Jerami Grant knew he could become a star with the Detroit Pistons. Now he’s doing it.

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor | Detroit Free Press

The NBA’s All-Star Game fan-voting deadline is less than two weeks away, and the Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant ranks among the top Eastern Conference forwards.

In fact, Grant is 10th, a first for his career. Though this isn’t a column about Grant’s place on the league’s preliminary all-star list. It’s about why he’s on the list, and the decision the 6-foot-8 26-year-old made that led him there.

Grant isn’t worried about earning a starting spot in the March 7 game in the fan vote. Nor is Grant worried about earning a reserve spot when coaches fill out the rosters later this month.

No, he isn’t concerned with any of that. As he said earlier this week, “If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

Take him at his word. Grant isn’t worried about accolades. Or fan votes.

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Besides, an All-Star nod would just mean more interviews and more talking about himself — and the last thing he wants to do is talk about himself.

Well, OK, maybe not the last thing. But Grant would rather just play. He would rather show, not tell. It’s great advice for writers and probably good advice for a player who leaves a contender mid-career for a team trying to rebuild, for a player who bet that — after six years as a role player — he was ready to step into a new role.

A starring role, as Grant joined the Pistons on a a three-year, $60 million contract during the offseason.

Or at least a co-starring role; Grant had no way of knowing what Blake Griffin had left in his legs.

Turns out Griffin doesn’t have much left in that way. Not enough to carry a team. Not so far, anyway. The injuries have been too much to overcome.

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So here is Grant — who wanted a bigger role after waiting for passes from Denver’s two stars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray — standing in the Pistons’ huddle late as the head coach draws up a play for him.

As Dwane Casey did when the Pistons beat the Phoenix Suns last month, or as he did when the Pistons lost to the Los Angeles Lakers last week, or as he has done in nearly every close game this season. Grant figures the less he has to talk about going from role player to star player, the better.

He would rather you see for yourself.

He gets that from his mom, Beverly Grant, who wanted him to be humble, and who preached that showing up and doing was always preferable to showing up and speaking. Though speaking up has its merit, too.

Just not when you’re trying to do what so few NBA players do. When you’re trying to change your spot in the huddle and your rung on the ladder and the perception of a league that doesn’t often change its mind after six seasons on your resume.

Especially when you began as a second-round pick — Grant was drafted 39th overall by Philadelphia — which means that most of the league’s scouts and coaches and front-office folks figured you were a long shot from the start.

But they didn’t know what Grant knew. Not then. Certainly not last fall, when he became a free agent and so many thought he would run it back in Denver as a third or, more likely, fourth cog in an organization expected to contend.

Grant knew what he was doing in the gym when few were watching. He knew what he was working on, and how that work was changing him, in balance and skill and confidence. He knew how he envisioned himself on the court, as a focal point on the grease board.

That’s what he really wanted. It wasn’t about simply increasing his touches, though he has. Nor was it about increasing his shots and minutes, though those have gone up, too. It was about changing where he got the ball, and when.

“When you’re younger, you dream of being in certain situations,” he said recently. “Whether it’s taking the last shot … That’s what I wanted. That’s what I’ve been preparing for, to have an opportunity to show your work.”

Not because he wanted to be a star. Not because he wanted the fame — again, he doesn’t love all the extra interview requests but he understands it’s part of the role he asked for.

But because he wanted to see if he could.

That’s all. It’s not more complicated than that.

In other words, Grant came to Detroit for the same reason we sent a rocket to the moon, and floated down the Amazon River, and are mapping human genes. We want to know what’s on the other side.

Of space, of forests, of ourselves.

For Grant, that meant challenging himself to see if he could handle the responsibility. He calls it “weight.”

Which is another way of saying: “I wanted the game in my hands.”

Think about that for a moment. Think about the kind of courage it takes to bet on yourself after six years in the NBA filling a specific role. Think about banking on the work you put in when almost no one is watching and believing it will propel you to a place that almost no one could imagine.

An All-Star?

Yeah, Grant might not make it this season. But that he has a chance at all is one of the best stories in the league.

Leading the Pistons in scoring?

Grant’s got that one in the bag. He entered Thursday averaging 24.3 points a game. He dropped 32 in a win over Brooklyn earlier this week, 15 of them in the first quarter, and a few more whenever the Pistons needed a bucket to quell a Nets’ run.

The biggest thing about those 15 early points, said teammate Mason Plumlee, who also played with him in Denver?

“(They were) all within the offense,” said Plumlee, who went on to point out that Grant isn’t just scoring, he’s “making tough shots at the end of the clock. He’s really a tough cover for any team. He’s doing this with the attention of the defensive game plan. Teams know. He is still getting his numbers. I think that makes him an elite scorer.”

“Elite” is up for debate. But his story is not done. That much we know. In less than half a year, he already has changed how the league perceives him.

He’s gone from a solid, two-way player hardly known beyond his team’s fanbase to the top 10 in fans’ eyes at his position, reminding NBA observers that players can evolve and change no matter the circumstances.

“I knew what the reaction would be,” he said of his move to Detroit. “I knew it was something I would have to deal with.”

Mostly, he ignored it. Because he was confident. Because he knew things about himself few did.

They are getting to know now.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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