Jerami Grant: A Core Piece to the Restoration?

Detroit Bad Boys

In December, Jerami Grant suffered a right thumb injury in a lifeless 109-93 road loss to the struggling New Orleans Pelicans. At the time, Detroit was in the midst of a franchise-tying 14-game losing streak. With the injury, the Pistons were set to be without their leading scorer for an extended period of time. While no one wants to see any player miss time due to injury, a fair portion of the fanbase were looking forward to an offense which heavily featured Detroit’s core of ‘young guys’.

In his debut season with the Detroit Pistons, Grant was a fan favourite, bursting onto the scene and scoring 20-plus points in 23 of his first 30 games for the franchise. After being ridiculed by the national media and league executives for having “the worst offseason by far” in 2020, Grant’s hot start propelled him into All-Star discussion, hushing offseason criticisms.

Fast forward to this season; a 4-21 start for the Pistons combined with early shooting struggles quickly removed the shine off Grant’s 20 points per game. It felt like with each 19-foot jumper hoisted, the former Syracuse forward lost a portion of the fanbase, with supporters questioning why the coaching staff weren’t putting the ball in the hands of the teams young play-makers.

However, upon returning from injury in early February, Grant has put together his best stretch of basketball this season. It’s no coincidence that the 28 year-old’s strong play has coincided with Detroit’s most competitive stretch of basketball in years. In this piece, I’ll delve into Grant’s new found role on the team and how he could serve as a valuable piece in Detroit’s restoration.

What has changed?

Usage Rate

A season ago, Grant was the clear primary option on offense, Per NBA.com. He lead the 2020-21 roster in field goal attempts, touches, points and minutes per game. Although he tailed off towards the latter part of his inaugural season with Detroit, all things considered, Grant was productive in his role as the teams go-to scorer.

To begin his second season with the team, Grant did a lot of what made him successful in his initial year with the team; a steady diet of isolation plays, often ending in a contested jump-shot. Although he was still connecting on relatively the same efficiency and leading the team in scoring, this seasons rosters had a new star rookie in need of ball handling reps.

With Grant out of the line-up due to injury, from Dec. 11 to Jan. 31 Detroit was able to put together a 7-13 record with Cunningham as the offensive engine. It would be unfair to pin the teams ‘success’ on Grant’s absence as there were a variety of contributing factors allowed Detroit to turn things around. However, while Grant was out, it was clear that upon his return, Cunningham should be the player with the ball in his hands most.

Since returning from injury on Feb. 1, we have seen Grant and Cunningham suit up together in 14 games. In these games, Detroit’s prized rookie has seen his usage sky-rocket to 30.8%, while Grant’s usage has dipped to 23.8%.

Grant’s Usage Numbers Pre & Post Injury

Statistic Pre-Injury Post Injury Post All Star Break
Statistic Pre-Injury Post Injury Post All Star Break
USG% 26.30% 23.9 24.70%
Drives 9.00 7.90 9.20
FG% on Drives 45.3% 54.2% 51.1%
Touches 64.7 56.3 57.9
Points Per Touch 0.311 0.330 0.361
OFF Rating (Team) 97.3 109.8 113.3

Per Second Spectrum Tracking | NBA.com | 03.25.2022

To the coaching staff’s credit, not only did they identify that pumping additional usage into Cunningham was the optimal move but, they clearly had a discussion with Grant about reducing his ball handling opportunities. While this might sound simple, it’s no small feat to telling your leading scorer that their touches are being reduced, especially on a team as poor as Detroit.

Since returning from the All-Star break, Grant has been playing some of his most effective basketball since joining the team. Although he still settles for the occasional mid-range jumper, the 6-foot-9 forward has done a great job of driving to the rim and finishing at higher efficiency.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Grant’s recent play has been his increase in points per touch, while averaging less touches per game. Prior to Friday’s contest against the Washington Wizards, Grant has averaged a team-high 0.361 points per touch in 13 games since the All Star break. From a team perspective, Detroit has seen the offensive rating sky from a measly 97.3, prior to Grant’s injury, to 109.8 since his return to the line-up in early February.

Shot Selection

Following his injury hiatus, the 28 year-old wing appears to have placed more emphasis on conforming to Coach Casey’s ‘shot-spectrum. In his first 24 games of the season, Grant averaged almost 16 (15.9) field goal attempts (FGA) per game, with 5.3 of those attempts from behind the three point line. With Cunningham now soaking up additional possessions, the rangy-forward has reduced seen reduced field goal attempts since returning to the line-up. Since the 1st of February, Grant is averaging 14.2 FGA on higher efficiency, most encouragingly though, his three-point percentage & FGA have increased to 38.4% & almost 6 (5.7) tries a game.

We have seen less of this:

And more of this:

Per Cleaning the Glass, 37% of Grant’s shot’s have been from the ‘long-line’ since the All Star break. Additionally, the Syracuse product has reduced his frequency of mid-range attempts from 39% to 33%. In an ideal world, the mid-range attempts continue to decline however, Grant has been somewhat effective in the mid-range when shooting off 1 or 2 dribbles. Post-injury he has shot 51.4% on 1 dribble attempts and 47.7% on 2 dribble two-point fields goals.

How much has Grant’s role adjusted?

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards

Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

For the most part, Grant’s role on the team hasn’t drastically changed, while he’s altered his shot profile, most nights he’s right there with Cunningham as the leading shot-taker. Schematically, he’s seen a slight uptick in possessions involving screen action, but once again, we haven’t seen any new plays consistently ran for the rangy-wing.

There have really been two major contributing factors to Grant’s success in the back half of the season.

Firstly; Grant’s willingness to accept the role of secondary. and on some nights, the tertiary offensive option. Per Synergy, In his first 24 games to start the season, Grant tallied a total of 75 isolation plays, thats approximately 3.1 ‘clear out, I’ve got this’ possessions a night. In the 23 games since returning from thumb surgery, the 8 year-veteran has seen his isolation possessions cut in half, churning out only 35 such possessions (1.52 per game). Considering Grant produces a measly 0.783 points per possession on isolation plays, the reduction in attempts has been a welcomed sight.

Secondly, the rise in play of Bey and Cunningham has ultimately made this Pistons team more competitive post All Star break. The rookie and sophomore duo both got off to rough starts in 2021, Cunningham due to injury, while Bey struggled to find his feet as a shot-creator.

In Grant’s absence, Bey and Cunningham scoring increased to 19.1 and 16.9 points respectively. Bey in particular appeared to benefit the most from the additional possessions and since Grant’s initial absence in mid-December has put together his most consistent stretch of NBA basketball, capped with a 51-point performance against the Orlando Magic.

Per NBA.com, in the 16 games they have played together since the 1st of February, the trio of Cunningham, Bey and Grant has produced a net rating of +6.5. A remarkable turnaround from the -15.1 net rating they displayed in the early months of the season. Detroits new ‘Big 3’ seem to have built some chemistry and, since the All Star break, have been teetering on the edge of a .500 record, going 7-9 in 16 games.

Can Grant be a core part of the franchise ‘Restoration’?

In a vacuum, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest in a 28 year-old forward that doesn’t fit the timeline of the teams young core pieces, particularly with the top of this years draft being stacked with wing talent.

The counter argument to this is that 6’9” wings that can defend and stretch the floor are incredibly valuable pieces, no matter their age. Detroit fans only have to look back the 2019 Playoffs where, Piston-legend, Wayne Ellington started at the small forward position. Heck, the whole 2010’s was filled with draft misses trying to find length on the perimeter.

Hence, this version of Grant post-All Star break is a valuable piece that fits on almost any roster in the league and shouldn’t be traded for the sake of providing additional opportunity to unproven players. In the short term, it’s highly possible we see Grant begin next season in Piston colours, with the teams potential top-3 pick begins the year on the bench. The Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves recently started their prized rookies’; Ball and Edwards, on the pine in favour of veteran players, and it didn’t seem to effect their development. The 2022-2023 season will be the final of Grant’s 3yr/$60 million deal signed in 2020 and unless a solid deal presents itself, it would seem foolish to trade the 28 year-old after he has found success with running mates; Bey and Cunningham.

Grant may not be the perfect player, he certainly has his floors but, his recent play has shown he is willing to reduce his role in favour of the team’s growth. He’s demonstrated he can play alongside a heliocentric guard and continue to produce offense for the team. One things for certain, the decision to keep Grant or not is alot more difficult now, than it was in December. And thats a great problem to have.

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