Kevin Durant. Draymond Green. Kevin Love. Jerami Grant.
One of these players is not like the others.
Grant isn’t a multiple-time All-Star or an NBA champion. What they have in common is that they’re among the forwards on the U.S. Olympic team headed to Tokyo this summer after a year delay because of the pandemic.
Grant isn’t some 12th man who is only going to play mop-up time and be seen wearing his warm-up more than his game jersey. After a breakthrough season with the Pistons, Grant has established himself as a high-level player on the world stage. Though his selection to Team USA comes as a surprise to some, it’s just the latest peak in his career arc.
After playing a big role in his last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019, Grant was a role player with the Denver Nuggets in 2020, before taking a chance on himself with a risky move to the Pistons last season. The gamble paid off, with a big contract and a role as the No. 1 scorer on a rebuilding team.
Grant finished second in the voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player and established himself as an excellent two-way player. His emergence helped put him on the radar as a finalist for the Olympic team, which was made official on Monday.
In constructing the team, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo noted the desire to have players who could excel at multiple positions on both ends of the court.
“Well, his versatility. He’s an athlete, he’s long. I think length is an important ingredient when you’re looking at players who play certain positions,” Colangelo said Monday via conference call. “He’s become really a good scorer. I think he averaged over 21 (points) a game this year. So, versatility is a key.
Looking at that group of forwards, with Grant, Durant, Green and Love, along with Khris Middleton and Bam Adebayo, the versatility is clear, with Green, Love and Adebayo also being able to flex to play center in smaller lineups.
International play has become less about traditional frontcourt positions, with small forwards, power forwards and centers, but more about flexing a roster with the ability to play faster in transition, in halfcourt, or to defend bigger or smaller teams.
“I think that’s a trademark of this group — players who can play a couple of positions and some of them even three positions,” Colangelo said. “So, I think (Grant) fits in just like a glove, and I think we will have a lot of depth on this team because of that versatility.”
Of that group, Durant and Middleton will get a lot of the attention because of their scoring prowess, but there’s also something to be said for the defense that the others in that group bring. Colangelo acknowledged Love’s selection may be surprising, but the international experience he has — as a member of the gold-medal teams with Durant in 2012 and ’16 — is an asset to a group that has several new faces.
The 12-man team has more star power in the backcourt with Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday and Zach LaVine. Coach Gregg Popovich takes over for Mike Krzyzewski.
With the condensed NBA seasons, some of the other top players were injured or decided not to play, which opened the door for some first-time selections such as Grant, but the team isn’t just about its frontline players; the second unit will play a big role too.
“Who’s to say how many minutes people are going to play?” Colangelo said, who has been the managing director since 2005. “It was a matter of filling out the roster with role players. I think back to our first Olympic team in ‘08, where we selected some players who are not frontline guys, but they really had a role.”
After seeing Olympics veterans such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, this group marks a changing of the guard with some new faces and the next crop of potential NBA stars — and that could be Grant’s trajectory.
At 27, Grant has more time in his career to grow, and more time to play on the international stage. It’s a good opportunity for him to expand his profile, and to team up with the best players in the world.
He’s a newcomer, but he has plenty to add to Team USA.
“I think every team needs some newcomers, and if they’re young, athletic guys who can play, obviously that’s a big part of it,” Colangelo said. “It’s a youthfulness, it’s exuding confidence, it’s a whole bunch of things that newcomers can bring to you, and I think they fall in that category for sure.”
It’ll be a summer of interesting experiences for Grant — and a lifetime of stories to tell.