Grant ready to take next step in Pistons restoration – ‘His confidence is at an all-time high’
Stephen Gosling (NBAE/Getty)
Jerami Grant came to Detroit for the opportunity to be a leading man. It speaks to the success of his quest that he put up 19 points in half a game on 13 shots in a preseason-opening Pistons win and wasn’t the center of postgame attention. Jerami Grant had another star turn? Ho-hum.
“And we’re not running all of our stuff for him,” Dwane Casey said Wednesday after the 115-105 win over San Antonio. “That was good to see. A lot of it was improvised. Most of our automatic stuff going to him, we haven’t gotten in yet. He let the game come to him.”
When it ended, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich – with five NBA titles on his resume and a mere 26 wins from passing Don Nelson’s league record of 1,335 career coaching victories – wrapped Grant in a hug for being part of the United States Olympic team.
The gold medal that Grant took home from Tokyo – an achievement that Popovich called the highlight of his gilded career – is a bauble he’s convinced wouldn’t be his without the decision to leave Denver for Detroit as a free agent last December.
“No, not at all,” he said of the likelihood of being invited to the Olympic team without having cast his lot with the Pistons. “My decision to come to Detroit and showcase the talents I hadn’t been able to showcase before, definitely.”
The Pistons are a very different team today than the one Grant joined, getting even younger and putting a greater burden on his shoulders. Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose were the unquestioned headliners when Grant arrived, but by season’s end both were gone and Grant had made a serious push for an All-Star berth, finishing his first season in Detroit averaging 22.3 points – nearly double his previous career best of 12.0 – in 34 minutes a game. His usage rate jumped from 18.0 in Denver the previous season to 28.5 with the Pistons without a corresponding spike in turnover rate, going from 8.0 to 9.1
Grant’s bold move to leave a Western Conference finalist for a rebuilding team was a bet not just on himself but also on the ability of Pistons general manager Troy Weaver, a confidant dating to Grant’s days on the AAU circuit in Weaver’s Washington, D.C.-area stomping grounds, to successfully oversee the restoration of the Pistons. Weaver has surrounded Grant with a dazzling array of young talent led by second-year starters Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey plus rookie Cade Cunningham, the first overall No. 1 pick landed by the Pistons in 51 years.
In due time, the Pistons expect all of those players to emerge as stars in their own right. For now, they’ll orbit Grant’s sun.
“He’s still going to be a high usage guy for us. He’s going to be our primary scorer, our go-to scorer,” Casey said. “It’s an opportunity for him to take the next step. I see taking the next step as providing winning plays, which he will.”
Grant, 27, is ready to spread his wings as a leader in a starting lineup that will feature three 20-year-olds and Bey, 22.
“Definitely,” he said. “I’ve got to play that leadership role, grow into that. Especially with this young team we have. We also have other vets who can help out. I’m kind of in the middle in terms of not too old, not too young.”
By NBA experience, 10-year veteran Cory Joseph is the senior Piston now, one of three 30-year-olds on the roster in addition to Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder. Joseph sees a different Grant after a season as his team’s No. 1 option followed by his Olympic experience.
“His confidence is at an all-time high,” Joseph said. “He’s got a championship at the Olympics, which is amazing, and he’s the leader of our team. He’s a go-to guy.”
“It was a great experience for me,” Grant said of his stint as an Olympian. “Being able to be there with players of that caliber, of that talent, to watch them work. I definitely took a lot of pointers from that and put them in my game after that. Looking forward to showing some things I learned.”
Grant fits Weaver’s profile of what he looks for in players on a few levels, from standpoints of both athleticism and character. Casey is convinced there’s another level for Grant to come, which goes to the potential – and the makeup to maximize it – Weaver saw where few others did.
“I always want to improve on a little bit of everything,” Grant said. “After last season, seeing where I had the ball, I worked on my ballhandling a lot, playmaking, rebounding and shooting – a little bit of everything. At the same time, reading the game. The experience of last year and the experience of this summer will definitely help me this year.”