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Jerami Grant can carry the load, but he needs help

Jerami Grant looks to build on a strong 2020-21 season.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2020 offseason, Jerami Grant decided to bet on himself by choosing to go to the Detroit Pistons for a bigger role than he would have had with the Denver Nuggets. That bet paid dividends when he averaged career-highs in both points and assists on solid efficiency. With a still young but hopefully stronger team around him this year, Grant looks to refine his game while maintaining his role as a prominent factor in the offense.

The story of Grant’s first season with the Pistons wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the splits that resulted from the team’s midseason changes.

Grant started off strong in December and January, but in February and March his usage continued to rise and his efficiency plummeted. That dichotomy coincided with the departures of veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Without other obvious offensive options around him, Grant was forced to do more than he ever should have been asked to do in his first year as a No. 1 option.

Grant simply wasn’t put in the best situations to succeed, through circumstances beyond both his and the coaching staff’s control. He averaged 2.3 isolation possessions per game which put him right with the likes of Zach LaVine and Caris LeVert. Grant actually ended up in the 70th percentile on isolations, but his strengths are fully maximized when he’s being used within the regular flow of the offense.

His three-point percentage dropped 10 points when going from catch-and-shoot attempts to pull ups. He shot about 54% on twos when he took zero or no dribbles, but that accounted for only about half of his attempts inside the arc.

A better cast around Grant would change that, and the Pistons hope they’ve found that with this offseason’s moves.

Know Your Role

Given that Grant will still likely be the No. 1 option offensively, it’s unrealistic to expect that he simply won’t isolate when Detroit is forced into the half court. He’ll certainly have the ball in his hands plenty. But, the coaches need to find more ways to get him the rock with some momentum rather than having him dribble idly at the top of the key.

Grant performed poorly as a pick-and-roll ball handler, ranking in the 36th percentile last season. When those were converted into handoffs, his efficiency rose to the 76th percentile. The eye test indicated the same. When some action occurred prior to Grant receiving the ball, the ensuing play flowed much more smoothly.

Watch as he gets a dunk against the Golden State Warriors coming across the court from the right corner and curling around an Isaiah Stewart screen. Not even a switch from Golden State can prevent the inevitable space that results:

Jerami dunked earlier in the same game on a dribble handoff courtesy of Mason Plumlee:

A good screen created enough space for Grant to accelerate downhill and easily past Plumlee’s defender to the rim.

Now, add in a better spacing big like Kelly Olynyk or Isaiah Stewart and the calculus becomes even more difficult for the defense. If that big has to respect a potential pick-and-pop to any degree, he is going to have virtually no chance providing any real resistance to the Grant drive.

Outside of those obvious moves to make Grant’s life a bit easier offensively, Detroit hopes to have a better group of ball handlers than they did in the second half of last season. Cade Cunningham provides a dynamic the Pistons simply didn’t have last season in initiating the offense. And the hope would certainly be that Killian Hayes would improve on his truncated rookie year after a full offseason.

More dynamic ball handling would allow Grant to serve in different roles.

We saw Grant run across the court from the corner to initiate some offense previously. What we didn’t see enough of last season was him simply staying in the corner and knocking down open threes.

He shot nearly 37% on corner threes last season (above his career average) but those attempts constituted a far smaller percentage of his overall attempts than ever.

If Cunningham or Hayes can cause defenses with even basic penetration, Grant can be a nice option as an outlet in the corner as he did here with a Hamidou Diallo/Plumlee handoff:

And even if Grant is starting the original action, being able to confidently give up the ball and not press to create every point will help both improve his efficiency and save his legs a bit. Watch here how he drives but gives the ball up and it leads to secondary penetration by Josh Jackson that results in a dunk:

That sort of secondary and tertiary creation will be important in preserving Grant over an 82-game season. It became clear that the newly found offensive load took a toll on Grant physically by the end of last season. That is certainly something Detroit needs to look to correct this year.

If the Pistons can take some pressure off him and use him in less obvious ways, it should have an impact on his defense as well. Grant certainly took a step back defensively last season and that can almost completely be attributed to the obscene offensive load he carried for much of the second half.

All of this relies on Detroit’s young guards and wings executing better than they did a year ago. But if they can, the Pistons can start transitioning Grant into a role that will better fit into by the time Detroit hopes to be winning games.

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