In a surprise move on November 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired forward Jerami Grant in exchange for Ersan Ilyasova and a conditional first-round draft pick from the Philadelphia 76ers. By now, NBA followers are accustomed to Thunder general manager and executive vice president Sam Presti’s penchant for making unexpected roster changes, and Grant has been a welcomed addition to the team.
The day following the trade, Grant donned a Thunder uniform and joined his new team on the road as they faced the Los Angeles Clippers. In just over 17 minutes of playing time, he showed his ability to contribute points (6), rebounds (2), blocks (2) and strong defense, and he’s appeared in every game since. With 25 contests as a member of the Thunder now under his belt, the versatile and defense-minded Grant is proving to be a nice fit. Head coach Billy Donovan is starting to utilize him more – over the past four games, Grant has averaged 10.3 points in 26.1 minutes per game.
“He’s doing a fantastic job coming in from the trade,” teammate and fellow forward Andre Roberson told Basketball Insiders. “He’s fitting in right away, sacrificing and being in positions that Coach tells him to be in.”
Donovan is very well-acquainted with Grant, given he coached him on the Under-19 USA Basketball team just a few years ago. One thing is for certain: He can’t speak highly enough about the 22-year-old.
“I had a chance to coach Jerami for two years with USA Basketball,” Donovan said. “And I really love him as a guy. He’s got a good heart. He’s really a good person. He’s a great teammate. He’s a team guy. So I think he fits in very well here, just his personality.
“I think anytime you come to a new situation, a new team, you want to be able to fit in. And I think he’s fit in very, very well. I think the other part is Jerami, being a young player and leaving college early, I just think there’s so much upside for him.”
In addition to Donovan, Grant has other previous ties to the Thunder organization. He played on the same high school basketball team (DeMatha Catholic High School, Hyattsville, Maryland) as teammate Victor Oladipo. In fact, their friendship goes back to when Grant was in seventh grade and Oladipo was best friends with his brother (the trio even played AAU together). Grant played two years at Syracuse and was drafted 39th overall by the 76ers in 2014. Last season, he averaged 9.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.6 blocks.
Grant certainly has an impressive basketball pedigree. His older brother, Jerian Grant, picked 19th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, is currently a point guard for the Chicago Bulls. Grant’s father, Harvey, was an 11-year NBA veteran with career averages of 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds. And to top it off, his uncle is none other than Horace Grant, a former NBA All-Star who played 17 seasons, won four championships and averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Grant’s defense, as well as his ability to play and guard multiple positions, attracted the Thunder. Reports have indicated that he’s been on their radar for some time. The team felt he would be a good addition to the team’s supporting cast and complement superstar Russell Westbrook well. Grant is soaking up what he can from the Thunder’s leader and, like the rest of us, is continually wowed by him.
“If I’m open, I know he’s going to find me,” Grant said. “It’s always great to have somebody like that as your teammate.”
Grant, standing 6’8 with a 7’7.25 wingspan, presents another athletic weapon on this young roster. He makes plays with his impressive speed and leaping ability.
“He’s a spring-y athletic guy and likes to play defense, so that always fits well with us,” Roberson said.
“He gives you a lot of different options on defense and he gives you a lot different options on offense,” Donovan said. “Just his versatility. I give him a lot of credit – you miss an entire training camp, you get traded for and you come in here and have to learn two different positions. His disposition and his attitude and the way he works has been incredible.”
Grant is showing that he’s up for the new challenge and eager to prove his worth.
“I’ve always got to be ready for whatever comes at [me], especially being in the position I’m in, just being able to play different positions,” Grant said. “You’ve always got to be ready.”
He noted that during his stint in Philadelphia, he was tasked with some of the same responsibilities.
“It was similar to this,” he explained. “I guarded pretty much one through four. It’s definitely a different system, I’m definitely still getting used to it.”
By all accounts, the Thunder are invested in determining if Grant is a long-lasting piece. Donovan said he’s especially drawn to his work ethic, athleticism, length, size and shot-blocking, and noted both his shooting and defense have improved.
“I’m going to be comfortable on the court wherever the coach puts me,” said Grant.
That confidence, along with his skills, undoubtedly led USA Basketball to name Grant a member of the USA Select Team last summer. Training with the National Team – a team that went on to capture the gold medal – was indeed an honor.
“I really feel like he’s got an enormous amount of potential and ability in front of him as young as he is and as hard of a worker as he is,” Donovan said. “He’s very coachable, so I just think he’s got a chance to be a really special player.”
Grant is definitely one to watch. The Thunder are putting him in position to succeed with an opportunity to play significant minutes each game and plenty of resources to further his development. The rest is up to him.
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