No one is better qualified than Draymond Green to speak to the meaning of Jerami Grant’s inclusion to the basketball world’s most exclusive club – a member on the United States Olympic team.
“I think the growth in his game has been incredible,” said Green, the only second-round pick besides Grant among Team USA members training in Las Vegas this week for the Tokyo Olympics. “I still remember the days in Philly, the scouting report being, ‘He’s downhill; he’s Euro-stepping every time’ and playing off him, giving him the shot. To watch his journey, he’s one of ‘the guys’ in the NBA now – All-Star, just an incredible year.”
Grant finished second in NBA Most Improved Player balloting for the 2020-21 season, his first since taking the leap of faith – in himself and in the Pistons – to come to Detroit in free agency and leave behind a Denver team that played in the 2020 conference finals. Grant upped his scoring average from 12.0 to 22.3, transitioning admirably from role player to go-to guy on a Pistons team that was unfailingly competitive despite fielding a young roster that had precious little continuity from past seasons.
“I was blessed. When I got the call, it was an honor,” Grant said of his inclusion to the Olympic team, the ultimate sign of respect from coaches and his peers. “I love to play the game. That’s why I’m here. And I was excited. I told my family – everybody was excited for me.”
According to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, two of Team USA’s biggest stars made the case to include Grant on the roster that will begin its pre-Olympics schedule on Saturday night against Nigeria.
“A factor in the choice was (Kevin) Durant and (Damian) Lillard lobbying (coach Gregg) Popovich on Grant’s behalf, sources said,” Windhorst wrote last month.
Green, a member of the 2016 gold medal-winning United States team in Brazil, was the 35th pick in the 2012 draft, two years before Grant went 39th after leaving Syracuse following his sophomore season. A third second-round pick, ex-Piston Khris Middleton, went four picks after Green in 2012. He’ll join the Olympics team after the NBA Finals where he’s playing for the Milwaukee Bucks against Phoenix.
Green also can speak to joining a star-studded team and being valued for his versatility and defensive impact, factors that elevated Grant to consideration for the Olympics roster.
“Coming out here, it’s very easy – especially for a guy like Jerami, who hasn’t been at that level for as long as a Kevin Durant, for as long as a Damian Lillard – to come in and take a back seat to those guys. He’s come in and is playing extremely aggressive, playing with extreme energy. He’s going to be a huge part of us winning the gold.”
Popovich, who’s coached San Antonio to five NBA titles and is 25 wins from catching Don Nelson for most wins in league history, knows a thing or two about piecing together winning rosters and sees in Grant the qualities that make the task easier.
“I wanted him on this team because of his size and length, flexibility and versatility that he will give us – and the fact that he’s a competitor,” Popovich said. “He’s also willing to fill a role. I just told him today, he’s very coachable, aggressive, a good person – the right guy to have on a basketball team.”
Team USA will play five exhibition games in Las Vegas between Sunday and July 18 and then head to Tokyo to begin pool play July 25 against France. Olympics basketball play concludes on August 7.
“We’ve got a great group of guys and we’re learning real fast,” Grant said. “My role – I’m here, playing a lot of defense, hitting open shots, being aggressive when I get the opportunity. That’s my role – a lot of energy, doing what I need to do, whatever I need to do to get this gold.”