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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder

Timberwolves Offseason Targets Part I: Jerami Grant

With the Nuggets big man set to opt-out and hit the open market this fall, let’s take a look at his market and potential fit in Minnesota.

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

With the Timberwolves left out of the league’s restart (a restart that is now very much in question), and the team’s 2019-20 season officially in the books, it is time for us to start doing what we are trained to do as Wolves fans: look ahead to the offseason.

Today, in the first of a long series on potential offseason targets, I will be taking a look at current Denver Nuggets defensive Swiss Army Knife Jerami Grant.

A few notes for how this will play out:

  • Each piece will look at one player, whether he is a pending free agent or a trade target the Wolves could somewhat feasibly acquire (work with me).
  • I created a similarity score system for each player I will be breaking down in this series, with some inspiration from Wizzy, whose excellent NBA Draft Comparison Tool is a must-use for draft fans. Please go try it out and show him some well-earned love!
  • The score is essentially calculated by looking the article’s subject (Grant, in this case) and comparing their standard per game stats from Basketball Reference, in the season immediately before they become a free agent, to those of every NBA Free Agent of the last five years (2015-2019).
  • For context, I will show you the five most similar players’ stats and what contract they earned, in order to give a ballpark of what contract we can expect for each prospective Timberwolf.
  • I hope to have this program in a Google Sheet so you can try it for yourself in the coming weeks, so be on the look out!

Background

  • Team: Denver Nuggets
  • College: Syracuse
  • Experience: Sixth season
  • Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
  • Height: 6’8”
  • Wingspan: 7’3”
  • Weight: 215 pounds

Statistics

Per Game: 11.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.7 steals, 0.9 turnovers

Shooting Splits: 47.1 FG% / 74.4 FT% / 40.0 3P% on 8.7 FGA / 2.7 FTA / 3.4 3PA

Per 36 minutes: 15.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 steals, 1.2 turnovers

Advanced: 58.5 TS%, 55.0 eFG%, 17.8 USG%, .116 WS/40 minutes, -0.4 BPM, -2.85 PIPM

Similarity Score

  • Note that these are not perfect, but rather a cool way to gain insight as to how a player stacks up to prior free agents. These are standard stats, but I am still working on the program so it can include advanced metrics as well.
Contract data via Spotrac.com

The contracts for these five players are pretty wide-ranging. However, given Grant’s solidified status as a high-level role player for a playoff team, I fully expect him to receive a contract north of what Ferrell, Brooks, and Cole were paid.

In a cap-strapped free agency period exacerbated by the Coronavirus, I could see Grant signing for the full mid-level exception annually, projected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.775 million. I expect him to sign a short-term deal that leaves him the opportunity to cash in once the league rebounds from the effects of the pandemic.

(To view their entire stat lines, please click here).

You might be asking, “Why on Earth does Jerami Grant’s stat line most closely resemble that of free agent guards over the last five seasons?” That’s a great question — to which I will counter with: that may be part of the reason why he said he will likely opt-out of the final year of his three-year, $27.3 million deal in Denver.

The 2014 second-round pick struggled early in the season, which did not surprise me considering the Nuggets play a much different brand of basketball than the Oklahoma City teams he made a name for himself with. Last season, the Thunder finished sixth in the league in pace (103.88), while the 2019-20 Nuggets’ very deliberate pace (97.66) is second to last, just above the Charlotte Hornets.

A snail’s-paced offensive philosophy does not fit well with one of the best athletes in the entire league. So, to make the comparison a bit smoother, I will use mostly clips and numbers from his time in Oklahoma City. Given that Grant is a superb athlete that thrives in an up-and-down game that maximizes his impact on both ends, it makes sense that the Timberwolves could be a team that comes calling when the Free Agency period begins in October.

Defensive Fit

Question 1: Can he guard one through five? Check.

My biggest fear about the Wolves approach to finding a long-term solution at the 4 is that they are only concerned about that player’s ability to switch down (1-3), rather than also worrying about whether or not he can also guard true 5’s.

A big reason why I love Jerami Grant’s fit in Minnesota is because he is not afraid of anybody on the defensive end of the floor and will gladly switch onto a center. He got a ton of practice doing so in OKC, as well. During his time in Oklahoma City, opposing teams often thought they could create a mismatch while Steven Adams was out on the floor with him by running pick and rolls until a true 5 had Grant on his back.

More often than not, it did not work well for them.

Here, Jerami switches onto one of the most physical true centers in the entire NBA in Marc Gasol, and stands him up like a linebacker filling the gap to blow up a running back. Grant stays low, straight up, and then times his jump perfectly to block his shot.

To put the cherry on top, he immediately locates the ball, stays in the play, and forces a wild put-back attempt from Kawhi Leonard at the rim down the stretch of a close overtime game at home.

Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time moments and Jerami fits that description nicely. He shows it in this next clip, as well. Lonzo Ball deploys his trusted left-to-right power crossover that enables him to explode into the lane, only to have his soul snatched by Grant at the rim.

Despite Lonzo successfully turning Grant’s hips, he recovers so quickly, and then baits Ball into his body in order to regain prime positioning to help him force a tie-up.

Grant is a PTPer, baby! (Shoutout to my man Dickie V).

Question 2: Does he have great physical tools and instincts that allow him to make an impact all over the floor? Check.

Given his huge strides, powerful leaping ability, and 7’3” wingspan, Grant knows he can play further off the ball when on the weak-side of the floor. He is a master of the “laying in the weeds” approach to help defense.

In this play (which, unsurprisingly, is also down the stretch of a close game), Jerami identifies the handoff action perfectly after JO fills through the lane, and waits to move until Wiggins has the ball. This is key because when he catches the ball, Wiggs thinks he has an easy layup and has made up his mind about attempting the layup, which is exactly what Grant wants. He re-positions himself, keeping his shoulders square to the basket, and explodes off the floor for a perfect, textbook block.

Grant also has incredible hands and times his aggressive swipes at the ball perfectly.

Here, our beloved, bubble-bound Tyus Jones puts a pass right on the money to KAT in stride, only to have JG come in and strip the ball to jumpstart a fast-break with Russ at the wheel.

The Wolves are certainly a work in progress at all three levels on defense, but Grant could step in and make life a whole lot easier for everyone else on the floor.

Question 3: Most importantly, can he form a formidable defensive frontcourt with a so-so defensive center? Check.

To put it mildly, Steven Adams is not the quickest guy in the NBA.

He fails miserably trying to ice Kyle Kuzma and double him on the wing near the end of the shot clock, but reaches instead and lets Kuz get around him without much resistance. Thankfully, Grant is in perfect help-side position, waits for Kuzma to come to him, and then goes straight up for the block to force a 24-second violation.

Plays like the one above are typical of the help Grant frequently had to give Adams when he was isolated in high or side PnR actions during his years on the Thunder. While I would like to think that Towns is a heck of a lot more athletic than Adams is, I can clearly envision Karl using poor technique like the Australian native does below.

Nikola Vucevic does not even have to deploy a fake of any kind to get around Adams, thanks to a terrible close-out, and is on a path careening to the rim for two. Instead of following his man to the opposite corner, he sees Vucevic coming out of the corner of his eye, attacks him, and emphatically rejects the dunk attempt.

Grant’s incredible defensive IQ and off-ball defense would be perfect alongside Towns in Minnesota. With off-ball master Robert Covington now in Houston, Jerami would fill the gaping void better than anyone the Wolves could potentially afford in the 2020 Free Agent class.

In Oklahoma City, Grant lifted up the Thunder front-court pairing on defense in a major way. As you can see in the table below, OKC was tremendous in several important defensive categories.

Data from Cleaning the Glass

The statistic that could have a huge carryover effect in Minnesota is Transition Possession Percentage. The fact that the Thunder were so good at limiting their opponents’ transition opportunities despite being at such a disadvantage with a super slow center in Adams is very telling and could translate well to Minnesota.

This year’s Timberwolves team allows fast-breaks on 14.9 percent of their opponents’ possessions (44th percentile) and forced their opponents to get into their half-court offense on only 80.1 percent of possessions (46th percentile), per Cleaning the Glass.

With a fast-paced offense, Minnesota needs to be better at limiting their opponents in transition. While defenders that can cover a ton of ground like Okogie and Grant can alleviate some of that carnage in the open court, the team must take care of the ball better and take better shots next season.

Ultimately, Grant checks all three major boxes for what the Wolves’ front office is looking for in their starting 4 of the future from a defensive perspective.

Offensive Fit

Simply put, Jerami Grant does not offer a ton on the offensive end in terms of nightly statistical production. However, the swingman from Syracuse plays very well within the flow of the offense, rarely takes poor shots, and often makes the correct read with the ball in his hands.

Here, Grant spots up in the corner while Westbrook navigates the PnR. He knows that his defender is out of position, so he attacks the poor closeout (one of his best offensive skills) and drive to the cup. The defense completely respects his adept finishing ability, so he quickly scans the weak-side corner and hangs in the air long enough to throw a perfect pass to Terrance Ferguson in the corner for an easy 3.

Plays like this would work wonders with players like Towns, Malik Beasley, and Jake Layman spotted up in the corners. Jerami’s athleticism enables him to make more of an offensive impact on the game than most defensively-minded 4s in today’s NBA, especially when he has the ball in his hands or is out in transition.

Poor Lauri Markkanen actually has pretty solid defensive positioning here, but Grant uses a smooth between-the-legs crossover to help dip his body down to such a low position that he gains all the leverage he needs to get past the Finnisher (Top-10 NBA nickname, btw) for a huge left-handed throwdown.

Jerami Grant also moves well without the basketball. In the following clip, Westbrook throws an entry pass to Adams on an overloaded strong-side, so Grant takes full advantage of the wide open area underneath the basket by cutting baseline, working the line, and finishing off an easy dunk.

Thankfully, we saw KAT take a major step forward this year with his vision and playmaking out of the post. With a gifted cutter like Grant sharing the floor with him, he could take another needed step to becoming a top-tier passing big.

It can be easy to forget that the late-blooming Portland native is also a 40-percent 3-point shooter as well. He is comfortable knocking down threes out of the PnR as a popper and has quite sound shooting mechanics, too.

Here, he is wide open but wastes no time getting this corner three in the air, because he stays shot ready the whole time. Grant showcases excellent fluidity and touch on this jumper.

In the 2018-19 season, Grant ranked in the 90th percentile league-wide in jump shot efficiency, in the 70th percentile in unguarded catch and shoot situations (42.2 FG%), and in the 88th percentile on threes, converting those at a 40 percent clip (per Synergy Sports).

Where he really thrives is on the fast-break. I will let the clips speak for themselves here!

All in all, I would absolutely love to see Grant in the Wolves’ threads come December.

Given his ability to guard 1 through 5, cover up for the mistakes of a defensively deficient center and wreak havoc all over the floor, combined with his excellent complementary offensive skillset, there might be no better fit in this entire class than Jerami Grant.

Will the Wolves be able to afford him? Time will tell.