Philadelphia 76ers: The Case Against Jerami Grant

Apr 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Jerami Grant (39) drives against New Orleans Pelicans forward Luke Babbitt (8) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Jerami Grant (39) drives against New Orleans Pelicans forward Luke Babbitt (8) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite Jerami Grant’s exciting play, his offensive limitations should make him the first victim of a minutes reduction on the post-process Philadelphia 76ers.

Jerami Grant has at least one play a game that makes me jump out of my seat. Never mind that it’s usually a block that ends up five rows deep, or a missed dunk that clangs off the back of the rim when a simple layup would suffice — Grant plays with a violence that’s as frightening as it is entertaining. During his two-year tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers, he’s one of the few players that fans could hang their hats on — pointing to him as evidence of the value second rounders can provide under low cost, team-friendly deals. Despite his exciting play, Grant’s limitations will make him the first victim of a minutes reduction in the post-process world.

When Sam Hinkie signed the 6-8 forward (with a ridiculous 7-2.5 wingspan) out of Syracuse to the Hinkie Special, Sixers fans knew they had a project on their hands. Grant came into the league with outstanding physical tools — a unique combination of athleticism, size, and length — but lacked a refined, polished skill set, most notably an NBA jumper. Come draft night, Grant plummeted down the draft board to Hinkie, who scooped him up with the 39th pick in the second round. Plug him into the Sixers player development program, the hope was, and a defensively versatile stretch 4 would emerge — a huge weapon in today’s NBA.

Grant has been a fun player to watch — he’s explosive around the rim and fears not a single shot-blocker in the league. I’m convinced there’s going to be a Jerami Grant related casualty every time he gets up to yam on an opponent.

In his rookie year, he recorded eight blocks in 25 minutes off the bench against the Knicks, seamlessly replacing KJ McDaniels as the Sixers resident block guy. Defensively, his wingspan and athleticism theoretically enable him to guard multiple positions, a valuable attribute in switch-heavy defensive schemes.

But an influx of talent is on its way, and Grant has yet to evolve his game to a point where he deserves minutes ahead of a deep Sixers frontcourt. If we pull back the curtain, Grant proves to have some worrisome limitations.

During his sophomore campaign with the Sixers, Grant’s three point shooting regressed from below-average to downright bad — 31 percent from deep in his rookie year to 24 percent this past year. Taking into account his free-throw percentage and lack of a perimeter game in college, it looks likely that his second year was a regression to the mean, not an outlier.

If Grant could offset this crucial deficiency by creating off the dribble and finishing around the rim, it could help neutralize his lack of a perimeter game. But from 3 feet and in, Grant’s field goal percentage ranks last behind the other members of the Sixers frontcourt (at 61 percent) and yes, that includes the erstwhile Elton Brand, Christian Wood, Carl Landry, and Richaun Holmes. As one would suspect, given his lack of a jumper, his true shooting percentage ranks 10th on the team at 50%, right behind Nik Stauskas and T.J. McConnell. In other words, Grant shoots like a guard around the rim and like a big man around the perimeter.

The eye test tells a similar story. Grant struggles to dribble in traffic and make any kind of lateral move with the ball, opting instead to cradle the ball in a straight-line drive. When he does get to the rim, he prefers violence to finesse, often recklessly throwing the ball at the hoop or missing a dunk. When you’re as athletic as Grant, you’re bound to make a few highlights, but his inefficiency at the rim makes him even more of an offensive liability. The numbers back this up.

Unfortunately, Grant’s inability to shoot from beyond the arc makes him strictly a 4 in today’s NBA. He’s unable to guard centers (except in short bursts in the right matchup), and there’s not enough spacing in the offense when he plays the 3. It’s possible Brett Brown might experiment with Grant at small forward again, but it’s an experiment Brown would be wise to scrap. Unless Grant dramatically improves his three point shot, it’s a recipe for a clogged offense.

Still, Grant is a promising defender, and that’s where he’s going to make his money. He’s able to use his wingspan and bounce to play big in the post, swatting 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes, and he’s quick enough to stay with most players on the perimeter for brief periods of time.

Related Story: Jerami Grant Epitomizes The Process in a Unique Way

When the Sixers use lineups that include Noel, Grant, and Robert Covington (sans Okafor) the team yielded a positive net rating, a statistic that should raise a few eyebrows. This lineup fits with how Grant should be ideally utilized; surround him with shooters and a defensive minded center, then let him roam on defense.

Grant is by no means a premier defender. He hunts for blocks way too often, leaving himself out of position for defensive rebounds and correct rotations. His defensive versatility is mostly theoretical at this point — he’s too slight to guard 5s and lacks the foot speed on the perimeter to defend well in space.

There’s certainly still hope for Grant, who at only 22 years old, has plenty of time left on his developmental curve to carve out a niche in an NBA rotation. But no matter how you realistically project Grant’s offensive upside, it remains likely that he’ll continue to be a liability on that side of the floor. In order for him to offset his deficiencies in the half-court offense, he’ll have to become that premier defender capable of guarding multiple positions well. Like most players with significant holes in their game, his minutes are dependent on how special he can be in other facets of his game, an issue I imagine we’ll visit often this year with Ben Simmons.

Next: Preseason NBA Power Rankings

The Process has enabled second rounders, undrafted free agents, and players on 10-day contracts who wouldn’t otherwise get on the floor to see significant NBA minutes. With three rookie of the year candidates crowding the frontcourt, allocating minutes to players of potential value means significantly less time for a player like Grant. As entertaining as he’s been, Grant may be squeezed out of the rotation as a result — and this may not be a bad thing.