Here’s a hypothetical for you. You’re an NBA veteran. You’ve been around the block, you’ve worked your ass off and improved your game significantly since entering the league as a second-round pick. You’re a still young 26 years old, and you feel like you’ve got the skills to be a star.
Physically, at least, you probably do. You’re big, long, and athletic. Now, you’re a free agent. The money — 3-years, $60 million — is equal all around. The question is: Do you take the red pill and be a focal point on a lottery team, or the blue pill as a key role player on a team with realistic Finals aspirations?
As a person with a zero percent chance of ever having to make a decision like that, I honestly don’t know what I would choose.
For new Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant, it was the red pill, and hopefully, for all involved, it was the right choice. Grant embraced the unknown of a bigger role on a bad team over the familiar nature of standing in the corner waiting for passes from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in Denver.
What does that mean for the Pistons? I’m not totally sure, and I don’t think anybody knows quite yet—even Dwane Casey.
So far through two preseason games, after a week and a half of training camp, in an entirely unfamiliar situation, with new teammates and a new coach... it has not been great for Grant (editor’s note: this was obviously written halfway through preseason). He’s shot just 3-of-19 in those games, and honestly, that number isn’t what’s concerning. Guys miss shots in the preseason, it’s the name of the game.
It’s the type of shots that Grant is taking, and missing, that are concerning:
Like, why take this? It’s a straight line to the basket, but you’ve got to be able to do more off the dribble to shake off a defender, even one as blah as RJ Barrett.
WHY WHY WHY? I love that you found the right spot on the court to get that pass. I hate that you decided an off-balance fadeaway was the way to score over the Empire State Building-sized reach of Mitchell freaking Robinson.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself. I think Grant is going to quickly learn that his ball-handling just isn’t up to snuff when it comes to getting to, and finishing at, the rim. He gets close, but he’s still throwing up contested floaters. I think that’s going to ween itself out of this offense, but I said that about Josh Smith taking 3-pointers too... soooooooooo
Anyway... there’s good stuff, too!
Grant is still an excellent spot-up shooter who knows how to find open spots on the court. With Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee around, he’s got two really good passing big men to play off, along with the point guards in Killian Hayes and Derrick Rose:
I think as Hayes gets more comfortable, we’ll see a better Grant. There’s something to the idea of chasing a “bigger role” that doesn’t include dribbling haphazardly and missing awkward shots. Look at Klay Thompson. He doesn’t pound the rock all game, he gets open and makes shots. He’s incredible at what he does because he plays to his strengths.
Now, I’m in no way comparing Grant and Klay. I’m just saying Grant can still have a bigger role with more shots for the Pistons without dribbling and playing to his weaknesses.
Ah, this is Grant’s bread and butter.
Grant reminds me, in many ways, of former Pistons stalwart Tayshaun Prince. He’s long, maybe a tad more athletic, but capable of staying with his man all over the court. Quicker guards used to give Tay trouble, and it’s the same type of players who give Grant problems.
Grant’s not fast, but he’s quick. He’s able to anticipate the next move, and that’s a big part of man defense. So many times, we see uber-athletic guys unable to defend because they don’t know where they need to be. Grant isn’t that, he’s aware of what’s going on around him at all times.
Bigger defenders get stuck on screens a lot, but Grant, even at 6-foot-9, doesn’t get tangled up. He’s able to stop on a dime, too, which helps against the star-level scorers like Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant who still make a living in the midrange.
Jerami Grant has looked really good on D. I can see why he's impactful on court, but doesn't always have the metrics to back it up. He sells out to make the plays, and probably gets burnt, too.— Brady Fred (@Brady_Fred) December 12, 2020
There’s a level of risk-reward to Grant’s game. He’s going to play his tail off 24/7, but those dives for steals and long-armed block attempts, all fun when they go right, can result in easy buckets, too.
It feels like Grant was trying to do more defensively last season in Denver, where he played with a poor defensive center in Jokic and saw his defensive rating rise to a career-worst 112 and his DRPM sag to -1.04, worse than Blake Griffin and only slightly better than the likes of Kelly Olynyk, Moritz Wagner, and Ersan Ilyasova.
He was much better in previous seasons, where he defended fewer big men. While his offensive game is awkward for a wing, his defense is tailor-made for it.
Best Case Scenario
Grant gets over this “I can be a dribble-drive scorer! WATCH ME!!” phase by Valentine’s Day and finally settles into an off-ball scoring role after the trade deadline. He’s a great safety valve for Hayes, as they eventually find a nice connection on drive-and-dish plays, and he serves as the Pistons small-ball four as they evolve into a pesky spoiler down the stretch. He’s never going to be a star, but he can be a winning player who makes winning plays.
He just keeps doing too much. It’s possible Grant stubbornly commits to showing people what he thinks he can do while failing his way through the season. His shooting may sag as Hayes struggles and Rose is dealt at the deadline. His defense could falter as Casey looks to him to guard big men with Griffin inevitably injured. There’s also the not-so-unrealistic possibility that Sekou Doumbouya could prove to be... well, just a better, cheaper version of Grant this year, warranting more minutes and a bigger role which forces the Pistons into an awkward situation unless they can ship out Griffin.
Grant is a really nice player, but he might not be the right player for this team. If he plays well, and the Pistons struggle, that’s cool. If he plays poorly, he’s going to hear about it from Detroit allllllll the way to the Salt Baes in Denver. I like to think he’ll figure it out as the season goes, but a lot of that is realizing who he is as a player.