While the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers were busy chasing superstars this offseason, the Denver Nuggets quietly made a move that could solidify them as the team to beat in the Western Conference.
In the first week of July, the Nuggets acquired Jerami Grant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
🚨🚨 OFFICIAL 🚨🚨- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) July 8, 2019
We have acquired Jerami Grant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a 2020 first-round draft pick! #MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/xF1JR0sgCA
It's the kind of trade that on the surface might barely register for the casual NBA fan, especially in the superstar swap meet this offseason that saw stars like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Al Horford and Mike Conley all change teams. Grant isn't even expected to start alongside Nikola Jokic in Denver's frontcourt next season - Paul Millsap is.
Even so, Grant will fill an important role as Millsap's backup on a Nuggets team that lacked depth at the power forward position last season. There's also a chance that Grant is the franchise's starting power forward of the future, with this being the last season on Millsap's current contract and Grant being almost 10 years younger.
In which case, Grant could be the final piece of a core that is projected to dominate the NBA for the next decade.
MORE: Who are the best free agents in 2020?
Having already been a solid contributor as a starter in a winning environment, the Nuggets have reason to believe Grant can eventually carry the torch from Millsap. He started in 77 of the 80 games he appeared in with the Thunder last season and averaged career highs of 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds in 32.7 minutes per game.
The points in particular were a big jump compared to the season prior, mostly due to the improvements he made as a 3-point shooter. Once known as a limited scorer, Grant attempted the fourth-most (293) 3-pointers on the Thunder last season and led the team in 3-point percentage (.392).
The combination eased his fit with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, as Grant was able to punish opponents for helping off of him to crowd the paint, which happened often by virtue of him being a big man who shared the court with a pair of ball-dominant players.
Millsap has filled a similar role next to Jokic and Jamal Murray since joining the Nuggets in 2017, the biggest difference between the two being Grant has become a more accurate and willing 3-point shooter. That alone doesn't make him a better player - Millsap is a far superior rebounder and playmaker, among other things - but it does make Grant a more natural long-term solution for the Nuggets at power forward under two conditions:
- Last season wasn't an anomaly. In his first four seasons, Grant combined to shoot 30.1 percent from 3-point range. He shattered his previous career-high in makes and attempts by almost double last season. If he were to regress as a 3-point shooter, it would greatly reduce his effectiveness on a title contending team like the Nuggets.
- Jokic and Murray continue to develop as expected. Jokic has already proven to be an MVP-type player, so this is more about Murray, who signed a five-year, $170 million extension with the Nuggets this offseason. Any team built around two stars needs the right players around them to succeed, and Grant is the type of low usage role player who can allow them both to play to their strengths if they reach their full potential.
Grant isn't strictly a 3-point shooter, though. He's a good enough ball handler to attack closeouts with straight-line drives, mobile enough to get out in the open court and both big and athletic enough to do big man-like things, such as roll to the basket and attack the offensive glass. As Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs detailed, his ability to do all of that in addition to being a threat from the perimeter makes him a hybrid of Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee and Juacho Hernangomez, each of them being either current or former Nuggets who thrived in their own way next to Jokic.
Again, Millsap can also do those things, but Grant is a different caliber of athlete. One way in which that is clear: Grant had almost as many dunks last season (101) than Millsap has had in the last four seasons combined (114).
With Jokic being the best passer he's ever played with, Grant should flourish as a cutter in Denver.
Seamless as his transition should be offensively on the Nuggets, Grant will likely make his greatest impact on the other end of the court in Denver.
Despite not having an All-NBA Defensive Team selection to show for it, his versatility puts him on a shortlist of players who can comfortably guard multiple positions. The same mobility he uses to get out in transition allows him to keep up with perimeter players, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan makes him a nightmare for anyone to score against.
Grant uses that massive wingspan to protect the rim, too. His 1.3 blocks per game led the way for the Thunder last season and tied him with the likes of Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wendell Carter Jr. for the 11th-best mark in the league.
Grant isn't a traditional rim protector - i.e., he doesn't stand underneath the basket waiting for players to attack him - but he's an excellent weakside defender, which is important to the Nuggets because of Jokic's limitations as a defender. When teams target him in pick-and-rolls or in isolation, they'll have to be wary of Grant sliding over as a shot blocker.
It helps that Grant has experience covering for a slower-footed defender in the frontcourt, having been teammates with Steven Adams in the past. Grant and Adams had a lot of success together as well. The two of them formed a solid foundation for the Thunder last season, allowing only 105.1 points per 100 possessions when they were on the court together, a rate equivalent to the second-best defence in the league.
Adams is a better all-around defender than Jokic, but those numbers bode well for Grant's fit with Denver's All-Star.
Grant's defensive prowess could become more of a factor in the playoffs than the regular season given the amount of star power that is now in the Western Conference. Even if he's not the primary defender on Davis, Leonard, James Harden or LeBron James, Grant will likely play a big role in Denver's attempt to slow those superstars down should they meet them the postseason.
There will be times when he's matched up with them on switches, and his effectiveness roaming as a help defender will prevent them from getting easy baskets.
"For me, what really stands out in today's NBA is his ability to guard and cover whoever," Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said of Grant.
"Adding a player of Jerami's talent and the person that he is, his ability to add to our culture, is just going to make us a better team and a more dangerous team."
MORE: How Jamal Murray can live up to his max extension
How much better? It's hard to say given the amount of unknown there is following the blockbuster moves that have been made throughout the league this offseason. But for a team that came within five points of making the Western Conference Finals last season and enters next season with basically the same roster, Grant's two-way play could be just what the Nuggets need to make the leap into legitimate title contention, both next season and beyond.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.