2020-21 Rewind: Grant’s breakout season ends with him as a Most Improved Player finalist

Perhaps no contract struck in the opening hours of free agency last November hiked eyebrows higher than the one the Pistons and Jerami Grant agreed to sign calling for a reported $60 million over three years. A few months later, the fact Grant was the object of contenders’ trade overtures said everything about the way perspective had swung.

Grant, named last week as one of three finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, had the best season of his seven-year NBA career. He averaged career highs in points and minutes per game while functioning for the first time as his team’s primary scoring option.

Here’s a look at Grant’s 2021-22 season:

PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward/27 years old/7 NBA seasons2020-21 STATS: 22.3 points, 4.6 assists on .350 3-point shootingSTATUS: Grant has two years remaining on a reported three-year, $60 million contract

DID YOU KNOW?: Grant’s father, Harvey, spent 11 seasons in the NBA and his uncle Horace, twin brother of Harvey, was a 17-year veteran whose career began with the Chicago Bulls in 1987 when the Pistons were still trying to overcome the Boston Celtics to get out of the Eastern Conference. The Pistons eliminated Michael Jordan, Grant and the Bulls from the playoffs in each of Grant’s first three seasons – in five, six and seven games – before the Bulls won in 1991 on the way to their first NBA title. Jerami’s older brother, Jerian, played five seasons in the NBA, most recently with Washington in 2019-20.

A LOOK BACK: Grant spent two seasons at Syracuse, landing with the Orange on the recommendation of Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, who served as an assistant coach to Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim during the Carmelo Anthony era and was familiar with Grant from their shared Washington, D.C., roots and Weaver’s connections to the AAU scene there. Grant was the consensus No. 41 recruit, a four-star, and was a rotation player as a freshman, averaging 14 minutes a game for a veteran team that went 30-10 and lost to Michigan in the national semifinals. As a sophomore, Grant became a mainstay on a team that went 28-6 but was upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by Dayton. Grant averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a game and declared for the NBA draft. He went 39th overall to Philadelphia in the 2014 draft. The 76ers went 18-64 in Grant’s rookie season while the No. 3 overall pick, Joel Embiid, sat out with a foot injury. Grant started 52 games for Philadelphia as a second-year player and was traded just two games into his third season to Oklahoma City for Ersan Ilyasova and a 2020 No. 1 pick that Philadelphia used to draft Tyrese Maxey last November. After coming off the bench in his first two seasons in Oklahoma City, Grant moved into the starting lineup in 2018-19 and averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in 33 minutes a game while emerging as a 39 percent 3-point shooter. Prior to the 2019-20 season, Grant was traded to Denver – again for a first-round pick – where he averaged 12.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 39 percent in 27 minutes a game on a team that lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

THIS SEASON THAT WAS: Grant smashed his previous career high in scoring (22.3 points per game) while playing a radically different role than he’d ever been required to fill – as his team’s No. 1 offensive option. That was reflected in Grant’s usage rate – the ratio of percentages that feature a certain player while he’s on the floor – jumping from 18 percent with Denver to 28.5 with the Pistons. While Grant acclimated to the expanded responsibility better than anyone this side of Troy Weaver could have anticipated, the physical toll of shouldering so much of the offensive load – while also maintaining a significant defensive presence – began to tell on Grant’s efficiency. Grant’s shooting percentages and rebounding declined in the second half from the first half and his turnovers ticked up slightly, though Grant’s turnover rate of 9.1 barely rose from his season in Denver (8.0) despite a much broader role with the Pistons.

A LOOK AHEAD: Grant said he’ll tailor his off-season workout program toward making strength gains so he’s better able to withstand the rigors of being a No. 1 option. With anticipated gains from the young players who figure to be his most significant teammates in the two seasons ahead – the four rookie draft choices and handful of other second- and third-year players – the Pistons should have a more diversified offense that will enable them to scale back the onus placed on Grant. Dwane Casey is emphatic when he says Grant, at 27, still has plenty of growth potential ahead by getting stronger and learning from experience to become a more potent playmaker when defenses commit more than one defender to cutting off his rim attacks.

MONEY QUOTE: “He’s a genuine, humble, hungry, driven person. He’s a great young man. He wants to be one of the best in the league. He’s more and then some than what I expected as far as a scorer. I know he’s not a finished product. He can be a great 3-point shooter – not just a good 3-point shooter. He can grow in that area. Getting his body to take the beating and the bumps and the falls is another area he can improve in. But he is what I expected and then some because of the kind of young man he is.” – Dwane Casey speaking of Jerami Grant during the 2020-21 season