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Exit Interview: Jerami Grant’s bet on himself paid off big time

How good can Grant be on a team surrounded by a bunch of developing players?

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Jackpot. That must be what Troy Weaver, Dwane Casey, Jerami Grant, and Jerami Grant’s agents have been saying to themselves ever since their mutual big bet this past offseason. All sides thought that there was untapped potential in Grant’s game, which had developed slowly but surely as a second-round pick in Philly, Oklahoma City and Denver. For the Nuggets, he was the third option very capably playing the roll of catch-and-shoot floor spacer and switchable defender alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. He was playing well, he was on a successful team inching toward title contention, and the franchise was ready to pay him.

But he wanted more. He bet that he could go to a franchise and be a featured player. That he could score in myriad ways even as all the defensive eyes were on him. He bet that he wasn’t just a safety valve in the offensive hierarchy, he could be the featured piece.

Meanwhile, Weaver was betting that a necessary ingredient in his first-year task in restoring the Pistons back to their former glory was in not tanking and not turning completely to a youth movement. He believed the best way to develop his young players was to add competent veterans around them to help them succeed on the floor and in the locker room. And Weaver had to do this knowing it could lead to more wins and decreased lottery odds.

Like I said, jackpot.

Grant was a dangerous player with the ball in his hands, capable of breaking down the defense for a mid-range jumper, slicing through the defense to finish at the rim and could still hit those catch-and-shoot shots on the perimeter. He became that featured piece, he was in the All-Star discussion, he was a finalist for Most Improve Player and he’s on the USA Basketball team for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Pistons also capably developed its “core four” rookies, lost plenty of games, and, oh yeah, ended up with the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

The Good

Grant set career highs in points (22.3), assists (2.8), free throws (6.4), free-throw percentage (84.5%), and 3-point attempts (6.1). He also showed a variety to his offensive repertoire that he was unable to showcase during his Denver days, and it proved that he has the tools to become a true top-level scorer in this league.

This is pretty emblematic of what Grant is capable of. He accepts the ball at the top of the key, breaks down his defender with an efficient, aggressive move toward the rim and is able to absorb contact and use his length to maneuver into a solid basket at the rim.

Grant is also still capable of being a catch-and-shoot threat, either as a pick-and-roll partner or as an outlet on the weakside. Grant’s release is not lightning quick, but it is smooth and always remains consistent. His mechanics are typically on point.

Grant also has a better, more assured handle than I assumed he would, and he used it to great effect off of screens and also in order to work his way into the post where he could exploit a smaller defender and get an assured, step back off in the mid-post.

Sometimes a player is called deceptive, but that doesn’t feel quite right for Grant. His moves aren’t deceptive, they are, like his overall personality, unassuming. You just don’t expect it, and then, BAM, he is exploding toward the rim. He’s a little bit faster than you think, a little bit longer than you think, and a little more explosive than you think.

That’s part of the reason I love Grant and his game. He has all these surprises in store for you on a nightly basis and, even better, he doesn’t add in a bunch of BS. There are few wasted movements in Grant’s game.

If he has the ball he wants to do something with it, and often he is making the right decision, the right read, taking the right shot, etc. He’s not going to dribble the air out of the ball looking to break ankles. He’s going to dribble himself into rhythm and size you up, but at the first possible instant, he’s heading for the rim or finding the passing lane.

Is it too much to expect a 27-year-old to get even better? Probably, but if anyone could do it, I’d bet on Grant.

The Bad

The narrative was cast early on Grant among NBA watchers and especially Pistons fans. But I’m about to use a scary word — regression. Yes, Grant started out blisteringly hot. On Jan. 10, Grant was posting a true shooting percentage better than 60%, had a 25% usage rate and just a 6% turnover rate while averaging more than 24 points per game.

He was scoring at an elite level, at elite efficiency, and taking care of the ball all as the first option for the Piston. Those days didn’t last forever. Eventually, he settled in, and when the Pistons excised some quality players in Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin and then started resting some veterans, it became much harder for Grant to score.

He was the only reliable offensive option a team full of young players still figuring out how to play in the NBA. He started to look obviously tired, and he started to settle for bad shots. He finished the year averaging 22 points per game on an OK-but-not-great 55.6% true shooting percentage and hit just 35% from 3.

It’s OK to not be an elite scorer, but the problem is, Grant still also struggles in other phases of the game to help balance out when his shot isn’t falling. His 2.8 assists were by far a career-high, but nobody would mistake him for a playmaker who gets others quality looks. And he remains a poor rebounder for a power forward.

That’s not to say Grant is bad, but this regression is part of the reason fans became more and more comfortable with the concept of selling high on the suddenly hot property.

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

That being said, I don’t see Troy Weaver moving on from Grant anytime soon. He’s a pure distillation of the brand of basketball player Weaver wants in Detroit, he’s got some prime years left and then, of course, there is Cade Cunningham.

Can you think of a player better suited to reap the benefits of a high-level playmaker like Cade than Jerami Grant? These two seem primed to really bring out the best in each other. Grant is a capable shot-maker, cutter, and smart veteran player. Cade is that playmaker and initiator that Grant isn’t ever quite going to be. And then surrounding them with a quiet perimeter assassin like Saddiq Bey, the long-armed defensive intensity of Isaiah Stewart, and the pick-and-roll playmaking and lobs coming from Killian Hayes? Sign. Me. Up.

It’s hard to know if Grant’s hot start last year can be repeated or if that dip in the second half had more to do with Grant’s true talent level or the dearth of talent surrounding him. But the pieces are seemingly getting put into place to maximize everyone on this roster, Grant included. And I’m here for it.

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