It’s September 2020, deep into the NBA Bubble. The Nuggets just lost to the Lakers, ending their historic bubble run. They found themselves headed home after a 4-1 series loss to the Lakers, in which Jerami Grant played an important role. Surprisingly, these would be his last games for the Nuggets, as he bet on himself in free agency.
He had played an important role for that Nuggets team throughout the year. Excelling in their last game against the Lakers with 20 points, a game that would of course be his last with the Nuggets
Betting on himself
Flash forward to November, and the Pistons sign Jerami Grant to a three-year, $60 million deal. The transaction garnered mixed reactions, to say the least.
At the time, the deal was interesting at best. Jerami Grant had career averages of 9.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 1.1 APG. Grant would be earning more than Myles Turner, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Goran Dragic in 2020-21.
The Nuggets wanted to retain Jerami; he played an important defensive role during their playoff run. They had no choice but to let Grant go. They couldn’t pay that much for a guy who would be the 4th or even 5th option for them. Ben Palliyaguru wrote back in October that the Nuggets need to retain some of their free agents. Grant was one of the only redeeming factors for a poor Denver defense. They couldn’t afford to pay Jerami what the Pistons were offering.
Jerami Grant bet on himself in free agency. When it came to the start of the 2020-21 season, it was time for him to prove it. 9, 1, and 3: that was Grant’s stat line in his first game. Those numbers were nearly right on his career averages — not bad, right?
No, Grant wasn’t getting paid $20 million to stay on his career averages. He took the deal with the Pistons to show what he could do with a bigger opportunity. This is what everybody expected; not many thought he could play up to his contract. His first game went largely unnoticed as a result.
Jerami’s second game, on the other hand, was quite surprising. He had 28 points and 10 rebounds in a loss against Cleveland. What’s more, he was the only starter with a positive plus/minus. Here was the Jerami Grant that the Pistons expected. This was the Jerami Grant that nobody thought existed. this is who Jerami wanted to show everybody, and he hasn’t stopped showing it so far.
27 points in a loss to Atlanta, 27 again in a loss to Golden State, then finally the Pistons got their first win. Jerami had 24 in the Pistons’ win against Boston.
As of January 31st, Grant is averaging 23.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, and 5.9 RPG this season. That’s nearly double his points and assists from last year. Given a bigger role with the pistons this year, he’s putting in all-star caliber numbers. Those numbers are great, but his efficiency might be the most impressive. With a 26% usage rate (far and away from the highest of his career), he has a lower turnover rate than last year (7.2% this year, 8.0% last) and a nearly identical true shooting percentage (.586 this year, .591 last).
Grant is also showing improved shot-creating ability. According to Basketball-Reference, 45% of his 2 point shots and 13% of his 3 point shots this year are coming unassisted. Last year those numbers were at 23% and 0%. I mean, that’s wild. He didn’t create a single 3 point shot for himself last year. Now with the bigger role, he’s showing off his shot-creating ability.
Also important to note, he’s taking more 2-point jumpers. Usually, people would start crying and running when they hear the words “2-point jumper”, but it’s good in this case. He’s taking 10% of his shots from 10-16 feet and 11 percent between 16 feet and the 3-point line. These numbers are only 4-5% higher than last year, which is pretty good.
Midrange shots like this are mostly unassisted and have to be created by the player taking them. Guys like Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, and Jaylen Brown are elite at these shots. Jerami Grant should look to build his game towards these guys. Elite two-way wings who can create their own shot. So far this year, he’s doing just that.
Two things have stayed consistent for the Pistons this season: losing games and Jerami Grant’s amazing play. Oh, and they can only beat some of the best teams in the league: so 3 consistencies.
The Pistons haven’t performed on the same level as Grant this year. Looking at their roster, it’s tough to tell what they’re doing. They’re not rebuilding, and they’re not set up to win. They do own the rights to their pick this year if it falls in the top 16, which it almost certainly will. Their best bet is to bottom out over the next few years and get some high draft picks.
Next year’s draft has quality talent throughout, so it’s a great year to tank and get a high pick. The question then becomes: do they keep Jerami Grant or look to trade him?
Grant is 26 years old, so he’s just entering his prime. That may be a bit old for a team that should now be starting a rebuild. Detroit’s best option may be to trade him to a contender for a package centered around draft picks or young players.
Before this season, Grant showed how valuable he could be to a contender, and now that he bet on himself, he’s reaching a new level. The question is, how valuable can Grant be as a 2nd or 3rd option on a contender?
The truth is, he’s perfect for that role. He’s already shown what he can do in a complementary role with Denver and OKC. He brings elite defense and good shooting to the table. Every team in the league is looking for those attributes, especially at the wing position. He left Denver for Detroit for a more important role, which will be necessary anywhere he may end up.
Also, Grant may not want to leave. There’s a chance that he’s happy to ride with the pistons for awhile. Leaving Denver for Detroit in the first place shows his priorities. Maybe he wants to grow in his role in Detroit for a while. But let’s not worry about what the future holds; let’s appreciate what he’s doing now.
Grant proved everybody wrong this season. Nobody thought he could perform at this level, except for him. Jerami Grant bet on himself in free agency, and he won big. He’s playing well enough for an even bigger contract down the line. Sooner than that, possibly an all-star appearance this year. Eventually, he may be a key piece for a contender. For now, all that matters is he’s balling and showing who he is. The question becomes, who’s the next star in hiding? Who else in the league is just waiting for their opportunity?