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Grant Emulating Conley, Embracing Opportunity With Bulls

Jerian Grant sits down with Basketball Insiders for an exclusive interview about his third season and high hopes for Chicago.

Spencer Davies



When a member of the Grant family sets their mind to something, it’s probably going to happen. The sport of basketball is in their blood.

Jerami is an integral piece of the Oklahoma City Thunder. His father Harvey was a respected 11-year wing that made his mark in the NBA, and Harvey’s brother Horace had a memorable career over 17 seasons in the league as well.

Now, it’s another one’s turn to continue the legacy.

“I just think our work ethic,” Jerian Grant told Basketball Insiders about his family’s connection to the game. “We weren’t always the guys that were ranked in high school or the guys that were the best player on your team even in high school, even in college.

“We get better every year. I think as we continue to play and work hard and get experience, we all get better.”

There are winds of change in the Windy City.

In one summer, the Chicago Bulls lost the brunt of their short-lived core. Franchise superstar Jimmy Butler was traded, hometown hero Dwyane Wade got bought out, and veteran guard Rajon Rondo became a free agent.

Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, it will be up to the young upstarts to prove they can compete at the highest level of basketball. Grant is poised to be the leader of this group, and he plans on using what he soaked in from observing those three to guide him.

“I think last year helped me a lot,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I got to play under some great guys—a great leader in a point guard in Rondo, guys like Jimmy and D Wade. Just learning from them, watching them, seeing how they were leading the team and how they were kind of speaking to the guys. I feel like a lot of that has rubbed off on me.”

The collection of talent that Chicago has is inexperienced, yet intriguing. Aside from a veteran like Robin Lopez, these players haven’t truly gotten a chance to see what they’re capable of with significant, expanded roles.

It’s a determination that Grant has noticed since training camp, and believes will be the driving force behind their resolve through the course of this season as they look to turn some heads.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, but these guys are hungry,” Grant told Basketball Insiders, citing Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cristiano Felicio and Paul Zipser as examples. “A lot of these guys have been in the league for two to three years and haven’t been able to show what they can do, and they’re really excited to get their opportunity to go out there and prove that they belong in this league.”

Of course, there are many detractors in the wake of losing the core that the Bulls did and moving forward with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, but that will be the ultimate motivator.

“We talk about it every day,” Grant told Basketball Insiders of the negative noise. “It’s gonna feel great to be able to go out there when everybody thinks you’re gonna be so bad and prove ‘em wrong, so that’s something we look forward to. Obviously, guys are counting us out, but we’re excited to show what we can do.”

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is just as enthusiastic about it as Grant is.

“He’s absolutely right about that,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders of the team’s hunger. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are trying to establish themselves as players in this league.

“We’ve got guys that’ll play much bigger roles than they’ve had at any point in their careers, so our effort and competitiveness has been awesome. It’s probably been the best part about our camp.”

Entering his third year as a pro, a lot will be asked of Grant. He’s already establishing himself as one of the captains of the ball club, but now it’s about what he can bring to the court.

Unfortunately this past week, Kris Dunn was injured while attempting to block a dunk against Sterling Brown in a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He’ll be sidelined for two to four weeks because of a left finger dislocation, meaning Grant will have to step up in his place.

Hoiberg has loved what he’s brought to the table in October, noting that Grant is taking care of the basketball, playing downhill and knifing into the paint to open up looks for his teammates on the perimeter. It’s something he’d like to see continue.

“He had a great offseason,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders. “He spent a lot of time in the weight room. He’s noticeably bigger and stronger this year.

“The biggest thing we need [from him] is to continue to have consistency in our pace,” Hoiberg continued. “We’ve got to get that ball up the floor quickly and hopefully strike before the defense gets set, the pace in the half-court with cutting and screening.

“We need good effort on the defensive end and then he’s got to give us consistent minutes where we trust that he’s gonna go out there and make the right play. And again, he’s shown us that he’s got that mindset this year.”

The opportunity is exactly what he’s been aiming for. Not only will this allow Grant to have a platform to flourish, but it will also give him a shot at earning more playing time in the process.

You can bet self-belief will not hinder Grant from achieving his true potential. He knows what he’s already good at, and at the same time, he’s aware of what needs work to get to the next level among his peers.

“I’m definitely confident in getting my guys involved,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think just the makeup of our team—I’mma be one of the guys that has to get people shots and I feel like I’m really confident in doing that.

“And then, just being able to score, you know? Point guards in this league nowadays, you’ve got to get a bucket. It’s not easy getting everybody involved and scoring, but I think that’s something I can do.”

As the season arrives soon and Grant looks to cement himself as a true starting point guard in the NBA, he’s received some advice from a new member of the Bulls staff.

Shawn Respert, formerly an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies, joined the organization as director of player development on August 31 and has been working closely with him.

As soon as Respert stepped foot in the building, he told the recently turned 25-year-old to study a player he knows very well from his time at “The Grindhouse.” Grant is on board with it, too.

“He’s talked to me a lot about Mike Conley,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “A guy who gets his guys involved, but at the same time plays at his own pace and really understands the game, so I’ve been watching clips of him and I can see a little bit of that in myself.”

Emulating an All-Star caliber point guard who is respected league-wide is a great start to taking that next step, and Hoiberg would be thrilled if that goal comes to fruition.

“The biggest thing that he can learn from Mike Conley is Mike Conley—he’s as good as any in the league at making simple basketball plays,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders.

“If he draws two defenders and makes the kick, it doesn’t have to be the spectacular behind-the-back or lob or whatever it is, he just makes good, solid decisions. And that’s what we want out of Jerian.”

Though he’s primarily a drive and kick type of player, Grant has developed into a threat from the three-point line. His rookie year left a lot to be desired in that area of his game, but last season was a drastic improvement.

It was only on an average of two attempts per contest, but he went from 22 percent to 36.6 percent just like *that*. Over five games this preseason, he’s let it fly more and knocked down 41.2 percent of those tries.

“I think a lot of it has to do with confidence, just going out there and just shooting it,” Grant told Basketball of what to credit for his enhanced deep jumper. “But spending a lot of time in the gym.

“Fred’s out there every day in practice putting me through a couple of drills himself, just helping me out a little bit saying put a little more bit of arc on there—and he was a shooter when he played, so that helps.”

Fortunately for Grant, he has a fellow former New York Knick to distribute to and play with as they search for an offensive identity—Justin Holiday.

“He’s been huge for me,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “He’s a guy who I can kick to and he’s gonna shoot it. A guy who’s talking to me all game, keeping my confidence level up. A guy who’s been around the league and knows the game.”

As far as goals go for Grant, he’s shooting for the stars as an individual and as a member of the Bulls.

“Obviously as a team, we want to win games,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “The East—everybody knows it’s a little bit down this year, so there’s definitely gonna be some surprise teams, and I feel like we can be one of those teams.

“Personally, I just want to be one of those point guards. I want to be top 10 in assists. I want to be a guy who can score and lead this team.”

It may be seen as shooting for the stars, but if he listens to his coaches, stays persistent and keeps following the credo of his family name, Grant can fulfill his aspirations. After all, he was born to do this.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.


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NBA Daily: Kings Starters Show Promise Despite Loss

The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Spencer Davies



The end result may be the same as it has been every season in the past decade, but the Sacramento Kings have something brewing for the first time in a long time.

Yes, a 25-9 lead was squandered and the game was lost to the Utah Jazz. Marvin Bagley III confusingly played fewer minutes than 14 of his fellow rookies in his NBA debut. They also forced more miscues than they committed, yet were still outscored 24-13 in points off of turnovers.

All of that makes it seem like Wednesday was the start to a long, frustrating season for the Kings, but don’t be so quick to judge. There was a ton of good to come out of the team’s season opener at the Golden 1 Center.

First off, what a night for Willie Cauley-Stein it was. He had the unenviable task of going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, to begin the fourth season of his career. We know that the 25-year-old isn’t necessarily a go-to scoring option, however, you wouldn’t have figured that to be the case if you watched the game.

Finishing with the third-most attempts for Sacramento, Cauley-Stein wasted no time and went right at Gobert when he touched the ball. Not once did he hesitate to put it on the floor, showing an improved, tighter handle on drives to the basket. Likely coming from film study, the 7-foot, 240-pound center excelled at using his body to get his shots up and over the “Stifle Tower” with great timing.

Cauley-Stein was determined to attack the paint all game long and showed no fear. He scored 19 of his 23 points with Gobert on the floor, including a thunderous alley-oop slam over the Frenchman following a screen-and-roll. To put the significance of this in perspective, his eight field goal makes are more than he’s had in each of the previous three seasons with Utah’s big man on the floor.

The Kings’ starters, in general, were especially solid, as all five players scored in double figures and had their squad’s best plus-minus ratings.

De’Aaron Fox swiped three steals, showed his playmaking skills and shared the love with his teammates, recording seven assists in addition to his 21 points. A candidate for a breakout year, Buddy Hield looked like the most comfortable player on the floor despite some lazy passes early, knocking down his signature off the dribble, mid-range fadeaways with ease.

Nemanja Bjelica used the threat of his outside shot to make his way to the basket for better looks and poured in 18 points. Starting at the wing, Yogi Ferrell held his own defensively against Donovan Mitchell and added a couple of threes to the mix as well.

Sacramento gave a double-digit led game away, but the players never gave in. During the fourth quarter, they got stops but just couldn’t seem to take advantage on the other side. It was the recurring theme of the night. The chances were there in transition. Now, they’ve got to work on completing those sequences and turning them into points.

Kings head coach Dave Joerger played essentially a nine-man rotation and got little out of his bench players. Justin Jackson struggled at the four spot and carved out 30 minutes of playing time in spite of it. Other than that, though, everybody in the second unit was on the floor for less than 17 minutes. It’s likely because of how well the starters performed, but they’ll need more out of those guys eventually.

There’s already a topic of discussion on the front of development vs. wins in Sacramento. Joerger’s addressed the matter with Bagley after the game and said it’s going to be hard to allocate minutes for a roster heavy with big men.

The counter-argument to that is simple—he’s the second overall pick of the draft. You have to find time for him, period. There should be no excuse not to regardless of who’s on the team. Don’t forget about Bagley being so talented that he re-classified to play with an age group above his own and still dominated as the ACC Player of the Year at Duke. He was a true freshman!

Aside from that whole debate, the Kings did not roll over and quit when they blew a 16-point lead and trailed by 14 soon after. In a game of runs, their young group hung in there and battled until the clock hit zero. Keep in mind this is a ballclub short of last year’s starting shooting guard still, too.

There may not be a whole lot of winning to come by in Sacramento—what with competing in the Pacific Division and Western Conference—but the season could be easier on the eyes if this is the type of effort they’re going to give on a nightly basis. Of course, we’ve got to be careful here since it’s only one game.

Even so, consider this writer in on “Kings SZN.”

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NBA Daily: Offseason Acquisitions Making An Early Impact

Basketball Insiders takes a look at five players on new teams who had a big impact in their respective season openers.

Drew Maresca



Starting a new job is hard: new co-workers, new processes, new expectations, etc. Most of us have done it, and we can attest that it’s challenging on both a personal and professional level. It’s no different in the NBA. Sure, there is greater familiarity amongst players than for, say, a software engineer jumping from Facebook to Google, but the stakes are also higher. Most people are cut some slack initially due to a lack of familiarity, but not in the NBA. Players are expected to hit the ground running, and are judged harshly for getting off to slow starts. 

Even still, some players are simply so skilled that their impact is immediately obvious. With that being said, let’s analyze the top five debuts of players who changed teams this past offseason. 

  1. Kawhi Leonard — His post-game comments may have been understated Wednesday night, but his on-court performance was not. Leonard received an incredible amount of support from the Raptors crowd, and he did not disappoint. He posted 24 points and 12 rebounds and was +13 for the game. His offensive arsenal was on full display; he demonstrated his athleticism on dunks, his shooting prowess and range and his willingness to do some dirty work on the glass. No surprises here, but it is encouraging that he came back from the quad injury and looked mostly unchanged. Bonus points to Kyle Lowry for going the extra mile to get Leonard the ball (e.g., passing on an easy transition layup to feed Leonard). 
  1. DeMar DeRozan — While Kawhi did his normal thing, DeRozan may have had his foot on the gas a bit more — or maybe his performance was more a result of greater necessity. Either way, DeRozan delivered. He scored 28 points on 7 for 11 shooting, with four rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Similar to Leonard, no one should be surprised by DeRozan’s debut, especially given how upset he was initially with the trade. It’s even less surprising when you consider that he transitioned to playing for Coach Gregg Popovich, whose system is tried and true. If he keeps this up and all goes well for San Antonio, it could re-ignite questions about the Leonard-Popovich-Spurs snafu that resulted in the trade in the first place. 
  1. New New Orleans Pelicans (Julius Rande and Elfrid Payton – tie) — While Anthony Davis continues to be the main story line for the Pelicans, both free agents signings made their mark in the team’s season opener. Payton did so by posting a triple double in his first outing, demonstrating the versatility and promise that led the Pelicans to sign him in the first place; he notched 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in route to an impressive +23. Randle’s performance was probably a bit flashier, but maybe less impactful on the whole. Nevertheless, Randle proved his worth in his first game with the team, finishing with an impressive 25 points on an efficient 9 for 15. He also chipped in eight rebounds and showed his versatility, leading fast breaks and dishing three assists. Concerns over the Pelicans may have been a bit overblown — but that might have more to do with Davis’ impact than the supporting cast. Time will tell.
  1. Brook Lopez — How did the perception of a former top-tier center slip so far so quickly? Just 17 months ago, Lopez was wrapping up another typical Brook Lopez-esque season: 20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game. Sure, the league has passed by centers who can’t extend the defense and switch onto guards in the pick and roll, but Lopez introduced an effective three-point shot in 2016-17, shooting .34.6 percent from deep. And yet, one year on the Lakers bench was all it took for the league to begin to overlook and/or underrate Lopez. That was a mistake. Lopez seems to be the same player he’s always been. He’s no longer a go-to option, so his scoring will likely be down from his 17.8 points per game career average; but he will contribute on offense and block some shots on defense. In his first game with the Bucks — with whom he signed for the bargain salary of $3.4 million — he scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Lopez should continue to aid the already talented Bucks. Can he push them deeper into the playoff? If he does, he would likely secure himself one more pay day.
  2. Dennis Shroder — Shroder’s performance may have been inflated by the absence of Russell Westbrook. Correction — Shroder’s performance was definitely inflated by the absence of Westbook. But he demonstrated his value all the same. Oddly, the Hawks decided they wanted to part ways with the 25 year old point guard. Their loss. He notched 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists in 34 minutes of action. And it will get easier for him considering the Thunder opened against Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. Shroder gives the Thunder a third playmaker — exactly what they were lacking in last year’s playoffs against the Jazz, and exactly what they hoped Melo could be.

One thing all the guys on this list have in common (beyond being above average players) is their willingness to take on a challenge. Nothing in sports — or life — is guaranteed. But we will have a clearer picture if their respective changes of scenery were made for better or worse. If they were done successfully, they can shift the balance of power in the league, and rework the competitive balance to a pretty crazy extent.

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NBA Daily: Will Philadelphia Struggle From Downtown?

Do the Philadelphia 76ers have enough outside shooting talent to spread the floor on the offensive end? Jordan Hicks takes a look.

Jordan Hicks



It’s only been one game, and this could likely be an overreaction, but will the Philadelphia 76ers struggle this season from beyond-the-arc? With the departure of two highly capable shooters in Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, it might not be insane to say this could turn into a large problem throughout the season.

Last season for the 76ers, Belinelli finished 38.5 percent from three and Ilyasova finished at 36.1 percent. While neither of those percentages is staggering, both sit above the league average, and those players shoot and make threes at a consistent pace. Neither player was necessarily streaky from downtown, so you knew what to expect from them on a nightly basis.

What the two players brought more than anything was gravity. Each game, teams had to strategically plan how to stop them from making three-point shots. Players had to maintain certain spots on the floor defensively, which in turn left offensive players in advantageous positions. Losing both Belinelli and Ilyasova allows defenses to suck in closer to the paint so they can better defend Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at what they do best – attack the rim.

This is precisely what the Boston Celtics did to the 76ers on Tuesday night, and the final score definitely told the tale. The Celtics ended up winning, 105-87. Boston is a talented squad, and playing at the TD Garden is never an easy task, but the 76ers are too good to lose by high double-digits.

Apart from Boston’s stellar defense, Philadelphia’s mark from the perimeter paints a clear picture of what they might struggle with throughout the season. They finished 5-for-26, good for 19.7 percent.

It’s not like they don’t have any help from three. Robert Covington led the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage last season and J.J. Redick shot a scorching career 41.5 percent from deep. Their third option from three is likely Dario Saric, who finished last season at 39.3 percent. But after those three the drop-off is significant. Embiid might come in next, and he shot a poor 30.8 percent last season.

By the end of the season, the top three scorers for Philadelphia could likely be Simmons, Embiid and last year’s first-round pick, Markelle Fultz. Not one of those players can shoot the three consistently, certainly not at an efficient mark. Simmons and Fultz have never even made a three-point field goal in their young careers.

All three of those players have the ability to score efficiently around the rim, and they’ll likely get their buckets. But with fewer players on the roster to worry about as a deep threat, teams will mirror Boston’s success and crowd the paint.

If Brett Brown continues to play Saric, Covington and Redick in limited minutes – they played just eight minutes together on Tuesday – most of their lineups will only ever feature two above average three-point shooters. This can begin to get highly problematic for the 76ers as the season progresses. As previously mentioned, teams will just stuff the area around the hoop with great rim protectors and only worry about crashing the boards when mid-range jumpers clank off the basket.

Teams that had the most success last season, à la the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, had at minimum three high-level deep threats on the floor at all times. This allowed them to spread the offense, keep defenses guessing and find an open shooter after throwing the ball around from player to player or cutting to the basket. With the fact that multiple shooters on the court can spread out the defense and essentially keep them on their toes, all it takes is an intelligent cut or a crafty pass to find someone open at the rim. If teams don’t have enough efficient shooters on the floor, defenses can just suck in and stop players going to the hoop.

But when there are three or more plus shooters on the court, defenders have a really difficult decision to make. Do you try and play help defense by attempting to stop the shot at the rim? This can leave your opponent open for an easy three. Will help defense get there in time to defend the three? Maybe, but then another quick pass can find another open shooter. So do you stay on your man? Sure, but then you give up an easy basket at the rim.

That last paragraph was elementary. Most teams and fans understand this concept. The importance of efficient shooters in today’s league is at an all-time high. The 76ers have a very talented, young team. Simmons and Embiid are a phenomenal duo to build around. But their lack of players that hold any sort of gravity from three-point land could really give them struggles.

Alas, we are only one game into the season. A handful of teams have yet to play, so there is still plenty of basketball to be had. The 76ers are still monstrous on defense and can obviously generate baskets on the offensive end. Thanks in part to Simmons, they are one of the most electric teams in transition, and can often score with ease around the hoop.

Are the 76ers a playoff team? That’s essentially a lock. Can they go deep in the playoffs? It certainly appears so. But in order for them to make a legitimate run to the Finals, they’ll need to find more efficiency from the three-point line. Not simply because they could use those points, but because they need that spacing for their offense to function at an elite level.

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