On Jerami Grant’s eye-popping run and what it says about a Pistons future on Troy Weaver’s watch

Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant’s transition to a No. 1 scoring option is fast validating Pistons general manager Troy Weaver’s faith in his ability to build a winner
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

There are general managers who go the term of their contracts without sticking their necks out as much as Troy Weaver did in the first week the NBA enabled him to shuffle the deck.

A lot of the timidity that marks the tenure of many NBA decision-makers boils down to self-preservation. If you don’t have a laundry list of transactions to judge, maybe you can make it to a second life-altering contract. This, ladies and gentlemen, was not a path Troy Weaver chose to trod for his first go-around as an NBA general manager.

“When I was growing up, I don’t stick my toe in the pool. I jump in,” he said Thursday. “I sit in the front row on the roller coaster with my hands up. I’m not going to come in and be gun shy. My clip will be empty.”

The jury is always wise to remain out for at least a few years on draft picks – especially draft picks who come to the NBA as teens – but the early returns are already promising for Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Killian Hayes barely got his feet wet before a hip injury pushed any reasonable evaluation of him back indefinitely. Saben Lee’s fearlessness was on full display Wednesday when he attempted to dunk on the mountain known as Brook Lopez.

But the most consequential contract Weaver doled out is also turning out to be the very best reason Pistons fans should look to the future with enthusiasm. The decision to give Jerami Grant a reported $60 million over three years was among the most eyebrow-raising calls of the wild first night of free agency in November, but through the season’s first month it also looks like Weaver was two steps ahead of the field.

“Belief is the first step of success,” Weaver said about seeing in Grant more than the high-end role player he was for Denver. “Jerami and I had a great connection since he was a teenager. He believed in me; I believed in him. What he’s doing, to the rest of the world, may be a surprise. But not to myself. I’m excited that he took a chance on himself, took a chance on the Pistons. But, no, I’m not surprised at all, to be honest with you.”

Weaver came to the Pistons after carrying a decade-long reputation for possessing as keen an eye for scouting young talent as anyone in the NBA. The early traction Bey and Stewart have gotten in the NBA validates the perception. But Weaver will be all the more potent a front-office force if he can combine draft windfalls with free-agent gold strikes like Grant.

Grant has been nothing short of a revelation through his first 11 games. The raw numbers are striking enough: 24.8 points and 6.0 rebounds a game with above-average shooting – 38.5 percent from the 3-point arc – on high volume, 7.1 attempts a game.

But it goes a little beyond that. First, consider that Grant is new to this – being a No. 1 offensive weapon. For that matter, he’d be new to being a No. 2 or 3 option. In Denver last season, among players who logged 700 or more minutes, Grant was tied for seventh on the team – with Mason Plumlee – in usage rate at 18 percent.

He’s at 26 percent for the Pistons this season – a career high by a mile – and yet he’s averaging a meager 1.5 turnovers a game. Teams gladly live with a few squandered possessions a game at the hands of a scorer who gives you 20 a night – something Grant has done in every game except for his Pistons debut – and do it efficiently. Grant is doing it despite never having done it before and doing it without a corresponding spike in turnovers.

That’s truly remarkable.

“It’s unusual,” Dwane Casey said. “Especially when you make that transition from a semi-role player to a go-to guy. Kudos to Jerami. What we’re finding out is he’s very versatile. He can shoot the three, put the ball on the floor – the only thing we haven’t done with him so far is post up because of the spacing issues we have.”

In other words, when the Pistons are another year or so into their development and can put more shooting around Grant, the easier it will be for him to exploit matchups against smaller defenders when teams decide his off-the-dribble flair is too much for bigger opponents to handle.

“We’re not a finished product, but so far, so good,” Casey said about Weaver’s roster makeover. “Troy’s done an excellent job. A guy like Jerami, a lot of people said, why are they bringing him in and paying him so much money? Troy believed in him and definitely sold me on him – and didn’t have to do much selling. Our record doesn’t indicate it, but there’s a lot of good things going on and for the future.”

And what Grant’s early success says about Weaver is arguably more important for the Pistons’ future than what it says about Grant.

It hasn’t been as dramatic a win yet, but his call on Josh Jackson also looks prescient. Jackson was really good before spraining his ankle and showed flashes of regaining form in the second half of Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee.

Grant at 26 and Jackson at 23 both fit comfortably with a “retooling” team, the word Weaver prefers to “rebuilding.” Because rebuilding implies a longer timeline and as he proved more than anything else in his wild first week of November freedom, Weaver didn’t arrive with a five-year plan.

Not to imply he’s not thinking that far down the road or investing recklessly in a short-term future at the expense of a more distant one. It’s only meant that on the roller coaster that is a perfect metaphor for life as an NBA general manager, Troy Weaver insists on being in the front row, hands up.

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