Six months after Jerami Grant surprised many across the NBA by signing a three-year, $60 million contract with the Detroit Pistons, it’s safe to say the decision paid off for him. Figuratively and literally.
The size of the deal alone was eye-popping, but also spoke to the confidence that general manager Troy Weaver had in Grant. He believed that the 6-foot-8 forward, who thrived as a two-way role player for the Denver Nuggets the previous season, could grow into a starring role. Grant also wanted the opportunity to grow his game, hence his decision to leave a contending Nuggets team. Grant was also already familiar with Weaver from two years together in Oklahoma City.
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Grant delivered the best season of his career, averaging 22.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He made a big leap forward as a primary scorer and playmaker and nearly doubled his points average from the previous year. Grant received All-Star talk during the season and on Tuesday was named one of three finalists for the Most Improved Player Award.
Now the Pistons have a question for him — what’s next? Grant was Detroit’s best player this season, but there’s belief within the organization that he can get even better. That, too, is Grant’s goal for the offseason.
“I definitely prepare different this offseason,” Grant said Sunday after the Pistons’ season finale against the Heat. “I think every offseason I prepare differently, my roles change pretty much from year to year. I think it’s a new role for me, so I know what I need to work on. There’s a lot of things I want to tweak, I want to get better at. That’s the name of the game this offseason, so that’s what I’m going to do differently.”
Head coach Dwane Casey is tasking Grant with getting stronger over the summer. Grant was adept at drawing fouls at the rim, initiating contact on 14.4% of his shot attempts, according to Cleaning The Glass. It’s one of the best rates in the NBA among forwards, and a big reason why Grant was able to make the leap from role player to featured scorer this season. Drawing fouls has always been one of his strengths, and it helped ease his transition into a larger role.
Grant absorbed a good share of hard fouls this season, and ended up missing 15 of Detroit’s final 21 games with right knee soreness.
“One thing Jerami has to do is continue to work on being stronger, to be able to take the hits that he’s getting hit with, finish at the rim, which he did a good job with this year,” Casey said. “That takes a wear and tear on your body if you’re not really physically ready for it. He’s committed to the gym this summer. Get stronger in his upper body, his legs so he can take those hits.”
Casey also sees an additional level Grant can get to as a passer. This was, by far, the best-passing season of Grant’s career. His assist rate was 14.7%, the highest of his career and one of the best rates of all NBA forwards, according to Cleaning The Glass. Grant is good at making the right passes. He turns the ball over at a low rate, and excels at finding open teammates, both in transition and in half court.
Casey often compares his potential for more responsibility to one of his former players with the Toronto Raptors, DeMar DeRozan. Like Grant, DeRozan entered the league as a role player, became a starter, then made the leap into stardom, albeit at a younger age. As Grant adapts to receiving more defensive attention, his passing can become a bigger weapon.
“It’s the same thing I just mentioned with DeMar DeRozan at a younger age,” Casey said. “He had to get used to seeing extra bodies come at him, get rid of it and trust that it’s going to come back. Those things are going to be his next step and I promise you it’s going to make it easier once they know he’s willing to give it up, make the next good-to-great pass. Then the ball is going to find him again and life is going to be easier for him after that.”
The Pistons want to make their own leap forward next season, and some of that depends on how much Grant can improve. But the Pistons can also make life easier for Grant by making more shots from outside, giving clearer lanes to the rim and relieving him of some pressure to be the alpha dog. Other than Grant, the Pistons had little reliable scoring this season.
Internal improvement will be key for the Pistons to go from 20 wins to the playoffs, Weaver said earlier this week. As they win more, it could help Grant’s bid to not just be their leading scorer, but become one of the NBA’s best two-way forwards.
“Just met with Jerami and told him the exact thing,” Casey said Monday. “You’re a really good player right now. Your next step is to get out of the conversation of Most Improved and get in the conversation of being an All-Star. What helps to you be an All-Star is for us to win, for us to be in the playoff conversation. That helps you to be in the All Star conversation.”