Jerami Grant was a stunning signing by Detroit Pistons. Here’s what he brings to team

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Pistons were expected to be active in NBA free agency. They began last week as one of the NBA’s handful of teams with significant cap space, positioning them to make a major swing. Christian Wood seemed like a probable option to re-sign after a strong finish to last season, and top free agents such as Fred VanVleet were possibilities. 

Instead, Detroit handed a three-year, $60 million contract to Jerami Grant in a sign-and-trade with the Denver Nuggets, where he was largely a bench player last season, and wasn’t projected to sign a deal that large. The Pistons also acquired the draft rights to Nikola Radicevic (the 57th pick in the 2015 draft) in exchange for cash considerations, as the Nuggets opened up a massive trade exception.

But after a strong performance in the Orlando bubble, Grant was due for a pay raise. He was the Nuggets’ best defender in the playoffs, handling everyone from LeBron James and Anthony Davis to Kawhi Leonard. He declined his $9.3 million player option for the 2020-21 season, an indicator he and his agent were confident his market value had risen. 

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They were right, since the Pistons more than doubled his annual salary. It was a surprising move for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008, and has more pressing roster needs than figuring out how to slow down the NBA’s most dangerous scorers deep in the playoffs. Grant’s versatility on defense is rivaled by few players, and he has become a strong shooter the past two seasons. He raises the Pistons’ talent. To live up to his contract, he’ll need to do more. 

He could become a good-value contract, as there are few players in the NBA who can shoot and defend as well as Grant can. He’s 26 and has improved immensely through six seasons. General manager Troy Weaver appears to believe there’s more to Grant’s game. 

Considering he left a contending Nuggets team for a bigger role with the Pistons, it appears Grant thinks so too. And he’ll be in the spotlight this season, as he carries the distinction of being Weaver’s first free agency splash. After two strong seasons as a high-level role player on playoff teams, he has an opportunity to prove he can be a foundational piece for a rebuilding team hoping to eventually get to that level. 

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Grant averaged 12 points, 3.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game last season and drained 38.9% (98-for-252) of his 3-point attempts — a strong percentage. He shot 39.2% from three the prior season on a similar number of attempts (115-for-293). After not being much of an outside threat during his first four seasons in the NBA, it’s become his most dangerous offensive weapon. He has taken 545 attempts during the past two seasons, after taking 528 during his first four and making 30.1%. 

He’s also a good finisher at the rim. But overall, he isn’t as versatile on offense as he is on defense. He doesn’t have much touch between the rim and 3-point line, as 84% of his made shots last season were assisted, per Cleaning The Glass.

Grant thrived as a catch-and-shoot player, with Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Monte Morris working to create open. But when he gets a step on his defender, he’s capable of quickly bursting to the rim. He doesn’t create for others: His 6.7% assist rate is poor, even for a forward. 

Grant also isn’t a strong rebounder, grabbing 10.1% of opponent’s missed shots while on the floor last season, and 3.2% of the available offensive rebounds. For comparison, Wood grabbed 20.9% and 7.9%, respectively — both healthy marks for a big man. 

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But what separates Grant and made him eligible for a massive pay raise is his defense. In a league where having good multi-positional defenders is a must for contending teams, he has established himself as one of the league’s best.

With the Thunder, he did an admirable job of defending James Harden in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. And his defense was better than advanced metrics might suggest last season, as the Nuggets had him defend Leonard, Paul George, Davis and James in the 2020 playoffs. Standing 6 feet 9, Grant is comfortable guarding players who are both big and small. 

“He showed everyone in Nuggets Nation just how valuable he is during those playoff games,” Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said during his end-of-season news conference. 

With the Pistons, Grant will have more opportunity to expand his offense, if he’s capable. Outside of Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, Detroit lacks proven playmaking. Their point guard of the future, Killian Hayes, is a rookie. Combo guard Delon Wright, who the Pistons traded for early Saturday, is the only other player on the roster who can thrive as a ball-handler. 

Grant fits the Weaver mold as a long, athletic defender. His fit with the Pistons remains to be seen. But he has exceeded projections after he was drafted 39th overall by Philadelphia in the 2014 draft.

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High-level role players get paid, and Grant’s annual salary is comparable to other deals signed last week. Former Piston Marcus Morris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers. Danilo Gallinari signed a three-year, $61.5 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks. Grant is a better defender than both players, and is one of the NBA’s better shooters. 

His contract may age gracefully as the salary cap continues to rise every year. And regardless of what he adds to his game, he can make the Pistons a better team, starting this season.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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