Beard: Pistons’ Jerami Grant a serious All-Star candidate (seriously)

Detroit News

Rod Beard | The Detroit News

In many ways, it’s crazy to think that Pistons forward Jerami Grant is even a serious candidate to be an All-Star.

That’s not a knock on Grant at all; rather, it’s a commentary on how far he’s come this season in advancing his career, a bet on himself in free agency that’s paid off well for him and for the Pistons.

During a lightning-fast, tumultuous offseason that saw the Pistons revamp their entire roster, general manager Troy Weaver pictured Grant as the piece de resistance of the rebuild. Grant saw the Pistons as a fresh start, where he could shine his light beyond the shadow of the Denver Nuggets’ star players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Grant could have moved into a more prominent role this season if he had stayed — and the Nuggets matched the Pistons’ offer of three years and $60 million. Instead, he opted to gamble on himself and made the move.

“Jerami Grant’s getting the ball a lot more and getting far more opportunities to attack and score,” said former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who now coaches the New Orleans Pelicans. “He’s never before been anything near the number one option on a team and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity.”

Through 28 games, he’s averaging 23.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists and shooting 39% on 3-pointers. His first-half highlight reel was Wednesday’s loss against the Chicago Bulls, when he posted a career-high 43 points.

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Prior to this season, Grant never had scored 30 points in a game; he’s done it six times already in 30 games. Still, he shies away from individual accolades and focuses on the work to be done in turning the Pistons around, in the midst of their 8-20 start.

“Winning matters over personal play,” Grant said after the Bulls game, against shunning the spotlight.

On the surface, it’s an odd thought, considering Grant left a winning situation in Denver to come to the Pistons, where he would be the best player. Digging a bit below the surface, his desire was to be a bigger part of the winning, not just a role player. Those who watched the Nuggets’ run to the conference finals last year was a primer that Grant was destined for something bigger.

It’s hard to knock him for wanting to stretch his boundaries and become a franchise player. That’s a big step for him, but doing it with the Pistons wasn’t going to garner too much attention, especially in the midst of a rebuild.

People around the league are taking notice of Grant’s season. In the voting for the All-Star starters, Grant ranked seventh among players and also for media. Although he wasn’t voted in as one of the starters, Grant has a slim chance to be selected by the coaches as one of the reserves.

With the seasons they’re having, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid were the no-doubt frontcourt starters in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics’ Jason Tatum looks to be a logical choice, leaving only two more spots in the frontcourt with four other candidates: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (Heat), Julius Randle (Knicks) and Domantas Sabonis (Pacers).

Going strictly by the numbers, Grant has a case, with the highest scoring average, at 23.8 points, through Thursday’s games, but he has the lowest in rebounds (5.3) and assists (2.9), less than half of Randle’s 10.9 rebounds and far fewer than Butler’s 7.7 assists.

Randle has been spectacular for the Knicks, who are surprisingly in the No. 7 spot in the East and just two games behind Sabonis’ fourth-place Pacers.  Even the Heat, who won the East last season and are struggling at 12-17, could have one of their two players chosen.

What can’t be lost in the discussion of Grant’s season is that the Pistons have the worst record in the East, and there’s a narrative that somebody has to be the leading scorer on a bad team. That’s where Grant will lose some of that support.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Randle and Butler or Sabonis get the nods ahead of Grant.

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Anyone who’s watched what Grant has done this season has to give him due consideration — and Pistons coach Dwane Casey has said he has reached out to some of his coaching counterparts to make the case for Grant.

Grant has said that if he gets the All-Star selection, it’s fine with him, but he won’t be heartbroken if he’s not picked for a spot this year. That’s the right attitude to have, and he understands the connections that have to happen between his contributions and winning.

If it’s not this season, it’s a matter of time before Grant gets his first All-Star selection.

It could be the first of many.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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