The Detroit Pistons were, for one or two days in November, the main character on NBA Twitter. Nobody could understand what they were doing; rapidly stockpiling draft picks and overpaid players, losing Christian Wood, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. General manager Troy Weaver was on 2K’s trade machine, trying to do whatever he could to improve the roster as quickly as possible.
Standing amongst the chaos was Jerami Grant, a marquee free agent who had a comfortable role on a conference finals team in Denver. Reports said that he was mulling between two teams, Denver and Detroit, who had both offered him 3 years, $60 million for his services. In an unlikely turn of events, Grant chose the Pistons — a team with very little chance of immediate success — over a winning culture in Denver.
A signing that seemed like an overpay at the time, particularly in how it handicapped the Pistons from retaining budding star Christian Wood, has helped the Pistons look much smarter since their mid-November transaction frenzy. Grant chose Detroit because it presented him all of the things he was looking for: growth, a bigger role, playing for a Black coach in a Black city, and a chance to bet on himself.
Grant never averaged more than 10 points per game in his first five seasons in the league; when he became a full-time starter for the first time in 2018 with the Thunder, he averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 50% from the floor, and 39% from three.
Grant’s offensive growth is best seen beyond the arc; before 2018, he was a career 30% three-point shooter. In his two prior seasons, he shot just under 40% from three on around 3.6 attempts per contest. In 2021, Grant is launching over 7.5 threes per game — more than double his past two seasons — and close to 19 shots per game, a mark he has never come close to in his eight years as a pro.
In Denver, he was the fourth offensive option, usually with Jokic, Murray, and Harris taking the most shots. But after a 9-point Piston debut, he’s been over 22 points for each of the Pistons last eight games (and over 30 in the past two). A lot of the worry that came along with Detroit committing $60 million to Grant was that he’d never shown an ability to really create for himself. Playing alongside Denver’s gifted creators, most of his buckets came from spot-ups, well-timed cuts, and offensive put-backs. But in Detroit, Grant has flashed an ability to keep his handle tight and get to spots where he can just rise up over defenders.
Grant holds onto the ball for much longer than usual this possession, and it isn’t the best shot. But the Pistons, without Rose in this game against Atlanta, put Grant in lineups where he could be the primary creator. A lineup with Grant alongside Svi Mykhailiuk, Josh Jackson, and Wayne Ellington, three play finishers, leaves Grant alone on Get-A-Bucket-Island.
Plays like the one above show that Detroit believes Grant is talented enough to be a primary creator who can get his own in lineups where others can’t. This, alongside with his activity in the paint, provides for a dynamic scorer who finds himself in the right place at the right time.
Middleton is no slouch, but Grant takes advantage of his laziness. He uses his length to win rebound battles and finish over the top of guys. What Grant brings in the paint is unique to many outside scorers; the list of guys who can shoot 40% from three and also power up and through forwards and bigs is a short one. This dunk over Daniel Theis shows Grant isn’t afraid to get nasty:
Grant was so useful in Denver because he was the man tasked with guarding the other team’s best players. Grant battled with Donovan Mitchell, Kawhi Leonard, and the Lakers duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis during the Nuggets’ playoff run. Grant uses his long arms and ability to time the offensive player’s shot to block threes with some consistency, like in this clip:
Defenders with the size and instincts that Grant possesses are extremely valuable. Against a weaker Warriors squad, even fans at home can recognize Curry’s frustration with his teammates compared to his past years. Curry needs to get his to give Golden State a chance, and Grant takes advantage. Instead of staying with Paschall, Grant’s eyes are locked on Steph the whole time, stepping over and high-pointing the layup off the backboard.
In watching the Pistons this season, one thing is evident: Jerami Grant has earned the right to be the Pistons’ long-term solution at the four spot. Blake Griffin has not looked like himself in the early 2020-21 season, and the Pistons are feeling it: 2-7 overall, 1-5 in games that Blake has played. Moving away from Griffin unlocks Grant as a switchable big and an offensive mismatch, and also opens it up for Saddiq Bey and Josh Jackson to start alongside Grant.
Before Griffin’s resurgence against Phoenix, the two-man lineup of Grant and Griffin was last amongst Pistons lineups who have played more than 100 minutes together this season, with a net rating of -20.1 (It’s climbed up to -7.9 now). Meanwhile, Grant is involved in three of the top four two-man lineups.
The combo of Grant and Saddiq Bey, who is profiling as a long-term option at the starting small forward spot, posts a net rating of +7.2 in 131 minutes. That’s right: Detroit is 15 points better with a three-four combo of Bey and Grant than Grant and Griffin. Meanwhile, Bey has only played 23 minutes with Blake this season.
You’re reading that right: The Pistons are 28 points better when Grant is alongside Bey than when he is alongside Griffin. Nearly every minute that Blake is off the floor, Grant is on: Bey has only played 9 minutes with Blake this season.
Tattered in the memories of Pistons fans is a lineup with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. If they’re not careful, the Plumlee-Griffin-Grant lineup could enter that same territory. Those three have played 131 minutes together, with a net rating of -6.8
What Grant becomes over the next 60 games is certainly something to watch. He could come back down to earth from his 24.8 points per game to around 18. His playmaking and creation for others could use to improve if he’s really about to enter that top tier of big wings like his early-season play suggests. Detroit could sell high on him for assets, but that seems unlikely.
There’s some serious staying power in Jerami Grant, playing as a lead man for the first time in his career. Grant has shown improvement every season of his career, and finally got the role he was looking for. If you’re the Pistons, $20 million per year for a 25-point scorer is a great deal. But Detroit is getting more than that: they acquired an athletic, switchy modern four-man who can shoot close to 40% from three and defend other team’s best players. There’s no doubt he’ll be in the conversation for the NBA’s Most Improved award.
Jerami Grant bet on himself this offseason, and the early returns sure are promising.
Featured Image: Carlos Osario/Associated Press