Jerami Grant surprised many across the league when he left a contending Denver Nuggets team to prove himself with the Detroit Pistons in November. But beyond the opportunity to show he could succeed in a featured role, Grant’s decision to leave was also motivated by him knowing the man in charge of the Pistons.
Troy Weaver was an assistant GM when Grant was with the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2017-19. Weaver was deeply familiar with Grant, and his potential to make the leap from role player to star. Grant trusted Weaver’s vision and his plan to quickly “restore,” rather than rebuild, the Pistons.
Grant isn’t long removed from being a young player in a rebuilding situation. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014, a time when the organization was committed to an aggressive, multi-year tank in an attempt to acquire high draft picks as part of a strategy now known as “The Process.”
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Jerami Grant dunks in the third quarter of the Pistons’ 115-109 loss Saturday in Indianapolis.
With 11 games remaining, the Pistons are 18-43 — third-worst in the NBA — and should enter June’s draft lottery in the top 5.
But this doesn’t feel anything like his time in Philadelphia, Grant said after their 115-109 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. The difference? He doesn’t think the Pistons are interested in losing as many games next year.
“Nah, it’s not the same,” Grant said. “It’s a lot different. It’s not a rebuild, as Troy always says. It’s not three or four years into the future. We’re looking forward to doing something big next year. So no, it doesn’t have the same feeling as there.”
The Sixers won 18 games during Grant’s rookie season, and just 10 during his sophomore season. He endured a 28-game losing streak — the longest losing streak in American professional sports history — that started at the end of his first season and bled into his second.
76ers forward Jerami Grant drives past Pistons forward Greg Monroe during the 2014-15 season.
The Pistons would finish with their worst winning percentage since 1981 if the season ended today, but they’re likely to win more than 18 games despite fewer games on the schedule. So they’re already better than the Sixers were during Grant’s two seasons there.
But Grant’s vote of confidence also speaks to the growth the team has seen from himself and the young players this season. All three 2020 first round picks — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey — look like players who could have long NBA careers. Both two-way players, Saben Lee and Frank Jackson, have looked worthy of standard NBA contracts this season.
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Detroit has also been competitive in a significant portion of its games this season, despite the losing record. Saturday was such a game, as the Pistons rallied from a 15-point deficit and led by eight points in the third quarter before succumbing to a late Pacers run in the fourth.
The focus on the future has made it easier for the Pistons to contextualize the losses, but they’re still playing to win. Detroit committed 18 turnovers, off of which Indiana scored 22 points. The Pistons made youthful mistakes that ultimately cost them late.
“We’ve got to understand time-score situation, what’s open, playing in a crowd, passing in a crowd, because you work too hard on the defensive end,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “We held them to 41% (shooting). But then we just made some bonehead passes that I wish we could pull back. We gotta learn. That’s the ball game, because I thought we out-competed them in a lot of different areas.”
Grant has seen enough from the young players to have confidence the Pistons could be a significantly improved next season. Saturday was a near-collective off night for Detroit’s rookies, but we’ve seen them have big moments over the course of the season — and particularly this past week. Stewart just had three consecutive games with double-doubles, Bey hit six 3s in a quarter Monday and Hayes set career highs in points (12) and assists (9) on Monday.
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“When they step on the court, they’re ready to play,” Grant said. “They have a great mentality. We just gotta keep giving them experience so they can learn, keep teaching them so next year we can hit the ground running.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jerami Grant believes Detroit Pistons can do ‘something big’ in 2022