It was foolish to think, really.
As much as Detroit Pistons fans wanted Jerami Grant’s early season magic to be the true blossoming of a legitimate NBA star, it was wishful thinking. Grant played the best basketball of his career, nay, life, over the first two months of the season. He scored in ways we’d never seen. He took control, wanting the ball in big moments.
He delivered in those moments, albeit for the worst team in the league.
It felt good because that doesn’t happen often here. Detroit is where free agents go to cash out. You sign a big deal with the Pistons — as Grant did this offseason — and odds are you’re on the your out of the league. It happened with Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva and Josh Smith. There’s some recency bias there, but the proof was in the pudding.
Grant seemed different... and I think he still is.
After averaging 24.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 stocks on 45/39/87 shooting over his first 24 games, it felt real. Grant was playing great. On Feb. 2, 2021, he looked the part and his numbers backed it up.
Things changed quite a bit from that point on.
Derrick Rose, the most complete guard on the team, was traded to the New York Knicks on Feb. 7. Blake Griffin, for all of his faults this season with the Pistons, saw his time in Detroit end a week later as he was made inactive before being bought out.
Rose wasn’t perfect this season, but he was productive. He was a bonafide scorer and creator, one of the few Pistons with the ability to create for themselves and others off the dribble. On a team with a lot of bad point guard play, Rose was a bright spot.
Same for Blake. He wasn’t himself, or whatever, but he was still handing out four assists per game while capturing the attention of the opposing defenses whenever he had the ball.
With those two gone, things got incredibly difficult for Grant—and the Pistons.
Since Valentine’s Day, the first game in the post-Griffin/Rose era, Grant’s production has plummeted. He’s averaging 22.4 points, 4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 stocks per game on 40/30/86 shooting.
The Pistons are 5-14 in that span.
Grant was miscast as an alpha based on his early-season production. But his struggles since Valentine’s Day aren’t a sign that he’s turning into a pumpkin... it just show that he needs help, and the young Pistons aren’t nearly up to the task yet.
Now, there are some nights — like Monday’s romp over the Toronto Raptors — where this group of young guns looks ready for the spotlight. Maybe Hamidou Diallo’s bouncy and slashing style is the kind of aid that Grant so desperately needs?
Most nights, though, it’s a struggle.
Saddiq Bey is a lot of fun, definitely one of the 3-4 best rookies this season... but he his handle is too loose. He’s not consistent threat off the bounce and is still at his best when he’s being fed the ball in his spots.
Isaiah Stewart has been a joy as well, but aside from being a nice pick-and-pop partner, he’s not able to take any of that offensive burden from Grant. The efficiency Beef Stew has flashed is a byproduct of not being relied upon to score. His opportunities come organically.
The list goes on: Saban Lee has been a pleasant surprise, but it’s hard to score when you can’t shoot—he’s learning that the hard way. Josh Jackson was another early-season surprise, but he’s struggled without the structure of the Grant/Griffin/Rose hierarchy to play off of... and it’s possible he’s been passed by Diallo in the rotation all together.
Even the vets aren’t going to give much. Wayne Ellington is in the same boat as Bey. Mason Plumlee works his tail off, but the Pistons can’t run much more offense through him. He’s got that homeless man’s Nikola Jokic game sometimes, but in the end he’s another guy who needs to be spoon-fed to be at his best.
Even Delon Wright, as flawed as he was at point guard, was able to help Grant by virtue of just being able to dribble a basketball, make a jumper and attack the defense. There just isn’t another true threat for Detroit on the nights opposing defenses fully commit to making Grant’s life a living hell.
And that’s becoming every night because, I mean, who’s gonna consistently beat you on this team?
It’s going to be rough sledding for Grant the rest of the season. He saw the good part of being the top dog early, and now he’s experiencing the bad. He needs to adjust his game as well, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re not a natural creator and playmaker.
That kind of development happens in the offseason, a normal one where you can work out with your teammates and build that much-needed chemistry.
The Pistons need another ball handler — or three — who can create offense for themselves and get easy shots for others. I heard there’s a kid at Oklahoma State who’s pretty good at all that.
Grant may have come to Detroit in hopes of being the star they’ve lacked. Maybe we’re seeing now that he isn’t that guy. Perhaps he isn’t that true alpha who’s capable of carrying lackluster talent to the promise land.
There aren’t many guys like that—but there aren’t many wanting to try to do it in Detroit like Grant. That alone is more valuable than three of Danny Ainge’s red-headed stepchild picks or whatever other discounted goods teams will offer to try and acquire Grant.
Until the supporting cast around him improves, we won’t know what Jerami Grant’s truest form in Detroit really looks like.
It’s just part of the process: the Pistons process.