2018-2019 Off the Glass Breakout Players Series: Jerami Grant
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With the 2018-2019 NBA season fast approaching, Off the Glass is making predictions on who the breakout players of each team will be. Today we look at Jerami Grant from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Being a second round pick in the NBA is hard; most are only around for a couple of seasons – if they are lucky enough – ending up in the G-League or overseas. Jerami Grant is arguably the most privileged second round pick to have come out of the 2014 Draft. He was selected 39th overall out of Syracuse by the then unwatchable Philadelphia 76ers. As a member of the 2015 and 2016 Sixers teams that won 18 and 10 games respectively, Grant got plenty of time on the court. Yes, he was playing on terrible teams; but those opportunities led Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti to complete a deal that, shortly after the start of the 2016-17 season, brought Grant to OKC and gave him a new opportunity.
“We take a lot of pride in his development,” Presti said of Grant last season. “Jerami is such a great kid. The way he put the work in, he's progressed a little bit at a time.”
After his first full season in a Thunder uniform last year, Grant finished with averages of 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and one block per game on a career-high 53.5 percent shooting from the floor. He was the team’s sixth man and his versatility allowed the coaching staff to discover the one role he thrives in: playing as a small-ball big man.
The 6-foot-8 Grant had primarily played small forward before landing in OKC, where he has become a full-time power forward; he even played at center for some short stretches, with quite positive results.
“He's become a pretty effective back up five for us, with some unique skills,” Presti also noted. “Jerami fortunately can play a couple different positions, so that's helped him a great deal.”
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan agrees, saying, “When we went with Jerami at the five, it was a totally new position, and I give him a lot of credit that he really flourished in that role. It speaks to his ability, his talent, and his intelligence as a player, that he can play so many different positions and understand assignments on both ends of the floor.”
That last sentence sums up the reason Grant was rewarded by the Thunder organization with a three-year, $27 million contract this summer: he has become an impact player on both ends of the floor. He possesses a truly enviable skill-set, as he can do pretty much anything you can ask for. If he can take all of his skills to the next level, that is when he will become a true threat for opposing offenses and a player whom rival teams will need to gameplan for.
Grant is particularly versatile on defense. He is not the typical rim protector, but he does a good job of swatting away shots as both the primary and help defender. Grant also does succeeds in staying in front of his man both on the perimeter and inside. And while he may not be able to keep up with the quickest guards like James Harden or Stephen Curry, he can still make most everybody’s night a living hell on defense.
On offense, Grant is an underrated slasher. Even at a young age and at an above-average height, he knows how to create separation from his man and seep through the defense like few others can. He is clearly not afraid of getting physical – he even initiates contact at times to try and draw and-ones.
And let’s not even get started on his hops, because this man can get way up to throw down thunderous slams - no pun intended - both from a standing position and driving to the basket.
Grant is way stronger than he looks – he likes to set some very hard screens – and he has developed some chemistry with Russell Westbrook on the pick and roll. Overall, Grant took 59 percent of his shots at the rim last season and made them at an impressive 68.5 percent clip. If he can continue to get stronger, he can become one of the most lethal inside scorers and small-ball pick-and-roll threats in the league.
Among players with at least one transition possession per game, Grant ranked in the 97th percentile with 1.39 points per possession, posting the third lowest transition turnover frequency in the league. And though he only averaged one transition opportunity per game, these numbers only underscore his skills as a driver. Given that he’s also a very good running mate alongside Westbrook, he ought to get more involved in fastbreak situations,
His rebounding numbers do not really stand out for a big man because he plays alongside Steven Adams, arguably the best offensive rebounder in the league, and Russell Westbrook, arguably the best rebounding guard in the league. Grant can still pull down some contested boards and is not a liability on that field.
The one area he needs to improve on, or at least be more consistent, is his three-point shooting. After making 37.7 percent of his threes two seasons ago and shooting 44.4% percent from the corners, those numbers took a huge hit last year and dropped to 29.1 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively.
Grant knows how much improving his long-range game can help his team, and is the reason why this summer he followed an intense training program with up to three workouts each day, all focusing on his shooting and balance.
“I’m really focused on my shooting,” Grant told Alex Kennedy from Hoops Hype early this past offseason. “That’s probably the part of my game that I’m focusing on the most. Also, I’ve been trying to improve my balance – staying balanced when I’m getting to the basket. Mainly, I want to be able to create [shots] for myself a little bit more. Those things are my main focus this summer.”
There is no better time for Grant to show up than now. He just earned a lucrative three-year deal, so he faces no pressure on that regard and knows the team wants him. With Carmelo Anthony gone, the starting power forward spot is up for grabs in OKC.
And he does not need the ball in his hands to remain an impactful player on offense, as all he needs to do it set hard picks around the perimeter and roll and stand in the corner to either wait for an open three or make aggressive cuts that open space for him and his teammates.
He has a great playmaking teammate in Russell Westbrook to help set him up; Steven Adams can open even more spaces for Grant with some of his own hard screens; Paul George is a star who is always willing to make the extra pass. There is no excuse for Grant not to thrive in this new situation, as it is obvious that his teammates, coaches, and the front office believe in him.
If Grant takes this next step in his career, he will be a big part of the OKC Thunder earning home-court advantage through the first round of the playoffs. And with all of the work Grant put in this summer, him breaking out is just a matter of time. “My confidence comes from my work, so the more work I put in, the more confident I am on the court.”
You can follow Jorge on Twitter @CantuNBA.
All data and statistics obtained from NBA Stats and Basketball Reference.