Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jerami Grant probably re-signs with the Denver Nuggets by the end of this week — but what if he didn’t? He turned down his player option Monday, so he’s technically an unrestricted free agent. There’s a tiny, tiny chance. So for a moment, envision him in a Mavericks uniform.
After being drafted with the 39th overall pick in 2014, Jerami Grant had a breakout year in 2019 with the Oklahoma CIty Thunder, only to be traded to Denver in the franchise-wide shakeup that saw Paul George and Russell Westbrook traded away.
Grant proved his performance was no fluke, picking up right where he left off to become an important contributor to a Denver team that made a deep playoff run. His 3-point shot improved from shaky to solid, shooting 39 percent from deep the last two seasons. Add that to his positive presence on the boards and his shot blocking skills, and he’s the kind of player who you can imagine fitting well with just about any roster in the league.
Grant spent most of his time as a power forward but would occasionally fill spot minutes as a small forward. Speaking strictly positionally, Grant would fill a pretty significant need for a Mavericks team deficient in the forward spot. Dorian Finney-Smith can only do so much.
His shooting is obviously a good addition to what was historically great last season, and he’s got an ability to play above the rim that could facilitate some pristine Luka alley-oop highlights. His defense, though, would be a sweet salve for a team that straight up lost a game 134-131 in regulation. Grant hustles in transition, something Dallas was lackadaisical doing last season, and has good man-to-man instincts that saw him guarding the league’s elite scorers during the playoffs. By simply being a starting-level forward, Grant represents a very compelling team addition.
Grant’s numbers last season in Denver do show a bit of regression in specific areas. His rebounds fell off quite a bit; down to 3.5 per game from its peak in OKC of 5.2. There are also some on/off numbers that don’t look particularly great when compared to what teammates Paul Millsap and the emerging Michael Porter Jr. are bringing. It’s also worth noting that Grant didn’t get starting duties until he was called upon to fill in for an injured Millsap, which perhaps speaks to how an organization with championship aspirations views Grant’s ability.
Some of this may just be playing in a new system. Some may be that he’s being asked to go up against better opposing players. Some may just be strange lineup data noise. What’s more difficult to discern is whether Grant is actually ready to be a starter on a contender, or if his starting position with OKC the year before was less about Grant and more about the Thunder just not being very good. Not every great bench player makes a great starter. Ask Delon Wright.
Fit with the Mavericks
Assuming Dallas sticks with Kristaps Porzingis as a full-time 5 as they did in the second half of last season to great effect when Powell went down with an Achilles injury, Grant figures to be a day one starter at the four. His size and defense would be especially crucial early in the season while the team waits for Porzingis to get back up to speed after an offseason surgery for a meniscus tear.
Will he be a Dallas Maverick?
The Mavericks in recent years seem be the first stop on many a role players path on carving out a place for themselves in the league before they move on to sign bigger and better contracts. It’d be nice in this case for the Mavericks to be the beneficiaries of another team developing a young talent that hits the open market.
Alas, after an impressive run and a solid roster already in place in Denver, it seems likely that Grant will find his way back to the Nuggets unless Dallas manages to present a truly impressive pitch to him — something they’ve been famously bad at in the past. Never mind that, after the season he had, Dallas is unlikely to be able to afford him without moving some pieces first.
That said, if Grant sees himself stuck behind Millsap and fighting off another promising young talent in Porter for starter’s minutes, there is no better place to remain in contention than on the Mavericks. It’s a door cracked open just enough for the smallest sliver of hope to peek through.