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.
NBA Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?
The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?
What’s The Hurry?
The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.
While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.
There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Kawhi Wants His Own Team
It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.
According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.
There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.
If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.
Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money
Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.
Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.
While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.
If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?
Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.
That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?
The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.
Are The Raptors The front Runners?
In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.
That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.
League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.
The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.
Training Camp Is The Real Deadline
While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.
The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.
There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.
While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.
The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.
It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.
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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes
Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.
Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.
Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.
We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.
It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.
“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”
You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.
In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.
So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?
“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”
Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.
“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”
Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.
Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.
“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.
“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”
As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.
But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.
NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year
After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.
The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.
But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.
This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.
“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”
Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.
His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.
“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.
“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”
It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.
He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.
“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”
While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.
For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.
“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”
And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.
“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”
He’s certainly off to a good start.