Why Detroit Pistons’ Jerami Grant is good with taking a back seat on Team USA

Detroit Free Press

The scouting report on Jerami Grant after his first season with the Detroit Pistons probably looks significantly different from the one during his first few NBA seasons, spent with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Golden State Warriors forward — and former Michigan State star and Flint native — Draymond Green took a moment to reflect on Grant’s progression on Thursday. Green and Grant will be teammates this summer, as both players were named to the USA Basketball roster. It’s Green’s second trip to the Olympics, and Grant’s first.

“I still remember the days in Philly with the scouting report being ‘Hey, he’s downhill and he’s Euro-stepping every time,’ and playing off of him, giving him the shot,” Green said. “To watch his journey, he’s one of the guys in the NBA now. An All-Star. Just an incredible year.”

NBA defenses aren’t willingly giving Grant open 3-pointers anymore, as he has turned that weakness into a strength. He knocked down 35% of his attempts last season, and around 39% of his 3-pointers during his previous two seasons (with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets). He’s still getting to the rim at a high rate too, though.

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It illustrates Grant’s gradual transformation from second-round pick to role player to star. He’s coming off of a breakout season with the Pistons, averaging career highs in points (22.3), assists (2.8) and minutes (33.9) per game. He finished second in the Most Improved Player voting and received a significant amount of All-Star votes.

He’s also the first Piston to make a USA Basketball roster since Tayshaun Prince in 2008, and only the third player in franchise history to receive the honor. (Grant Hill made the team in 1996.)

Competing in the Olympics is a massive achievement for any player. It’s a particularly notable one for Grant, who was the 39th pick in 2014. Less than a year ago, he was a high-level role player with the Nuggets, a distant third option behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. His three-year, $60 million contract last fall with the Pistons was considered an overpay by many critics. It’s now a steal.

“I was blessed when I got the call,” Grant said. “It was an honor. I love to play the game, that’s why I’m here. I was excited. I told my family, everyone was excited for me. This is going to benefit me, being around a group of guys that are this talented, being able to pick up the little things that they do, watching their movements and observing, things like that. It only can help me for my future.”

Though he grabbed a starring role with the Pistons, he’ll shift back to filling the gaps for Team USA as a role player. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who’s leading the USA team, said he wanted Grant on the roster because of his versatility. Grant proved his value on defense with the Nuggets, as he was often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player. He’s a natural fit between some of his ball-dominant teammates, such as Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum.

“I’m going to be playing a lot of defense, hitting open shots, being aggressive when I get the opportunity,” Grant said. “I think that’s my role, a lot of energy, doing what I need to do, whatever I need to do to get this gold.”

Training camp began Tuesday in Las Vegas, and the team will play its first exhibition Saturday against Nigeria. Team USA’s Olympic debut comes July 25, against France.

Grant hasn’t been with his new teammates for very long, but he has their trust. After all, they’re already familiar with what he can do.

“Coming out here, it’s very easy for a guy, especially a guy like Jerami who hasn’t been at that level for as long as a Kevin Durant, for as long as a Damian Lillard, it’s very easy for a guy to come in and take a back seat to those guys,” Green said. “He’s come in, he’s been aggressive, playing with extreme energy and he’s going to be a huge part and play a huge role in us winning the gold.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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