| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant’s breakout season: I still have a ways to go
Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant speaks to the media on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
Detroit Pistons, Detroit Free Press
When the Denver Nuggets traded for Jerami Grant during the 2019 offseason, he had a reputation as being a premier role player.
But during the Western Conference finals in September, Grant gave a glimpse that his best was yet to come.
He averaged 12 points a game last season, and had never been a primary offensive option in his career. He became one of Denver’s best scorers against the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals. From Games 3-5, he averaged 21 points per game on 48% shooting. That included a playoff career-high 26 points in Game 3, in which he was aggressive getting to the rim. He drew six fouls, made 10 of his 12 free throw attempts and was Denver’s second-leading scorer in a crucial win.
The Lakers learned that when given the opportunity, Grant was capable of punishing them.
His emergence as one of the NBA’s best players this season has surprised many, but Lakers head coach Frank Vogel saw the signs in the Orlando bubble.
“We were aware of ways he could hurt you,” Vogel said before the Detroit Pistons’ 107-92 win against the Lakers on Thursday. “He’s just doing it more here. He’s more involved in the offense. His usage is way up and he’s taking advantage of that and playing really efficient offensive basketball.
“The way he was playing last year, what he’s doing this year doesn’t surprise me at all. I think it was a good pickup for Detroit. He’s really growing his game into one of the best players in the league.”
After 20 games, it appears Grant’s performance during Game 3 might’ve undersold how good he actually is.
Grant, who turns 27 in March, entered Saturday’s game against the Golden State Warriors averaging 23.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists — doubling his averages from last season. He’s shooting 44.4% overall, a career-high 40.2% from 3 and career-high 87.4% at the free throw line.
Seven years into his career, he has made the rare leap from role player to star. And the Pistons believe his best has yet to come.
Grant will play his former team for the first time Monday night, when the Pistons visit the Nuggets. He signed with the Pistons because he had a big fan in general manager Troy Weaver, with whom he has a longstanding relationship. And Weaver promised him a role as a franchise player — something that eluded Grant in Denver.
“Jerami has really worked on his game, become an outstanding 3-point shooter,” Weaver said in December. “There’s more there. He’s come here because it’s a big challenge. I’m going to challenge him to become the best Jerami he can become. I expect him to continue to grow.”
While Grant had proven himself as a floor-spacer before joining the Nuggets, his best skill was his defensive versatility. His value on that end was on display during the playoffs, as he was matched against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard.
The Pistons believed that beyond his defense, Grant was capable of leading an offense. Rather than being a 3-and-D specialist, they saw potential for him to emerge as a two-way force. They offered him a three-year, $60 million contract that many league analysts believed was higher than his market value, and he signed it, leaving a contending Nuggets team to bet on himself in Detroit.
Grant’s two-way performance has separated him from the majority of the NBA. Only he and Kevin Durant are averaging more than 20 points and a block per game while shooting at least 38% on five 3s per game. His usage rate from last season has increased from 18% to 26%, but he’s scoring the ball efficiently and at a rate (32.1 points per 100 possessions) that compares with Devin Booker (31.9 points) and Brandon Ingram (33.4 points).
“It’s rare that you see a guy that goes from so far in his career being a role player, to being a featured player and handling it well,” Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said Monday. “And he’s doing it, man. Numbers are great. It’s impressive, and you do have to prepare for him. He’s not that third or fourth guy. He’s the number one guy, and it is different.”
Grant’s leap to being one of the NBA’s best scorers, to an extent, was predictable. He’s doing many of the tasks he already excelled at, just at a higher rate.
He was already one of the league’s most accurate 3-point shooters. He has maintained that accuracy while increasing his volume. The same can be said for his free throw attempts. Last year, he drew fouls on 14% of his shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass. It ranked in the 70th percentile across the league. This year, he’s drawing fouls on 13.9% of his shots and attempting 6.3 free throws per game.
What has stood out about this season arehis improvements that are harder to predict. His 87.4% clip at the foul line is more than 12 percentage points higher than last year, and 28 percentage points higher than the 59.1% he shot as a rookie. That type of dramatic improvement is rare. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he has significantly improved as a passer, while turning the ball over at one of the NBA’s lowest rates.
His career-best 14.4% assist percentage this season is more than double last year’s assist rate of 6.6%. And his ability to read the floor has improved as the season has progressed. He dished a career-high six assists Jan. 16 against the Miami Heat, and has tied that career-high twice since. From Jan. 16-29, Grant averaged 4.5 assists and just 1.4 turnovers. On the season, he’s among four players averaging more than 16 shot attempts and fewer than 1.5 turnovers per game.
Grant’s sudden across-the-board improvement illustrates why both he and the Pistons believe that despite what he has done so far, he has a higher ceiling.
“It’s definitely about opportunity, but at the same time, I put a lot of work in throughout the year,” Grant said recently. “I think I’m at the point in my career where I’m able to show it.”