There may be no player (with the possible exception of Richaun Holmes) more impacted by the Sixers’ overabundance of quality big men than Jerami Grant. After two seasons as a borderline starter on one of the worst teams in history, Grant’s place has been usurped by two lottery picks and whichever of the three centers is marginalized enough to be played at the 4 spot this year. This is likely to be a make-or-break season for Grant’s career, and it comes at a time when the Sixers’ roster mechanisms appear to put him on the wrong side of that dichotomy.
Coming into the 2014 Draft, there were major concerns about several aspects of Grant’s game. Prominent among them was the assertion that Grant was a tweener forward— not large enough to man the 4 spot, but not skilled enough to swing as a 3. After two years in the NBA, it’s clear that Grant does have a position. Unfortunately, it’s the position currently occupied by Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.
According to Nylon Calculus, Grant played more effectively in nearly every quantifiable statistic when he was positioned at the 4 rather than the 3. His scoring efficiency improved, his rebounding improved, his defensive counting stats improved, and his assists rose while his turnovers dropped.
Moreover, it’s clear that the coaching staff and front office were aware of Grant’s improved play at the power forward position. 82% of his minutes came at the power forward position, while only 14% came at the wing.
While it’s good that Grant’s best position has been determined, for a Sixers team featuring four centers— Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel (hopefully still), and Richaun Holmes — and two power forwards — Simmons and Saric — above him in the pecking order (plus the reality that Robert Covington is also at his best manning the 4 spot), his positional needs may limit his impact in a profound way.
Grant’s defense has become the trademark of his game. His shot blocking prowess is nearly unparalleled among power forwards. Among true power forwards (not C’s who sometimes man the 4), only 4 other players have managed a block percentage of 4.0% or higher. Grant has done it twice, and his 2015-16 rate of 4.7% was the highest of any 4-man.
While he has suffered, at times, by chasing blocks at the expense of sound rebounding position and defensive fundamentals, he has also excelled as an on-ball defender both years, and showed significant improvement as a sophomore. His extreme mobility and go-go gadget arms allowed him to leverage his physical tools into real lockdown potential. And as the season progressed, it became clear that Grant had learned not to bite on pump fakes as frequently as in the past, showing discipline and acuity even in the most difficult of wing matchups.
Unfortunately, Grant’s offensive game has not progressed to nearly the level it needs to. He hasn’t shown an ability to score from anywhere on the court, as demonstrated by his abysmal shot chart.
If he can’t figure out his 3-point shot, he might not be able to carve out a career in the NBA. This season, playing behind two of the team’s best players in his favored position, the only thing that can come from an increase in playing time at the 3 is a more difficult environment for Simmons, Embiid, and the rest of the team to grow and learn.
It’s possible for Grant to find a niche in the league, and, on merit, he is deserving of a spot on the Sixers’ 15-man roster this season. However, given the strengths of this team, Philadelphia may not be the place for Grant to finish his development. It’s difficult to see him finding both minutes and production on the court this season, and that’s a shame.