant in the summer. Against the LA Clippers and Kawhi Leonard, Grant received an opportunity to matchup against one of the most dominant scorers in the NBA, and he was certainly up to the challenge.
When guarded directly by Grant on Sunday, Leonard shot 2 of 9 from the field (two of those misses were blocked by Grant) and committed two turnovers. This continued a trend from last season, as Grant held Leonard to 5-of-12 shooting from the field when he matched up against him as a member of the Thunder.
At 6-8, 210 Grant doesn’t look to overwhelm opponents with his physicality, but it is his length and 7’3” wingspan that can bother players. On Sunday, that certainly appeared to be the case as Leonard looked to get to his spots on the floor and raise up for his shot attempts.
In the first two plays below, Grant’s length allows him to get a good contest on Leonard’s shot. In the first play, Leonard is simply looking to raise up for a 3-pointer and while he can certainly knock down those shots at an above-average rate, Grant’s length allows him to get a hand in Leonard’s face despite not being completely ready for the shot attempt. On the second play, Grant recovers on Leonard’s drive and is in perfect position to contest Leonard’s fading jumper.
Grant’s length also bothered Leonard around the rim, as seen in the play below. Although the 2019 Finals MVP was able to get to the rim, watch how he must alter his layup attempt in order to avoid getting blocked by Grant, who has his arms up to contest the shot.
At the end of the first half, Leonard races down the court and gets a step on Grant, who picked him up after Leonard got past Denver’s initial press defense. For a quick second it appears that Leonard will have a dunk to close the half, but Grant’s wingspan once again comes into play and blocks the shot off the backboard to provide Denver with even more momentum going into the break.
The second half began with the same result, as Grant is able to recover against Leonard in the post and block his dunk attempt. Leonard initially uses an impressive spin move to get around Grant and drive baseline, but in what has become a staple of Grant’s defense over the years, he is still able to get the block as a result of his athleticism and long arms.
As we detailed in the latest edition of Nuggets Friday Film Study, Grant’s length has bothered some of the elite offensive players in the league in recent games. From Luka Doncic (Grant has held him to 2-of-5 shooting and three turnovers in direct matchups this season) to Leonard on Sunday, what’s clear is that if Denver is able to get past some of the elite teams in the Western Conference this spring, Grant will be a key cog in the team’s defensive success.