Raise your hand if you've heard this one before: "Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation." This classic adage was originally spoken by Zig Ziglar, and there's no arguing the fact that this man was well in tune with reality when he spoke those words. There are countless examples of NBA players who patiently waited until their chance to shine came calling then proceeded to take full advantage of it. Draymond Green. Jimmy Butler. Jusuf Nurkic. None of these players would be known as the foundational pieces they are today if they weren't granted the chance to display their talents on the basketball court in a legitimate capacity.
Make no mistake, Grant has been given a fair amount of opportunities to prove his worth on the court from a minutes perspective. He came out of the gate getting 21 minutes a game with the god-forsaken 76ers of 2014-2015. However, there is a big difference between the minutes that a player gets during a game and the role they play during those minutes. For example, during Grant's rookie season with the Sixers back in that 2014-2015 campaign, he amassed a 16.2% usage rate, which is merely average for his position, according to Cleaning the Glass. He jumped to 17.8% the following season, before regressing down to the low teens for the next three years. It took until last season (2019-2020) for him to get up to that 16% mark, before jumping all the way up to 24.9% this season.
Denver allowed Grant the opportunity to become an efficient energy player and fully come to terms with the kind of player he could be. As capable as he appeared to be as a offensive compliment, it was his defense that stood out to observers the most, especially in the 2020 Playoffs. He assumed the primary responsibility for keeping LeBron and Davis in check while Denver matched up with the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Both Lakers still had impressive series, but Grant was the only player on the entire Nuggets roster that could at least make those Superstars sweat for their buckets.
In the first clip, Grant beautifully navigates a screen and roll between James and McGee, that keeps him in position to deflect a lob attempt. Grant's lengths allows him to split the difference in situations like that, which is a huge advantage against offensive actions that are otherwise tough to guard.
The second clip is a prime example of how sharp his instincts are on the defensive end. He finds a way to time an Anthony Davis jumpshot down to the millisecond, which allows him to grab a block on one of the most unique athletic specimens on planet earth. Again, his length is a huge benefit, even when he is facing a height or weight disadvantage. It's easy to underestimate a player like Grant, since he is, or was rather, not a priority for opponents scouting out the team he played on. In OKC, he was at best, the third player in the pecking order behind Russ and Paul George. In Denver, Jokic and Murray were clearly 1st and 2nd in command, as evidenced by their immense contracts. Towards the end of his Denver tenure, he was even at risk of being usurped by budding youngster Michael Porter Jr.
It was that lack of attention that opened the door for Grant to become one of the best utility players in the league. He cut his teeth serving as a play finisher, as opposed to a primary or secondary creator. While he was never a proficient mid range scorer, he steadily improved as a three point shooter, shooting greater than 38% on threes with over 200 attempts in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.
Notice the ease of the three pointers that Grant converts. For one, they are all catch & shoot attempts, which comprised 42% of all his shots last season. Over half (57%) of his shots came without taking a single dribble. You may also notice that his three point heaves were not very far off of the three point line. He typically wouldn't stray more than 25 or 26 feet away from the basket if he was looking to score that distance is even less if he fires from the corners, which he did in two of the clips above. Lastly, almost 30% of his shots were categorized as "wide open" according to NBA.com. Once you add in all these elements of his long range shots, in becomes clear that he was the beneficiary of abundant space created by high usage counterparts. This served as his preparation.
However, it wasn't enough. Even on a winning team that stormed it's way to the cusp of the NBA Finals, his competitive appetite failed to be satisfied. It was this lack of opportunity, and maybe even a lack of respect that drove Jerami Grant out of Denver and into a solid payday in the opposite conference.
He fully explored his rights in free agency and found a home with the Detroit Pistons, who are now in the midst of a complete rebuild. The Piston were flush with cap space this past offseason after the gargantuan contracts of Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight came off of the books. They also finally excised the demon of seasons past by paying off the last year of Josh Smith's stretched salary. With Blake Griffin's unfortunate decline and Derrick Rose taking on too much of a burden given his age/milage, it was time to refill the reservoir of youth. The number one priority for teams diving into a rebuilding era is to find a player or players who can effectively create openings for himself and his team on at least passible efficiency. The Detroit Front Office saw Grant's resume as an efficient player and believed that could scale up to a bigger role.
Armed with the space to sign free agents outright, they went hunting for a big fish, big being a relative term. A max player commanding a 30% or 35% cut of a team's salary cap would have a starting salary of $32.7 or $38.2 million, more than Detroit had to offer. So instead, they set their sights on a cheaper asset, that could grow into something approaching an all-star type player. An average salary of $20 million for the next three years was enough to make the Nuggets skirm and pry Grant away. Many saw that salary as a moderate overpay, but the jury was out until he took the court in a new capacity. This season was the start of a new chapter. This served as his opportunity.
At this juncture, it's worth pointing out that Denver and Detroit actually conducted business with each other directly when it comes to Grant. Denver knew he was departing, so to avoid losing him for nothing, they performed a sign and trade. They gave him his new deal then shipped him out to the Pistons, which created a $9.5 million Trade Exception. Luckily for them, it only cost some cash and the draft rights to a player who might not even touch a NBA court. Either way, the Pistons got their man.
So how are things since the signing? Well...So far, so good. The early results from the signing look promising. The leaps that Grant has made in his game are evident in the before & after snapshot of his season numbers.
Granted, he is only 16 games through his initial campaign with the Pistons, but there is real growth on display here. The first big takeaway has got to be his shooting percentages. More specifically, how they have remained relatively steady, despite his drastically different role and increased attention from defenses. Field Goal percentages is not the best measure of efficiency, so how does his true shooting percentage look? If you're not familiar with TS%, it takes into account numbers from all over the floor, including the three point line and the free throw line. He has only suffered a 1.4% drop, falling from 59.1% to 57.7%.
Compare the type of shots he's hitting with his new team as opposed to his old one:
All of these shots came after two or more dribbles. The difficulty that inherently dwells in those attempts cannot be overstated. It takes a great deal of ball control, body control, and touch among other skills to complete the evolution into a premier NBA scorer. It has to be encouraging for the Pistons that they seem to have hit on a key piece that is young enough to be a prominent piece of the next gen of this organization. It's unlikely that Grant will become the caliber of player necessary to carry this team into true contention, but as a 2nd or 3rd best player, he will be invaluable. Detroit has his rights for the next two seasons after this with no options, so they won't have to worry about him becoming a flight risk if this season or even the next one goes down in flames. If he can continue to produce at this level, (24/6.5/2.8 as of this writing), the contract once thought to be an anchor could quickly become a blessing. At $19M, $20M, and $20.9M over the next three years, the Motor City squad would gladly take on those cap hits for All-Star, or even near All-Star level production.
But of course, Grant knew what he was getting into. If he wanted to keep winning a high a clip, he could have easily done so by remaining in Denver. He decided to venture outside his comfort zone by taking on a task unfamiliar to him before this season. Now that he seems to have settled into that responsibility, it's one less task this team has to worry about. The road back to the playoffs seems to be a long one for this once storied franchise, but for one ambitious soul within, this season represents the realization of a dream that has been well prepared for.