Jerami Grant has been through this before.
The Detroit Pistons star was drafted by the “Trust the Process”-era Philadelphia 76ers in 2014 — a team that started the season 0-17. Grant won 28 total games during his first two seasons in the NBA. In his third season, he finally experienced winning. The Sixers traded Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who then won 47 games in 2016-17 en route to the playoffs.
There was obviously a talent gap between the two teams, as the Thunder were led by superstar Russell Westbrook. But there was also an experience gap. And it was experience that helped Grant, a second-round pick, emerge as a reliable role player in Oklahoma City. He appeared in all five in their playoff games, averaging 22.2 minutes.
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“For me, it was experience,” Grant said. “Experience and understanding where you want to go when times start getting hard. Figuring out what you want from the offense, and obviously from the defense as well. When you’re young, you don’t really know. You haven’t experienced it. You have to experience it to understand it.”
The Pistons’ lack of experience was glaring during Monday’s 114-103 loss to the Thunder. Detroit led by 18 points in the first half, but slumped in the second half. After shooting just 26.9% in the third quarter, the Pistons collapsed in the fourth. Oklahoma City made 17 of its 19 shot attempts in the final period, and outscored the Pistons, 42-22.
It was a complete unraveling. The Pistons weren’t able to mount a response as the Thunder settled into a groove in the fourth quarter — not even after Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart joined Grant and Saddiq Bey on the floor. Detroit led the entire game until there was 3:46 remaining, and lost by 13.
Two of the youngest rosters in the league have suffered embarrassing losses this season. The Thunder, sans young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, lost by an NBA-record 73 points to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday. They were hungry for a win, and the Pistons obliged.
“At some point the young players have to become older players,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “Once the other team ratchets up the pressure, or whatever it is, we have to be able to respond. Same shots you get in the first quarter, you’re probably not going to get, and the same calls you might get in the first quarter, you may not get in the fourth quarter because officials may let it go.”
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The Pistons were down several veterans Monday. Kelly Olynyk is out for at least another three weeks with a knee sprain. Cory Joseph missed the game with right knee inflammation. Neither might have made a difference, but the team looked directionless in the final minutes of the game.
It’s becoming a consistent theme. Last season, the Pistons were slightly better than their 20-52 record — the NBA’s second-worst — suggested. The Pistons were 25th in net rating (-4.5), but more than double the rating of the last-place Thunder (-10.6). This season, the Pistons have logged a net rating of -9.7 through 23 games — next to last.
The Pistons had high-usage veterans at the beginning of last season in Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose. Fellow veterans Delon Wright, Wayne Ellington, Mason Plumlee also were in the team’s top seven in minutes; Joseph was a heavy rotation fixture after arriving at the trade deadline. This season has seen more young players grab minutes. Cunningham, Hayes, Stewart, Bey and Frank Jackson — all 23 or younger — rank in the top seven in minutes this season.
“We’re a young team,” Grant said. “Last year we had a lot more vets on the court playing, and this year we’re one-year, two-year guys.”
Long term, that experience could pay off. Short term, it means this team will be prone to some ugly losses.
“We have to get ready mentally and physically for those moments, when the other team ratchets up, when they start trapping or being more physical with you, ride you out of bounds, whatever it is,” Casey said. “You have to get ready for it. There’s no classroom for that. It’s through experience. It’s through going through it, and that’s where we are right now.”
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