If there’s one number that clearly illustrates why Jerami Grant has become one of the Thunder’s most effective and efficient players, it’s this one: in 2015-16 with Philadelphia, Grant shot 47.7 percent on two-point field goals. Two seasons later, in 2017-18 with the Thunder, that number skyrocketed to 61.3 percent.
Over the past two years, with the help of the coaching staff in Oklahoma City, Grant has transformed himself from a lanky wing with some versatility into a focused, useful player with two clearly defined roles. In the same game, Grant slices through the lane as a roll man, finishing with dexterity around the rim as the team’s backup center, then in another moment serves as a perimeter-oriented forward, switching out to the top of the key to defend a guard.
The footwork, core development and lower body strength that Grant added to his game over the past 22 months since he joined the Thunder has paid massive dividends. The importance that improvement has made was clear this offseason, when Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and his staff inked Grant to a long-term contract on the very first day of free agency.
“We take a lot of pride in his development,” Presti said. “Jerami is such a great kid. The way he put the work in, he's progressed a little bit at a time.”
“They did just a great job of getting me better,” Grant said. “Obviously I had to put the time in, but they did a great job with just moving me forward.”
To be fair, some of Grant’s growth is just natural, and has come with physical maturation and added experience. He was just 22 years old when he joined the Thunder on November 1, 2016. Heading into his third year, he’s a 24-year-old with 6,621 minutes of regular season playing time in 303 professional games. Confident in his role and his abilities, Grant has earned the trust and formed bonds with team leaders like Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, along with Paul George, who also re-signed with the Thunder this offseason.
“I'm very, very proud of Jerami,” Westbrook said. “My relationship with him as grown since last year. I’m constantly staying on him about his aggressiveness, using his size and length.”
Watch: Jerami Grant Levels Up
With some players, the impact they make doesn’t always show up on the box score. With Grant, some of that nuance of the game isn’t necessary to make a compelling case. The difference in his game and the presence he creates for the Thunder smacks you right in the face when you look at the stat sheet. In 2017-18, Grant averaged 8.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting to go with 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in just 20.3 minutes per game. Per-36 minutes, those numbers are the best of his career, and his improvement in shooting accuracy from 46.3 percent in 2016-17 and 53.5 percent in 2017-18 was the ninth-biggest amongst all NBA players last season.
Despite coming off the bench and serving as a role player, Grant put his name in good company in the Thunder history books. Last season, Grant became just the fourth Thunder player to accumulate at least 1,000 points and 100 blocks in his first 150 games, the only player in Thunder history besides Serge Ibaka to log at least 600 points, 250 rebounds and 90 blocks in his first 100 games and the only player since he was drafted in 2014 to have at least 1,800 points and 300 blocks in less than 70 starts.
What makes Grant particularly special and valuable for the Thunder is his flexibility as a player. Last season, the former Syracuse University standout played primarily at center in the Thunder’s second unit. He worked the middle of the floor as a screener for Westbrook and fellow point guard Raymond Felton, then dove hard to the rim for difficult catch-and-finish plays at the bucket. Over 75 percent of Grant’s field goal attempts came from two-point range, including nearly 60 percent inside of three feet.
In late-game situations, Grant also became an excellent glue piece to match with the Thunder’s other long, switchy athletes on the floor like Westbrook, Adams, George and Andre Roberson. Playing along the perimeter more in those groups, Grant provided fantastic on-ball defense with his wingspan and quickness, while also some weakside help as a shot blocker.
“He's become a pretty effective back up five for us, with some unique skills,” Presti noted. “Jerami fortunately can play a couple different positions, so that's helped him a great deal.”
“When we went with Jerami at the 5, it was a totally new position, and I give him a lot of credit that he really flourished in that role,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “It speaks to his ability, his talent, and his intelligence as a player, that he can play so many different positions and understand assignments on both ends of the floor.”
It remains to be seen where exactly Grant will land in the Thunder’s rotation this year, especially with the addition of a handful of new perimeter players. There’s a spot available at starting power forward, but the options Grant provides Donovan in a reserve role cannot be overlooked. With the addition of Nerlens Noel, Dennis Schröder, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Abdel Nader and Hamidou Diallo, the Thunder’s second unit is poised to be fast, agile and high-energy, and Grant would only enhance that group.
One area where Grant must continue to refine his game, however, is with his jump shot. In 2016-17, he hit 37.1 percent of his three-point shots, a marked improvement from his first two seasons. Last year, that number regressed back to 29.1 percent. When called upon to play the wing, regardless of his other four teammates on the floor, Grant will have to capitalize on his catch and shoot opportunities. Heading into training camp in September, that will certainly be one of many areas of focus for the Thunder’s do-it-all Swiss Army Knife.
“My confidence comes from my work, so the more work I put in, the more confident I am on the court,” Grant added.