After watching Kawhi Leonard help lead the San Antonio Spurs to another Championship and win a Finals MVP in the process, some fans might see a lot of similarities between Leonard and Syracuse small forward, Jerami Grant.
Like Leonard when he was in college, Grant is a skinny, 6’8 defensive-minded forward with an enormous 7’3 wingspan and excellent athletic ability. And like Leonard at San Diego State, Grant has trouble scoring outside the paint.
There certainly is a lot to like about Grant. With his physical tools and high motor, he could become an intimidating defensive player and impact player on the boards. He also has a nice touch around the basket, gets to the basket quickly and isn’t afraid of contact.
Grant made great strides from his freshman season, doubling his minutes per game and becoming one of the main cogs in one of the best teams in college basketball, this past season. He can be electrifying when he attacks the rim, both with the ball and going after offensive rebounds.
While Grant may resemble the reigning Finals MVP in many ways, fans should be careful not to expect too much from him. While Leonard definitely needed to work on his shot, coming into the NBA, all that was required was retooling what was already there, and by the time he worked out for NBA teams, there already was a lot of improvement.
For Grant, his shot requires a completely overhaul. Many players have an awkward shooting form that you wouldn’t think would work, but does (like Shawn Mario). Grant has an awkward form and it doesn’t work. Basically his shot is broken and it could be years before he can become a decent outside threat, if at all.
A better comparison for Grant might be Luc Mbah a Moute, who has similar size and athletic ability, as well as an inability to hit a shot from beyond 15 feet, something that has limited his effectiveness at times, especially in the playoffs. Mbah a Moute has more strength, but Grant has more explosiveness around the basket.
And while Grant does have great defensive potential, he’s got a few things working against him here, as well. Like all players at Syracuse, who play zone defense almost exclusively, Grant has not been able to shown much of an ability to play one on one defense, although he does have good lateral mobility and an ability to stay in front of most wing players.
More troubling though, is his lack of blocks, and it’s not because he’s the type of player that draws charges instead. For an athletic player with a 7’3 wingspan, he should be getting more than 0.8 a game, even with Syracuse’s zone. What might be the problem is while Grant is a willing defender, he hasn’t always shown the best instincts.
Grant doesn’t seem to have a very high basketball IQ, which can be overcome more in a zone, but when asked to play man-to-man in the NBA, knowing where to be, when to help and when not to help is extremely important. Especially for a player who will likely be making a living with his defense.
The Raptors definitely need help defensively at small forward, but if the playoffs have taught us anything (again) it’s the importance of having players, especially wing players, who can space the floor, something Grant simply won’t be able to do. And he’s got almost no ball handling abilities and will get completely manhandled until he can put on about 20 lbs of muscle.