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Syracuse men’s basketball: Jerami Grant’s (‘14) career-year has put the NBA on notice

From Syracuse prospect to potential first-time NBA All-Star, Grant continues to shine.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always nice to see a former member of the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team thriving better than ever in the NBA. Look no further than Jerami Grant ‘14.

In the past decade, Grant’s career has been interesting, to say the least. Drafted with the 39th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, he’s evolved from a flashy two-way wing in Philly to a bona fide starter with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, and Detroit Pistons.

Since joining the Portland Trail Blazers this year, Grant took the leap from quality contributor to fringe All-Star.

That’s absurd in the NBA world. The last notable player to make his first All-Star Game in his age-28 season would be Kyle Lowry, who turned into a six-time All-Star, borderline All-NBA guard, and 2019 NBA champion following a similar career arc to Grant. Other than that, you typically don’t see late-career blooms like this one.

So what’s changed this season for Grant? Let’s take a look at the stat sheet.

Grant’s production by the numbers

Comparing this year to his previous eight seasons in the league, there are a couple of statistical improvements that are the catalyst for Grant’s success so far:

Jerami Grant’s Last Five Seasons

Season Points FG% (attempts per game) 3FG% (attempts per game) FT% (attempts per game)
Season Points FG% (attempts per game) 3FG% (attempts per game) FT% (attempts per game)
2018-2019 (OKC) 13.6 50% (10.3) 39% (3.7) 71% (2.8)
2019-2020 (Denver) 12 48% (8.9) 39% (3.5) 75% (2.8)
2020-2021 (Detroit) 22.3 43% (17.3) 35% (6.1) 85% (6.4)
2021-2022 (Detroit) 19.2 43% (14.9) 36% (5.4) 84% (5.5)
2022-2023 (Portland) 21.8 48% (15.1) 44% (5.9) 78% (6.0)

The biggest statistical standout is Grant’s 44% three-point shooting this season. Grant’s improvement from downtown is easily the skill he’s progressed in the most during his tenure in the league. Between 2015 and 2018, Grant was shooting just 30% from three on under two attempts per game. Since that point, he’s improved both his volume (4.6 attempts per game since 2018) and his efficiency (38% in his last five years). Statistically, Grant has nearly doubled his three-point attempts in his last three seasons while still shooting above the league average of around 36%.

But this season, Grant has found his shooting stroke. That’s opened up other elements of his game, such as his ability to attack the basket (second-most free throws attempted in his career) and his overall efficiency (best FG% of his career with 14+ attempts per game).

And then, there’s the defensive versatility Grant has brought to the table dating back to his time in Syracuse. Just about everyone and their mother in the league is looking for a versatile, two-way wing who can play up and down the positional ladder, space the floor, and make a play off the dribble.

Comparing his time in Syracuse to his tenure in the NBA, comparing Grant’s then and now is as different as night and day. Just check out the highlights below. He’s way more of an off-the-ball slasher, athletic freak archetype than the three-leveled scorer he is this season.

Broadly speaking, the biggest difference with Grant is that he’s finally put it all together.

In his early days in the league, he played primarily off-the-ball as a rim finisher and alley-oop threat. With Oklahoma and Denver, Grant shifted to more of a spot shooter that could still be a tertiary ball-handler and playmaker. In the past two seasons with Detroit, Grant evolved his offense to become a primary creator, albeit leading to a decline in defense and efficiency.

But this year, he’s blended those elements together much to the liking of Portland star Damian Lillard and the Blazers franchise. He still has the athletic pop to grab a rebound in traffic or finish strong at the rim, but his improved ball-handling, shooting capabilities, and isolation scoring have made him a must-have in the league for any franchise.

The arrow points nowhere but up

That leads to the question: what does this all mean?

For Grant, the easy answer is a massive payday of some kind. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the 2023 offseason. Looking ahead to the free agency landscape next summer, he’s easily the most-coveted wing player out there and arguably the most valuable.

Even if the shooting regresses to the mean, Grant will be in-line for a great next contract of some kind. Per Spotrac, Grant is eligible to receive a five-year, $233 million extension from Portland.

Would the Blazers do that? Not necessarily. Then again, value over replacement matters. Either Portland needs to write the hefty check, or let Grant walk away and get nothing in return. For both sides, something in the four-year, $104 million range ($26 million per season) is the most realistic scenario that could play out.

From the Syracuse side of things, Grant continues to make his way up the all-time Orange ranks. He’s currently played the ninth-most seasons in the NBA out of anyone in Syracuse men’s basketball history. Given Grant’s skill set, he’s on pace to work his way up to one of the five-most NBA-tenured Syracuse players ever.

There’s also the Orange’s draft history as well. Since 2005, he’s currently tied for most seasons in the league by a Syracuse prospect. And if you want to get crazy, he’s arguably the best second-round draft pick from Syracuse to enter the league ever (the other candidates: Louis Orr and Sherman Douglas).

Keep on keepin’ on, Jerami.