The Case For Jerami Grant As This Year’s NBA Most Improved PLayer
When a seven-year veteran, who got selected in the second round of the draft, out of nowhere begins to show off dribble-moves and a level of self-creation never before seen in his game, that merits conversation about his candidacy for Most Improved Player.
When that same player also nearly doubles his own scoring rate, improves as a free throw shooter by 10 percentage points, on higher volume no less, and becomes the focal point of a team’s offense, the conversation changes from merit to where he should place the trophy in his home.
Jerami Grant has been a revelation this year, putting up 22.5 points per game for the Detroit Pistons, despite having never cracked even 14 points per outing prior to this year. He’s attempting over six three-pointers and six free throws per game, while also having more than doubled his assist rate.
Pay no attention to Detroit’s record. They’re not one of the worst teams in the league due to Grant, but more so due to the lack of quality around him. The Pistons are in a full-on rebuild, meaning Grant is flanked by rookies and untested players trying to find their place in the NBA.
Grant’s evolution came out of nowhere, given his former role as a defensive-oriented big who could space the floor on offense by feeding off players better than him. This year, he’s taking a backseat to no one.
So what changed?
First off, Grant’s self-creation is key. Last year, in Denver, Grant was assisted on over 84% of his made shots. In Detroit, that percentage is down to 65%, and it’s being put on display by a series of advanced dribble-drives that up until this season had been hidden from the general public.
That self-creation is forcing opposing defenses to guard him differently, often choosing to play him for the drive as his lanky 6’9 frame with long legs gets him to the basket very few dribbles. Grant has countered by jacking up more three-pointers, which he’s hitting at a reasonable 35.4% over the course of the season.
The combination of his long strides on drives and three-point shooting ability is a dangerous one, that often sees defenses try to manhandle him. This leads to contact, which leads to fouls, which leads to free throws, where Grant hits near-85% on high volume.
Defensively, he has taken a bit of a step down, but due to his increased offensive burden, this seems like an expected trade-off. He remains an active defender, but not a game-changing one like he could be in Denver, and Oklahoma City before that. Instead, he’s found a new balance.
This role was something Grant wanted, when he left for Detroit. Denver offered him the same three-year deal he took with the Pistons, worth $60 million, but it meant returning to a role where he would have less offensive freedom.
Grant also wanted to play for a team with a Black head coach, Dwane Casey, and a Black general manager, Troy Weaver, suggesting a return to Denver was never really in the cards.
Some will argue Detroit’s record works against Grant’s odds of winning the award, but that would be ignoring his vast improvements as a well-rounded basketball player, especially from an offensive perspective.
Furthermore, unlike MVP, the MIP award has historically been more individually driven. In order to win MVP, you not only have to be an elite player, but your team has to be winning. MIP, at its roots, is about development and improvement. Winning would be a nice add-on, sure, but it is not the sole identifier of the award.
For Grant, this should be an automatic win. He captured our attention by displaying a set of skills we never saw from him before, which stands as the very heart of what the MIP is.
This shouldn’t be a discussion, only a mere formality.