Syracuse hasn’t produced boatloads of NBA talent over the past ten seasons, but the Orange that have gone to the Association have made their names known. One SU alum turned himself into a star this past NBA season.
Jerami Grant began his NBA career as a role player. The two year SU man was drafted by the struggling 76ers in 2014, and dealt to the Thunder two years later, where he carved out playing time as a uber-athletic dunker with defensive skills. He was traded to the Nuggets before the 2020 season, and served as Denver’s main wing defender, guarding tough assignments like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard on a regular basis.
Grant gambled on himself big-time during the offseason as a free agent. The Nuggets and Pistons offered him very similar deals, but instead of sticking in his normal role, as a backup “do-everything” forward for a team in contention for an NBA championship, Grant wanted to become a main scorer. He signed a three year, $60 million contract, which drew raised eyebrows from many around the NBA, and Grant went on to prove his doubters wrong.
Detroit was in a rut, with the aging Blake Griffin having to run most of its offense from the post. Grant was asked to take the team in a new direction, and be the main offensive threat. The forward averaged 22 points on 43% shooting from the field, and also tacked on four rebounds and three assists per game. Grant also shot 35% from behind the arc on six attempts per game. He shouldered a much larger load, taking ten more shots on average than he did in Denver a season ago Grant scored 20 or more points 35 times this season, and dropped a career high 43 against the Bulls. He finished second in the voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
While Detroit struggled as a team last season, going 20-52, Grant is in a great position for success going forward. The Pistons have the number one pick in the upcoming Draft. Chances are former SU assistant coach and current Pistons General Manager Troy Weaver plans on adding a scoring guard, most likely Big 12 Player of the Year Cade Cunningham, who some are calling the best NBA draft prospect in the past ten years. This takes some pressure off of Grant’s shoulders and gives him an elite passer to pair with on the offensive end. The Pistons could certainly cause some trouble for the top teams in the Eastern Conference next season.
This offseason, Grant is currently in Tokyo with the U.S. Olympic Team, trying to win its fourth straight gold medal (unfortunately, that’s not looking great after today).