After a successful season as a full-time starter in Oklahoma City last season, Jerami Grant was shipped out to Denver where he was immediately slotted as a backup for recumbent veteran Paul Millsap. Grant has been an impact player for Denver as the first man off the bench, but I’ve been hungry to see him in a starting lineup again all year. Apparently, Jerami has been hungry too.
Millsap has been out with injury since January 8th, and in his stead, Grant has started all 14 games. The Nuggets have gone 9-5 in that stretch and Grant has been stellar all around posting 15pts/4.9rbs/1.8asts with 2.7 steals and blocks combined with very good efficiency(46.2%/40.4%/78.8%).
When Millsap went down, I was immediately interested to see how Denver would operate. His box numbers don’t pop this year, but Millsap is the most important player on this team not named Jokic. He has glued together Denver’s defense this year and been part of some amazing defensive teams. Millsap can guard just about anyone capably and that is a feat considering he turns 35 next week. More importantly he’s one of the best team defenders in the league; his individual defense is great, but he’s the reason most of Denver’s players rotate well and shift into the right position. You can always see him calling out assignments and extremely active on that end.
This whole aside is to help you understand how remarkably Grant has filled in for Millsap. The offense has not fallen off and has actually been slightly improved. Denver’s defense was ranked 11th prior to Millsap’s injury, and has just about maintained holding at the 12th spot with Grant, per NBA.com.
Grant has shown defensive prowess throughout the duration of his career, but he’s been showcasing it in the Mile-High City.
Grant is routinely assigned to the best perimeter player on opposing teams and been more than capable of giving them extremely tough nights. As seen above, Grant’s shiftiness as well as his wingspan, allow him to engulf opposing players with his , forcing tough contested jumpers. On the off chance that a player blows by Grant, an open layup is far from assured.
Here’s how tougher offensive opposition have matched up against Grant per NBA.com:
- Brandon Ingram – 3/12
- Danilo Gallinari – 0/6
- Kawhi Leonard – 2/9
- Jaylen Brown – 2/6
- Buddy Hield – 0/6
- Russell Westbrook – 3/8
- Bogdan Bogdanovic – 0/5
- Giannis Antetokounmpo – 2/6
These stats don’t mean everything, but they help illustrate the story of Grant’s ability to defend the elite players in the NBA. However, it should be noted that Grant is not the stout post presence on defense that Millsap is, due to his lanky frame. While he fights like hell, bigger forwards can take advantage of Grant in the post. He’s been erased in the paint by Kevin Love (5/7 from 2), Julius Randle (4/6 from 2), and Anthony Davis (3/4 from 2).
I’ve heard the idea thrown around by analysts that he can play the 5 and I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Mike Malone seems to be of the same mindset, as Grant has played less than one percent of his time at Center this year according to basketball reference. Just something to keep in mind.
While the defense has been superb, the most vital part of Grant’s success has been his shooting. He’s shot 39% from 3 on the year and over the stretch he’s been starting, he’s hit 40.4% on a fairly high volume (4.1 attempts per game). This growth in his game has been huge as he was a fairly poor distance shooter over his first four seasons (30.1%).
After a massive jump in his takes and efficiency last year, and his continued success as a shooter this year, it’s safe to say that his stroke is legit. While his shooting percentage is about the same as last year, Grant has taken more difficult shots; he’s on pace to hit the most threes he ever has from outside the corner at the highest percentage he ever has. He’s routinely able to hit shots immediately off the catch and with an opponent in his face.
With Millsap coming off the books this offseason and Grant holding a player option for next season, I fully expect Denver to go all out to resign him. His defensive versatility and ability to stretch the floor alongside Jokic in the frontcourt are not easy to find. He turns only 26 this season and fits perfectly with this core moving forward. I fully expect Grant to turn down his $9.3m option this summer and go for a bigger long term contract. He’s more than outplayed it and I think it should be a top priority for Tim Connelly and the Nuggets front office to re-sign him. If they don’t lock him up before he hits free agency, he’ll be extremely difficult to keep in Colorado, given that this is a particularly desolate free agency class.
After surviving The Process, Grant has crafted himself into a fantastic roleplayer. Most second round picks don’t even make it past their rookie deal. Watching Grant grow and mold himself into a plus player has been an awesome experience and I can’t wait to see how he finishes out this year.
What do you think of Grant’s game? How do you think the Nuggets will handle his potential free agency? Let me know down below and don’t forget to check out my latest podcast!