What Jerami Grant brings to the Denver Nuggets

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The first week of 2019 free agency created chaos around the NBA. Players such as Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant all found new teams while role players continued to look for the best landing spots for their talents. After staying quiet last week, the Denver Nuggets have made a significant addition to their squad in the form of Jerami Grant, a versatile forward that comes to them from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a 2020 first-round draft pick.

"I think the Denver Nuggets got a lot better," Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. "I think he's going to fit seamlessly into our culture."

Denver traded its 2020 first-round pick to Oklahoma City in exchange for Grant, who instantly provides defense and athleticism to the Nuggets’ rotation. Grant is coming off of the best season of his five-year career. In 2018-19, he started 77 games and averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest. In fact, Grant was one of just two players to average at least 13 points, five rebounds and one block per game while connecting on at least 39 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.

Grant’s offensive game

After developing into a strong defensive player during his first two years in the league with the Philadelphia 76ers, he was traded to the Thunder early on in the 2016-17 season and began to receive more playing time as he ironed out other aspects of his game. The most significant element of Grant’s 2018-19 campaign is the marked improvement he made from beyond the arc.

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. Grant is a dependent offensive player, with 99.1 percent of his 3-pointers coming off an assist from a teammate. Given that he will be the beneficiary of playing alongside Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris (among others), his 39.7 percent shooting on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers will be the perfect addition to Denver’s offense.

Three-point shooting isn’t the only thing Grant brings to the table offensively. He is also a strong finisher around the rim, having shot 67.6 percent from within three feet of the rim over the past three seasons. Nearly 46 percent of his shot attempts came from that area of the floor during that time span, as Grant typically avoids mid-range jumpers. Although his offensive game isn’t exactly flashy, as seen in the above video, he certainly gets up for alley-oops and poster dunks that will regularly energize the Nuggets’ crowd.

While Grant likely won’t be bringing the ball down the court or initiating pick-and-rolls, he understands the importance of knocking down open 3-pointers and finishing around the rim. Given the emphasis on cutting to the basket or spacing the floor within Denver’s offense, Grant should be an excellent fit as an off-ball player.

Defense is where Grant shines

Grant’s offensive game is an ideal fit on the Nuggets, but 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. 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.

His length and wingspan allow him to be active in the passing lanes and block shots around the rim. Last season, the former second-round pick averaged 0.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, which is similar to Paul Millsap, who averaged 1.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.

Grant is able to wreak havoc on unsuspecting guards driving to the rim, as he can use his wingspan to get his hand on the ball even when he’s not in an ideal defensive position.

When Denver needs a defensive stop in crunch time, Malone will now have the ability to throw out Grant alongside Harris and Millsap, forming a versatile and active defensive trio. Given the focus on defenders that can guard multiple positions in today’s NBA, the Nuggets just added one of the most versatile wing stoppers in the league. Although his role and playing time could decrease from last season, Grant can excel in man-to-man defense against opposing guards and wings, yet can also contribute as an off-ball, team defender with his ability to cause turnovers and block shots.

For a Nuggets team that made major strides defensively last season (Denver jumped from 23rd to 10th in the league in defensive rating last season), it now has another defender to guard opposing wings and guards. With other teams in the Western Conference loading up in the offseason, Denver will need as many strong defenders as possible to keep up.

In Grant, the Nuggets are getting an impressive athlete that can defend multiple positions while supporting the offense by knocking down 3-pointers and finishing shots around the rim. For a squad that is returning their entire playoff rotation, adding a valuable supporting player such as Grant should serve the team well on both ends of the floor.

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