Former Syracuse forward Jerami Grant has a chance to go from a role player to an all-star, a contributor to one of the NBA’s top scorers and a role model for the Detroit Pistons’ organization.
Grant’s emergence as a top 20 scorer and the face of a franchise has been one of the more remarkable stories in the NBA this season, and he is on pace for one of the biggest jumps in production in NBA history.
Grant averaged 12 points per game with the Denver Nuggets last season, playing a valuable role for one of the better teams in the Western Conference, one that advanced to the conference finals.
With the option of re-signing in Denver or joining the struggling Detroit Pistons for the same amount of money, Grant picked Detroit. Now he’s averaging 24.3 points per game, currently 16th in the NBA.
Most impressively, Grant has managed to double his scoring with minimal decreases in efficiency, a performance that makes him an early-season candidate to make his first NBA All-Star appearance and contend for the NBA’s most improved player award.
While Grant will certainly face a challenge maintaining this pace over the course of a full year, he appears headed for some rare company. Only nine players in NBA history have made a 12.3-point jump in back-to-back two full seasons (minimum 60 games), a list that includes Dale Ellis, Tony Campbell, C.J. McCollum, Orlando Woolridge, Jerry West, World B. Free, Bob McAdoo, Bob Kaufman and Cliff Hagan.
All of those players made their production leaps early in their careers, while Grant is in the middle of his seventh season, when you think a jump like this is beyond the reach of a player.
Since you might not have a ton of time to watch the Detroit Pistons, The Athletic’s James Edwards and Rod Beard, a long-time writer for The Detroit News, took some time to discuss just how Grant has made the leap at 26 years old and how he’s become the ideal role model for the Detroit Pistons.
Edwards: So the funny thing is, in the bubble, when he was playing really well against the Jazz, Clippers and Lakers (in the playoffs), I tweeted, ‘What’s the most you would pay for Jerami Grant?’ I think I said $18 million.
But I was saying it for a team like the one he was playing for, one with stars and a little further ahead than Detroit is.
When he signed I said, ‘I don’t mind the deal, but I don’t get it for Detroit.’ That was my initial reaction.
I’d never seen him in a role other than sidekick to the sidekick. I didn’t expect some of the production we’ve seen this year.
Beard: I thought he’d come in and fit nicely.
Along with Blake Griffin, he was going to be the big deal, the big man on campus. Now he’s come in and supplanted him in the first few weeks of the season already. You saw the writing on the wall that if Blake wasn’t going to be 100 percent healthy, he was going to take some of those minutes and that scoring load from him.
He’s done it in such a quick fashion. That’s a bit surprising. He had 14-straight games where he had 20-plus points. These are all-star worthy stats he’s posting. That was the best in the league at that point. I mean, that’s in the territory of Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
I think that’s the part that’s most surprising part to most people is that he’s come right in and fit so seamlessly into the offense.
There’s always a little bit of trying to figure out who the alpha dog is. Blake Griffin has kind of ceded that to him and let him grow into the player he is now.
Mostly a matter of opportunity
Edwards: It feels like we’re getting the chance to see a guy do what he’s been working on for years. I don’t think in a summer he added all this stuff. I think it’s been there. Because of where he played in Denver, the opportunities to get a significant amount of shots wasn’t there with (Nikola) Jokic and (Jamal) Murray.
The shot attempts are there in Detroit. He’s making the most of it.
Beard: I think it’s mostly that he’s been given more of an opportunity. In Denver he was maybe the third, four, fifth option, coming off the bench and not getting a lot of playing time. Now with the Pistons, he’s their No. 1 option. He’s getting starters’ minutes, playing 36 minutes per game, and he’s their No. 1 option.
That was the intent from the beginning. General manager Troy Weaver brought him in to have the opportunity. It was a joint effort. He was looking for that opportunity. The Nuggets made the same offer but he liked the chance to spread his wings and take on a bigger role with the Pistons.
Getting to the rim in two steps helps
Edwards: People were like, ‘Are they going to use him in iso player?’ (By the numbers) he’s a top 10 iso player. He doesn’t have a crisp handle. He’s not going to break you down on the floor.
I hate using sneaky long because that’s always been one of the appeals on defense. But on offense he is because he only needs one or two dribbles and he extends and rises and he’s at the rim. It’s hard to block his shot. It’s hard to stay in front of him. He doesn’t have to have a tight handle because he’s so long he can get to the rim in two dribbles.
It’s hard to describe. He doesn’t do anything to ‘wow’ you. He just ends the play with a made basket.
Don’t get me wrong, he’ll make a nice pull-up, have a nice crossover to get to the hole, but it’s nothing flashy.
Beard: If he’s at the 3-point line and he’s making the drive, he can get (to the rim) in a dribble or two. It’s not the level of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it’s the long wing-span he has, the way he can protect the ball and finish at the rim.
I didn’t know he had that flair to that game. And also the mix of driving, mid-range and 3-point. It’s really a complete package. When he’s in his game it’s a very vexing situation.
He’s the Pistons’ role model
Beard: He’s here to help the growth and the culture as a young veteran. They brought him in to be an example. They talk so much about what he brings in terms of work ethic, he’s diving on the ball more than young players. That’s the culture they want to start instilling in their younger players.
(Head coach) Dwane Casey was talking the other day that this is the perfect example for young players who aren’t getting a lot of minutes. You can point to Jerami and say, ‘This is the same thing he went through and now look at the success he’s having because he learned how to be a role player first and then a go-to guy after that.’ That’s the imprint and the prototype they want to teach.
Edwards: The Pistons are in development mode where they are trying to get their guys ready for the future but they have this guy here who is the poster boy for that.
You might not play a lot. You might not have everything you’re going to have in your bag. But look at this guy. Looks where he’s at. He waited and got his opportunity. I think it’s really interesting that Jerami Grant personifies what the Pistons want to do. I think that’s part of bringing him in.
It’s too early to tell but is there a better example of someone who had to wait it out and continues to get better and then it all culminates in a ridiculous season? If I’m a young guy, I’d want to work out with Jerami Grant any moment I could before or after practice.
It’s not a bunch of empty calories
Beard: The 3-point shooting is there, and when you get more minutes and reps you get to show your whole game. He has the ability to get to the basket, shoot from 3. Defensively, he’s been a menace. He can stop anyone from a point guard to a power forward and that might have surprised some people. He’s the complete package, and you’re getting it for a reasonable contract.
I don’t think the surprise is that he’s doing it. I think it’s that he’s doing it so quickly.
I think it’s all impressive. You saw with Denver that he was capable of this. Weaver is known for his acumen and his eye for talent. He saw that this was a transformation that he could make. It’s not just a guy that was averaging four points and now he’s on a bad team and he’s averaging 20. He’s done this in small spurts and smaller sample sizes.
Edwards: I don’t think (it’s empty calories) at all. Look at his efficiency. He was an efficient player in Denver. He’s the same in Detroit. He’s not a guy that is scoring a lot and shooting a lot. He’s been very efficient.
By this point, teams see Detroit’s roster and they know what he’s doing and he’s the one they need to stop. He’s still finding ways to score at an efficient clip. It really is insane.
There’s a chance Grant can still get better
Edwards: This roster isn’t very good. The goal was to be competitive but still build. They haven’t really been blown out. They’ve blown some late leads. They still need a superstar going forward. He’s going to improve as a playmaker.
He doesn’t really force shots but there is some opportunity like the other night in Atlanta where he draws two people and needs to read the right kick out. That’s probably his next step, learning to create for others and knowing the right time to find his teammate. He’s not forcing bad shots. Sometimes he takes an extra dribble to find a guy. There are instances where he’s a millisecond late and he could get a better shot for a teammate.
Beard: His next step and his next growth is when you’re in that lane and you have three people around you, you kick out to the wing and find the 3-point shooter.
Those are the things that make you transcendent and take your team to the next level when you figure out ways to beat teams besides just scoring yourself.
Contact Chris Carlson anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-412-1639
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