Grant not only an example of player development, he’s still part of that process for Pistons
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Jerami Grant isn’t merely a shining example of the possibilities a robust player development regimen can provide the Pistons, he’s an active member of the club.
“He’s going through development, also,” Dwane Casey said of Grant, who’s more than doubled his scoring average over last season, going from 12.0 points per game to 24.3. “He’s developing into a role that he’s never had before. Just had that conversation with him. He’s going to a go-to guy, a closer at the end of games. It’s a huge role that takes a thought process.”
On the player-development continuum, Grant’s is at the far right end on a roster that features a large number of players – nine of them 23 or younger – closer to the far left end.
But seeing the leap Grant is making in his seventh NBA season at age 26 is a useful reminder of the essential need for patience – on the parts of both player and organization – as well as for the hard, smart work that effective player development demands.
Grant was transparent about his motivation to come to Detroit with the opportunity to move into a broader role front and center. Would he have doubled his scoring average in Denver where the focal points of the offense for a team that advanced to the Western Conference finals in the Orlando bubble were Jamaal Murray and Nikola Jokic? Probably not.
So, yeah, opportunity plays a role in Grant’s scoring spike – the largest in the NBA. But being prepared for that opportunity – the reason NBA teams sink considerable resources into player development programs – is every bit as critical.
“It’s definitely about opportunity, but at the same time, I put a lot of work in throughout the years,” Grant said. “I think I’m at the point in my career where I’m able to show it.”
There are no secrets in the NBA, so it didn’t take long for other teams to notice how central Grant had become to the Pistons offense. For the first time in weekend games against Houston and Philadelphia, Grant struggled to put the ball in the basket efficiently. When he scored 11 points in Saturday’s 114-110 loss to the 76ers, it was the first time since the season opener – a stretch of 14 straight games – that Grant didn’t both lead the Pistons in scoring and register more than 20 points.
“Teams are doing a few things,” Casey said. “We’ve got to recognize and see how we want to attack it. Each team is different. That’s the experience he’s going to see – different types of schemes, different defenses coming at him as a go-to guy. It’s a little different when you’re playing off of two dynamic scorers but now you are the guy.”
“Getting a lot more attention now,” Grant acknowledged. “They’re loading a lot more. I think I have to continue to grow as a player. Teammates are doing a great job of making it easier for me.”
Grant came to the NBA as a second-round draft pick, No. 40 overall, after spending two seasons at Syracuse, the first as a 14-minutes-a-game role player. By midway through his second season with Philadelphia, he’d shown enough to be traded for a first-round pick – to Oklahoma City, where now-Pistons general manager Troy Weaver was second in command. The same OKC front office then picked up a first-rounder from Denver prior to the 2019-20 season after changing course once Paul George and Russell Westbrook were dealt.
Along the way, Grant established himself as a premier defender and a maturing 3-point threat. In his fifth season, Grant became a full-time starter in Oklahoma City and averaged a career-high 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 39 percent from the 3-point arc in 33 minutes a game. Blessed with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, nimble lateral footwork, quick-twitch leaping ability and a first step that covers a lot of ground, Grant is a disruptive defender who’s now learned how to use those same tools to be a potent off-the-dribble scorer in addition to a dangerous perimeter shooter.
As those skills have been brought to bear, Casey finds himself exploring more ways to maximize their use.
“Different ways of getting the ball, different positions on the floor, different combinations working with him,” Casey said. “That’s huge for him. That’s a work in progress. It’s something that we’ll see as we go. He’s doing different things every game.”
Casey’s hope is that just as Grant’s reputation spreads among opponents, so it will among NBA officials. The Pistons would like to see Grant rewarded with a few more free throws, though his 6.1 free throws per game – converted at an 84.5 percent rate – is, again, more than double last year’s average of 2.8.
“I don’t really know what I’m allowed to say without being fined,” Grant said of not picking up as many foul calls for attacking the paint as desired. “Hopefully, we get some more calls.”
Grant didn’t get the call – not in time, at least – in Friday’s one-point loss to Houston. P.J. Tucker was called for a foul that a replay review showed came a fraction of a second after time had expired. The Pistons suspected Grant had been fouled before that, but the NBA’s Last 2-Minute Report said otherwise.
“He’ll get there with that,” Casey said. “He’s got to keep his confidence level up. Can’t get dejected because he got a few fouls that he didn’t get. Where we are in our growth process and where he is, he’s got to earn it.”
Grant’s managed to make the transition to first option without a corresponding spike in turnover rate remarkably well. Grant’s usage rate of 26.7 percent is up nearly 50 percent over last year’s 18 percent but his turnover rate has actually declined, coming in at a remarkably low 6.8 percent. Grant’s had only one game all season with more than three turnovers and none with more than four.
“The usage factor that he has and the amount of energy it takes to be that guy,” Casey said of the challenge Grant faces. “He’s finding that out. This is a process for him also to be that guy. He’s doing an excellent job of it.”