‘I’d do the same thing over and over’ – Jump to Pistons a leap of faith Grant would take again
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
If he had it to do all over again … well, Jerami Grant would do it all over again.
“Between me and Troy, there’s a lot of trust. Between me and this organization, there’s a lot of trust,” said Grant, who raised eyebrows across the NBA by departing Denver, fresh off an appearance in the 2020 Western Conference finals, for a rebuilding Pistons franchise. “There’s a lot of trust. I’m happy with my decision. I wouldn’t change. I’d go back and do the same thing over and over.”
It was the boldest move of a host of them Troy Weaver made in a dizzying week of trades, drafting and free-agent acquisitions in November. The first-year Pistons general manager, though, knew exactly what he was getting in Grant.
It was Weaver who recommended Grant to Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, under whom he served as an assistant coach during the Carmelo Anthony – another Weaver recommendation that worked out OK – run to the 2003 NCAA title. And it was Weaver who, as part of Oklahoma City’s front office, acquired Grant from Philadelphia and gave him the broader role that Weaver believed he was ready to fill.
So when Weaver zeroed in on Grant as the biggest splash in a roster makeover that resembled a tsunami, it didn’t take much arm twisting to convince Dwane Casey of the merits of bringing in what Casey calls a “prototypical power three – a prototypical new-age power forward.”
Casey saw what Weaver saw – an incredibly limber, lithe, 6-foot-8 athlete who could defend all 94 feet and knock down threes. There was enough evidence of an off-the-bounce game for Casey to imagine Grant growing into a player who’d be a priority on opposition scouting reports. But you never know what you don’t know about a player until you coach him through the ups and downs of the marathon that is an NBA season.
“You get to know him as a person. He’s a genuine, humble, hungry, driven person,” Casey said. “He’s a great young man. He wants to be one of the best in the league. He’s more and then some what I expected as far as a scorer and a guy who has the ability to score in this league.”
In his seventh season, Grant is averaging 22.5 points – nearly double the 12.0 from last season in Denver – and 34 minutes a game. He was on the fringe of being selected for the All-Star game and will be a contender for Most Improved Player. And Casey thinks there’s more to come.
“I know he’s not a finished product,” he said. “He can grow in a lot of areas. His 3-point shooting – he can be a great 3-point shooter. He’s already pretty good in that area. Getting his body to take the beating and the bumps and the falls is another area he can improve in.”
There have been signs after a torrid first half of the season of Grant wearing down a little and that’s an area he plans to address in the off-season. Casey calls it the need to put “a bigger motor in that car as far as being able to go harder, longer and take the bumps and grinds a defense gives you.”
Grant’s 34 minutes a game aren’t a huge leap from his previous career high of nearly 33 he logged two years ago in Oklahoma City, but that was Russell Westbrook’s team and Grant wasn’t asked to do more than take on the toughest wing defensive assignment and hit open threes. He took 10 shots a game that season compared to 17 with the Pistons, many of them taken after driving through the teeth of the defense to meet with resistance at the rim – an incredibly taxing endeavor.
“I’ve learned how defenses will play me. I’ve learned a lot of things I need to do to keep my body healthy throughout the season,” Grant said. “It’s been the most minutes and it’s been the most load that I’ve been playing in terms of what I’m doing on the court on both ends. There’s a lot of things I want to work on going into the summer so I can come back and be better next year.”
Part of being better? Becoming a more forceful leader. The team Grant signed on with had Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, both of immense stature within the game and the respect of their peers that their status conferred. Weaver and Casey took great care in their choice of complementary veterans to surround all the young players – 11 of them 24 or younger – in the Pistons locker room. Wayne Ellington, Mason Plumlee and Rodney McGruder are all exemplary teammates and the March addition of Cory Joseph enhanced the room.
But Grant, who turned 27 in March and signed a three-year contract in November, understands that leadership is part of the deal when so much of team success is tied to your performance.
“Getting more comfortable as the season’s been going on,” Grant said. “Still got a lot of growing to do in that area, but I think I’m getting into position where it’s becoming a lot easier, becoming a lot more natural for me. I’m excited to keep growing in that area.”
Casey’s open to that area of growth, too, but he’s content with the example Grant provides – going from a second-round pick to the player he’s become and still striving to improve, still grinding through every day with a professional focus – to all the players hoping their careers can unfold similarly.
“Jerami is quiet, but he does speak his mind to the rookies,” he said. “He did today in practice. He’s been a leader. They can look at his journey. Jerami came into Philadelphia unheralded, but he’s continued to work, continued to believe in himself, to bet on himself. And now, lo and behold, he’s in the talk for All-Star games, Most Improved – because he put the work in and he believes in himself. He’s a living example of what you can do if you’re serious about your work and you believe in yourself.”
And if he had it to do all over again … well, Dwane Casey would double down, too, just as Jerami Grant would.
“He is what I expected and then some,” Casey said, “because of the kind of young man he is.”