Depending on who it is, the expectation of living up to a brand new contract can weigh on a player.
Jerami Grant is not in that frame of mind.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Grant told Basketball Insiders.
Two weeks into the first season of a three-year, $27 million deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Grant has taken it upon himself to be more aggressive as a scorer, which is reminiscent of the way he started his career during his first stint with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Things didn’t get off to the best start for Grant early, though. He missed nine of his first 10 three-point attempts and went 26.1 percent from the field overall in the first three games.
But if you take those away, the momentum’s gone upward in a hurry. Since the Thunder’s loss in Sacramento, Grant has averaged 13 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Over that time, Grant has knocked down 37.5 percent of threes while doubling his field goal percentage from those first three games. One week ago, he scored a career-high 22 points in Washington.
When asked about the rapid turnaround, Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said that he feels Grant has gotten better with each game on the offensive end.
“I thought part of the poor start for him offensively was him finding his rhythm and where his spots were inside the offense, and I think he’s done a better job of figuring that out,” Donovan said.
Where are those spots, exactly? Well, for one, Donovan is making it a priority to get Grant down to the short corners—something we saw him do recently in Cleveland. In that space, he’s able to do multiple things: drive baseline, crash the offensive glass, post up and, of course, shoot the basketball.
Grant likes the last option the most, however, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be in the corner in his eyes.
“Wherever I get the ball, if it’s an open shot I’m probably gonna take it,” Grant said.
As a whole, the Thunder have followed suit when it comes to three-point percentage. While they currently sit in dead last as the only NBA team converting less than 30 percent of their shots from deep, they’ve slowly shown signs of progress.
It’s been a streaky year thus far, especially as of late and in a good way, luckily for them. Donovan chalks it up to simply executing and taking advantage of opportunities.
“It’s not like we’ve generated better looks,” Donovan said. “I think we’ve gotten pretty good looks those first four games. And even just the effective field goal percentage of what we should be shooting on those shots, it was drastically lower than what we were shooting.
“And I think the other part of it, too, was we left so many points at the free throw line. Those things kinda add up and we put ourselves in a position where we had to be absolutely flawless on defense to overcome the lack of shooting. So I’ve got confidence in the shots that we’ve been creating. I think the big thing is we’ve gotta play the right way, we’ve gotta move the ball and we’ve gotta generate good shots. If we can generate good shots, we’re gonna live with those.”
Maybe the important factor to note here is that this improvement has happened since Grant entered Oklahoma City’s starting five, a stretch where the team is 7-1.
We might not want to get too carried away because Russell Westbrook’s return coincided with that, but the impact is definitely there. Grant is receiving more playing time due to his willingness to contribute on both ends, which provides an energy that Oklahoma City has fed off of on the floor.
Though Donovan won’t commit to Grant starting every day with potential matchup differences and Patrick Patterson in the picture, he does admit that his flexibility provides the Thunder a unique weapon.
“He gives us maybe a little bit more ability to switch out on the perimeter when he does start,” Donovan said.
“And I think with the way the league’s going—where they’re playing a lot of four men who are very, very versatile and very good three-point shooters—you’re having to put your defenses in situations where switching becomes a necessity. He’s good at that, and then he can guard perimeter players as well.”
Defense is where Grant hangs his hat. Among Oklahoma City’s starters, he boasts the best defensive rating (99.2) in addition to adding in one block and steal per game. According to Cleaning The Glass, Thunder opponents are turning over 18.1 percent of their possessions with him on the floor.
Promise you this—that effort travels and does not depend on whether Grant is home, away, in the starting lineup or playing with the second unit. His preparation is the same for every occasion. There is no preference.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Grant said. “Whatever my team needs for me to do to win.”
The bench Grant used to be a permanent fixture to has become one of Oklahoma City’s top assets. New talents like Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and rookie Hamidou Diallo paired with mainstays such as Patterson and Alex Abrines have brought about a new feel to the floor.
It’s a group that is clicking together on all cylinders. Donovan sees how well they’ve played in transition and on the defensive end.
“I think for us, it’s an identity we want to play to,” Donovan said. “So whether Russ is out there, Dennis is out there, Raymond [Felton]’s out there, there’s a pace that we want to play with. I think we’re at our best with our length and our speed and our athleticism when we’re running, and when we’re running hard and effectively and efficiently. So we want to play that way.”
Grant understands how important it is for the second unit to complement the starting five, but really, “everybody from top to bottom” is vital to the Thunder’s success.
And as of now, everybody is playing a part during this winning streak. Even with Westbrook going down with a sprained ankle, they’ve kept going.
Grant feels the Oklahoma City tide starting to turn.
“Just energy,” Grant said. “I think we’re just coming together, just molding, just figuring out things we needed to fix. We’re on a roll now.”
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