Long and limber at 6-foot-9, 210 pounds with a wingspan of over 7-feet, Jerami Grant all at once can slip through small creases of space on the floor and then a moment later flash open to take up wide swaths of the paint. He has quite the competition on this Thunder squad, but there’s a chance that Grant might get the highest marks on the team’s athleticism scales.
Heading into his second season with the Thunder, Grant will get a chance to get his feet under him a little more thanks to a full training camp with Head Coach Billy Donovan. A chance to integrate on the group during a month straight of practice was a privilege Grant wasn’t afforded last season when he was acquired in a trade just a week into the season. His fellow wing Andre Roberson called the trade a turning point early in the year for the Thunder.
Part of the reason why is Grant’s flexibility as a player, which helped the Thunder immensely when it came to choosing lineups, rotations and matchups.
“He's played anywhere from the small forward spot to the center spot for us. I love his versatility,” Donovan said. “He got more and more comfortable as the year went on. He shot the ball well from behind the three-point line. I think there is more to his game, and he can continue to get better. I'm encouraged with him.”
The other dynamic that Grant brings to the table for this Thunder squad heading into 2017-18 is some marksmanship from behind the three-point line. He wasn’t billed as a shooter coming out of Syracuse, but he’s steadily worked over the past three seasons to become efficient from behind the arc. Last season in 78 games with the Thunder he shot 37.7 percent from three overall, including 44.4 percent on corner threes. 55.3 percent of Grant’s three-point attempts came from the corners – already the best “bang-for-your-buck” shot locations in the game.
Those efficiency numbers were a significant step up from his first two years in the league.
“I think just being able to take good shots and having the players on this team to create for you makes it a lot easier to raise your percentage,” Grant noted.
With reigning MVP Russell Westbrook running things at the point guard position, fellow All-Star Paul George commanding extra attention and double teams, and Raymond Felton serving as a savvy leader in the second unit, Grant will get his fair share of catch-and-shoot chances this year.
The other most common way that Grant puts the ball in the net for the Thunder is what he’s most known for – his electrifying dunks. 15.2 percent of his shot attempts with the Thunder last season were dunk attempts, as he made 46 of the 48 (95.8 percent) he tried to throw down. That was the highest on the team amongst players who tried 25-or-more dunks. Grant’s breathtaking leaping ability and go-go-gadget reach help him put the ball in the rim, which always brought the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd to their feet.
Many of Grant’s rim-rocking jams came in transition, as the low man along the baseline at the dunker spot, or as a part of a backdoor alley-oop while defenders slept. At just 23 years old, Grant knows that he can still develop more ways to generate easy scoring chances – for himself and his teammates.
“Being able to play in the pick-and-roll as a screener,” Grant pinpointed. “That’s definitely something I will work on this summer.”
When he entered the NBA, Grant was looked at as a small forward – the size profile, length, quickness and athleticism are a natural fit at the position. But Grant’s abilities are more dynamic than that – certainly to Donovan who sees him as a hybrid player because of his ability to play the power forward and even the center spots when called upon offensively and defensively.
In one of those frontcourt spots, Grant’s ability to screen and roll, or pop to the top of the key, can keep the defense honest. No one wants to see Grant flashing through the lane, available for a lob or an easy dunk. Using Grant as a stretch-four can open up even more space on the floor for Westbrook and George, who are impossible to guard one-on-one in space.
All this prologue has been about Grant’s offense. But what makes him truly a Swiss Army Knife for Donovan is his versatility on the defensive end. He can check those high scoring wings that come into town each night, take up space and recover out to stretch-four shooters, and throw his body around down low when teams play small.
For the Thunder’s purposes, especially as the league continues to trend to a pace-and-space style, Grant’s ability to be the last line of defense and block shots is a huge asset. At 1.8 blocks per-36 minutes, Grant swatted the most shots on the team last year amongst rotation players.
“There are certain times at the power forward spot he's got some advantages because one of his greatest strengths that probably people don't talk about is he's a terrific rim protector and great shot blocker,” Donovan explained. “Sometimes in those situations he could be a little closer to the basket at that power forward spot to protect the rim than at the small forward spot.”
Those will be the type of decisions and tradeoffs that Donovan will have to make with Grant all season. Where, when and how Grant can be used are decisions that can often be based on the nine other players on the floor. Much like Westbrook likes to read-and-react to the situations he’s presented with on the floor, Donovan can simply assess what’s needed, and throw Grant out there to play.