Somewhat lost amidst the upheaval of their basketball-changing trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded away a third starter from last year’s playoff team -- 5th-year forward Jerami Grant. In his deal to the Nuggets, the Thunder acquired their eighth and final (for now, at least) future first-round pick, a good rate of exchange for the former 2nd round pick (39th overall) out of Syracuse.
Though he’s entering his sixth season in the league come October, Grant is just 25, and appears to be entering his prime. After two seasons coming off the bench for Billy Donovan, he had established enough trust as a productive rotation player to deserve more. Despite only starting five games in his first two years in Oklahoma City, he kept improving and gaining the staff’s trust with his hustle and effort on both ends of the floor, as well as his ability to guard multiple positions. He broke through when finally given a chance to start.
This past season, Grant started 77 games and averaged 13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG and shot 39.2% from deep. The post-Durant Thunder hadn’t found any consistency at the four spot for a few years, until Grant developed into a more consistent player on offense. Whether it was a lack of talent or injuries, Donovan couldn’t find the guy to pair next to Adams. Andre Roberson, Patrick Patterson, Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Josh Huestis, Taj Gibson, Nick Collison, Joffrey Lauvergne, Carmelo Anthony and Markieff Morris all played minutes at power forward during that time. OKC lacked pop with all of them.
It was Jerami Grant’s jumper that ultimately won over Billy Donovan, as Grant shot an impressive 41.9% from deep after the All-Star Break last season, which was better than any other Thunder player during that span (Paul George, to mention one teammate, shot just 33.6%). He showed that he can knock down the corner three, take bigger and slower defenders off the dribble, and block shots on defense. Grant is also great in transition as a finisher with his length, vertical, and ability to run the floor.
So why, after finally solving the power forward position, were the Thunder so eager to part with him? In addition to the first rounder they received, the Thunder get closer to avoiding a hefty luxury tax. For as much criticism as Presti (deservingly) gets for the Harden deal, when we trace the current roster’s composition back to its origins, Presti turned Serge Ibaka into Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, 2022, 2024 and 2026 1st-round picks, a 2023 1st-round picks (via Miami) + pick swaps with Clippers in 2023 and 2025. That’s a hell of a haul. Gilgeous-Alexander looks like the point guard of the future and Gallinari is coming off his best season statistically (19.8 PPG/6.1 RPG/43.3 3FG%) -- incidentally, at the same power forward position Jerami Grant plays.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, may have gotten a steal. I am excited to see what Grant does next to a playmaker like Nikola Jokic. The Thunder defense was a sight to behold, but the Thunder offense? That was a lot of Westbrook and George and picking up the scraps. Grant will make it tough for the other big man to help on Jokic inside with his ability to stretch the floor and put pressure on the rim. With Jokic’s passing ability, these two should complement each other nicely on the offensive end. He may not make 115 threes again -- a new career high by leaps and bounds -- but he’ll be a contributor, not a drag, to the Nuggets’ offensive system.
On defense, his versatility will be important, as will his ability to erase shots at the rim as a help defender. As dynamic as Jokic and Jamal Murray are, they are not renowned for their defensive prowess. That type of player is well worth $9M a year and a first-round pick. If the Nuggets are as good as they expect and hope to be, this draft pick will not be in the top 20. The Nuggets see the door is wide open in the West with the departure of Kevin Durant and the questions marks with the Rockets and Lakers.
The Thunder will not be marching through that door, of course, looking more at a rebuild than a title run -- though there are some very good basketball players still plying their trade on the Plains. More likely they’re hoping that Presti will regain some of the magic that saw them select Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden over three drafts, rather than the hard times that have befallen him lately. Terrance Ferguson showed some promise last season, but besides him, no Thunder draft pick has done anything of importance since they drafted Adams in 2013; in fact, with the exception of Russell Westbrook Hype Man Cameron Payne, all are out of the league.
With as good as the Clippers and Rockets are expected to be in the present and near future, Presti did well to push those draft picks out as far as possible, but the return from the Grant deal is immediate: Presti will be making an extra selection in the 2020 draft as a result, so both teams will know very soon the impact this deal will have on their respective franchises.