Jerami Grant asked for more responsibility than ever before when he signed with the Detroit Pistons. He got exactly what he asked for, and he’s done more than just flourish under Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey. He has redefined his game and the perceptions of him as a player around the NBA.
Jerami Grant bet on himself, Weaver believed, Casey empowered, and it is paying off big time.
Before the season started, few thought Grant would have any kind of success as a lead playmaker—and nobody believed he’d have this much success. After scoring just 9.3 points per game in his career before signing with the Pistons, Grant is averaging 24.9 points this season.
What is different this year for Grant? What is he doing that’s allowing him to score 20-plus points, efficiently and with limited turnovers, in 12 straight games?
Grant was a 39% three-point shooter his last two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, and that has stayed almost exactly the same for Detroit. The volume, however is much different. After hoisting just 3.6 attempts with Denver, he is shooting 6.9 per game with Detroit.
While the increase in attempts from distance has helped, it isn't the core of why Grant has seen so much success in Detroit.
So, what is it then?
Your answer: Isolation.
According to Synergy, Grant had 31 possessions in isolation in 71 games with the Denver Nuggets last season. Through 13 games this season, Grant has already eclipsed that with 34 possessions. He’s on track to have more iso possessions this season than in his previous four seasons combined.
And he is thriving in isolation. Grant is in the 83rd percentile in isolation, scoring 1.23 points per possession. He ranks seventh in the NBA in ppp for players with at least 20 possessions. The six ahead of him? Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Andrew Wiggins.
Grant, unequivocally, is one of the league’s best isolation players this season. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
So, how does a guy who no one believed had any chance at succeeding in a go-to option role become one of the best in the league in one offseason?
Length and Athleticism
Grant 6-foot-8 with a wingspan of 7-foot-3. If you don’t know simply by looking at the numbers, that is extremely freakin’ long. To tag on his absurd athleticism, people underestimated just how much this would make things easier for Grant.
When you watch players like James Harden in isolation, you see him put on sequences of moves to blow by his defender. While Grant’s ball-handle was certainly undersold before the season, it is in no way elite like Harden’s.
However, because of Grant’s insane length and athleticism, people didn’t take into account that he wouldn’t need an elite handle to get where he wanted to go.
As the above clip shows, Grant doesn’t need to mess around with the ball when he wants to go to the rim. Grant is a good two steps behind the three-point line here, but he is so long that he only needs one dribble to get all the way to the rim. Add his quick first step, and Grant is finishing an easy right-hand layup at the rim.
Without this length and athleticism, Grant wouldn’t be capable of pulling off what he’s doing this year. The root to all of the success in isolation is right here. And he uses it to open up all the other areas of his game.
Grant is shooting nearly 40% from beyond the arc on high volume this season. He is, and has been, an excellent shooter from beyond the arc. This means teams can’t play off of him and are forced to close quickly when he catches the ball.
With the defenders either up in his grill or closing out to contest his shot, Grant uses it to his advantage. When a defender is draping him, his first step is quick enough to blow by his opponent, and he only needs one dribble to get all the way to the rim. The same is true when someone attempts a close out.
In this clip, the ball gets kicked out to Grant on the right wing. Upon catching, Grant is an immediate threat to score, and he knows it. He gives Grant Williams a quick pump-fake, and Williams bites. From here, he takes a singular dribble, and inspectogadget’s his way above Daniel Theis, sending the help defender into a different universe. This play is created because of the respect for his outside shooting, length, and athleticism.
This is only one of many different ways Grant is succeeding in isolation.
Before the season started, it was assumed wisdom that Grant had an awful handle. This is simply not the case. Yes, his handle is a bit loose, but it is perfectly acceptable. I find his handle to be pleasing to watch—the looseness makes it look deceptively herky-jerky, and it definitely catches defenders off guard.
The simplicity of it is also an asset. Grant doesn’t need to do anything flashy or complicated. All he needs is a dribble or two to get where he wants, and this can be executed with a simple crossover.
Grant iso’s against Jae Crowder at the top of the key in this clip. Instead of dribbling the air out of the ball, Grant efficiently takes two dribbles and gets to the rim. He goes between-the-legs and crosses back to his right, which gives him enough of an advantage to draw an and-one on Crowder. Again, Grant’s athleticism and length enable him to keep it simple, and it is still extremely effective.
This clip is a bit more complex and impressive but wouldn’t qualify as anything too advanced. Against Duncan Robinson, Grant wastes no time attacking him. After attacking Robinson’s outside leg with a hard dribble, Grant quickly follows it up with a crossover between-the-legs to the left to get around the defender.
This may be the most impressive display of Grant’s handle this season. He goes one-on-one against Bam Adebayo, who is no slouch guarding the perimeter. Adebayo is also quite long and he’s playing Grant quite aggressively here.
Grant loses his grip a tad at the beginning but regains control and resets his play. Grant then escape dribbles to his left, hits Adebayo with a quick crossover, uses a hesitation to freeze his defender, and then explodes past him. Crazy thing is, as impressive as his handle was, the finish is even more impressive (more on that later).
These clips do not show the player critics described before the season. It’s completely fair to say that Grant’s handle was extremely underrated and is a big reason for why he has succeeded in isolation. Just because he never showed it off in Denver doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
When Grant is unable to get to the rim, he has exhibited the ability to hit the defense with a counter—a floater.
According to Synergy, Grant is scoring 0.85 points per possession on all runner (floaters) this season, This ranks in the 44th percentile and is classified as “average” by Synergy. Grant doesn’t need to be exceptional at these shots, but simply respectable enough to pull out of his bag when he needs it. It’s also a trick he might get more comfortable with as the season goes on.
In this play, after Robinson cuts off his first drive attempt, Grant resets again quickly and attacks. After hitting Robinson with an aggressive right-hand hesi that gets him leaning to his right, Grant utilizes an incredible spin move to get around him.
Grant knows he’s going to be met by Adebayo on the help side. While also taking contact, in what should’ve been an and-one, Grant uses his length and athleticism to get a floater over the outstretched arms of Adebayo.
This shot is going to be welcomed a ton by the Milwaukee Bucks. While it isn’t a shot you should be settling for every time against Milwaukee, it certainly is going to be available when you want to use it.
Against the Bucks’ drop coverage, Grant decides against attacking directly into the body of 7-footer Brook Lopez. Instead, he floats a soft shot over Lopez’s outstretched arms and finishes. Again, he’s only able to get this shot off due to his length and athleticism.
Here, Grant gets the advantage on his defender thanks to a screen by Blake Griffin. Against the Utah Jazz, you always have to be aware of Rudy Gobert lurking around the rim. From where Grant takes off, it would’ve been a tough finish against any big man, let alone Gobert.
Thankfully, Grant unpacks his floater in situations like this. Instead of trying to attack the former Defensive Player of the Year at the rim, Grant floats a shot right over Gobert before he can rotate and swat it out of bounds.
While you usually wouldn’t rely on this type of shot as your first option, having it in your bag is a must.
Finishing and Foul Drawing
When you combine Grant’s length, athleticism, respect for his outside jumper, and his underrated handle, you get a player capable of getting to the rim. However, that is only half of the job. None of that would matter if he couldn’t finish at the rim or draw fouls.
Luckily, Grant is excelling in both categories. So far this season, Grant has a free-throw rate of 30.2%, on his way to averaging a career-high 5.6 free throws a game. The league average free-throw rate is at 24.9. He’s also hitting his free throws at a career-high 86.3% clip—after being a 67% shooter from the stripe in his first six seasons.
As he becomes more a featured scorer, the refs might also start giving him the benefit on the many borderline calls we have seen this season that haven’t ended with a whistle.
For any player seeking to be a go-to option, drawing fouls is high on the list of needs.
But finishing at the rim is even more important. Grant answers the call in this respect as well.
According to Synergy, Grant is scoring 1.27 points per possession around the basket (not including post-ups)—this ranks in the 71st percentile and is classified as “very good”. To tag onto this, Grant is shooting 65.9% in the restricted area. Of the 20 players with at least 75 shots in the restricted area, Grant ranks eighth in the NBA. The only other wings in the top 10? Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
Grant creates a lot of easy looks at the basket for himself, but he is also capable of finishing through contact or, as you see in the clip above, with either hand around the rim.
After using his handle to get around the Jazz defender at the perimeter, Grant is met by Favors at the rim. This is no problem for Grant, as not only does he explode above Favors, he draws contact and finishes with his left hand. Grant has regularly made tough finishes like this look easy this season.
Here is another example of an insanely hard finish, that probably should’ve been an and-one, by Grant. Tristan Thomspon does a decent job staying with Grant, but Grant is still able to get his feet in the paint. With Thompson cutting off the lane directly at the rim, and with Theis hitting him in the back of the head, Grant is forced to take a sweeping layup around Thompson. A 10/10 on the difficulty scale, and a 10/10 finish.
Thanks to his length and athleticism, Grant is capable of hanging in the air at the rim or finishing over defenders. In the clip above, Grant finds himself driving straight into Lopez again. Instead of settling with a floater, Grant goes directly at the seven-footer.
Grant keeps the ball high and creates contact with Lopez. With both playing jumping in the air, Grant hangs up there for what feels like forever, which enables him to get a difficult finish over Lopez. This is another extremely difficult attempt that Grant makes look rather easy.
You combine all these traits and skills, and you will create one of the best isolation players in the league thus far into the season. Grant has been absolutely exceptional this season in isolation, and it is easily the most surprising storyline of the NBA season—even if those from outside of Detroit aren't paying attention.
For a player that had as many isolation possessions last year in a full season as he has had through 13 games this season, the same player that apparently showed “no signs” of proficiency in this area, Grant being among the elite in his first season featuring it as part of his game is insane.
While Grant could remain exactly where he’s at right now and be worth every penny of his three-year, $60 million contract, the scary thing is he’s shown glimpses that there’s another dimension he can add to his repertoire.
I want to make it clear that Grant is not great as a pull-up shooter.
However, he’s shown many times this season this is a skill that Grant could develop, and sooner rather than later. According to Synergy, Grant is scoring 0.85 points per possession on all jumpshots off the dribble— just 41st percentile. He’s also shooting 39% from 10-16 feet and 34% from 16 feet to just inside the arc—areas that pull-up middies are taken. NBA.com also has Grant shooting just 31.6% (1.5 attempts per game) on pull-up threes.
Grant is not awful at pull-up shooting, but it’s been a weaker part of his game. However, he’s shown that he may be good at it soon.
In this video, Grant uses the threat of him driving to create a great look off the bounce from beyond the arc. With Gobert switched out on him, the big man is doing everything he can to prevent a drive to the rim.
Grant gives Gobert a hard right dribble, which has Gobert stepping backward. As soon as Grant sees he’s created this room, he pulls up and hits a three. This type of recognition and simple creation by Grant exhibits confidence and the ability to create this type of look for himself.
This play is extremely impressive. If you remember earlier in this game against the Suns, Grant beat Crowder from this exact position for an and-one layup. Crowder remembers this and does not want to allow a drive to the basket again.
This is so cool to watch, to be honest. It’s like watching a chess match play out in real time. Both players remember the earlier possession. Crowder refuses to be beaten by Grant’s handle again, and Grant knows this.
What’s Grant’s response? Just a simple hard, strong-hand dribble that gets Crowder fumbling backward two full steps! Crowder officially fell into Grant’s trap, which opens up the wide-open pull-up three.
Finally, watch the Miami Heat treat Grant like he's Giannis. As Grant comes off the hand-off from Isaiah Stewart on the left-wing, he is met by a wall of defenders. Many of you may be familiar with this because it is exactly how the Heat played Antetokounmpo in the playoffs.
Grant has no pathway to the rim as Andre Iguodala has slid over in the lane. Maurice Harkless, Grant’s defender, is trailing but is able to take away the dump-off to Stewart. At the same time, the big man switched onto Grant is backpedaling.
Grant gives him a few hard dribbles toward the key and rises up for the free-throw line pull-up.
Jerami Grant has been exceptional for the Detroit Pistons so far this season. He’s easily performing at an All-Star level, and if the Pistons had any type of team around him and could win a few games, we’d be talking about more than just All-Star.
After not being much of an isolation player at all in his career, Grant has been one of the very best in those situations this year. Critics slept on his length, athleticism, the threat of outside shooting, underrated handle, finishing, and foul-drawing ability before the season—all of which has been what’s guided Grant to being so exceptional one-on-one.
If that wasn’t enough, Grant has shown signs that he could become even more lethal in the future by adding the threat of pull-up shooting to his repertoire.
One thing is certain: Jerami Grant is playing like one of the best isolation players in the entire NBA.
And there's no reason to believe it can’t get any better.