Denver Nuggets Season Preview: What Jerami Grant will add to the team
Throughout the summer, the narrative surrounding the Denver Nuggets was continuity. With the team returning the entirety of its playoff rotation, there is an expectation that it will be internal player development that will take Denver to the next level.
However, that does a disservice to the acquisition of Jerami Grant, a versatile, 25-year-old forward that projects to fit in extremely well on both ends of the floor in Denver. After trading a 2020 protected first-round pick to acquire Grant, the Nuggets have added another dynamic piece to their bench unit and defense.
“Jerami is a guy that we feel can only strengthen that identity on the defensive end of the floor,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after a training camp 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.”
Defense is Grant’s calling card and he is more than aware of that. After fighting to carve out consistent minutes early in his career, the former second-round pick established himself as a defensive specialist before he turned to ironing out other aspects of his game.
“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.”
Grant’s size (6’9”) and wingspan (7’3”) make him an active defender in the passing lanes and an impressive shot-blocker from the forward position. While Denver doesn’t have a truly elite rim protector on the roster, Grant projects to add to the committee approach that Denver has going with players such as Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee.
“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.
The advanced metrics painted a rosy picture of Grant’s defense. Grant posted strong defensive metrics last season (+0.9 defensive box plus-minus and +0.86 defensive real plus-minus), while Oklahoma City’s defense improved by 1.6 points per 100 possessions when Grant was on the floor.
Grant’s ability to switch and guard opposing perimeter players will make Denver’s defense more versatile and could perhaps open up more opportunities to switch on that end of the floor. When Malone needs a crucial stop late in a game, he will know have Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Grant and Millsap available at his disposal, which should help the Nuggets in their quest to once again improve defensively.
However, Grant isn’t just a defensive specialist. The area that Grant should help Denver in is 3-point shooting, although there are still some question marks in that aspect of his game.
The 25-year-old forward connected on just 27.6 percent of his 3-pointers during his first two-plus seasons with the 76ers. However, since joining Oklahoma City, Grant has shot 36.8 percent from deep, including 39.2 percent last season on a career-high 3.7 attempts per game. With Grant being a very dependent offensive player (99.1 percent of his 3-pointers came off an assist from a teammate last season), playing alongside quality frontcourt passers such as Nikola Jokić, Millsap and Mason Plumlee should serve him well.
Also, there is more to Grant’s offensive game than what has been revealed so far in his career. Oklahoma City’s offense was predicated on isolation plays, which often reduced Grant to be an off-ball shooter standing in the corners.
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.”
Finally, Grant’s addition projects to be a smooth transition as a result of Denver’s focus on culture and the 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.”
While many teams in the Western Conference added star players in the offseason, Denver’s acquisition of Grant may prove to be the missing piece in the playoff puzzle for the Nuggets.