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Jerami Grant Has His Hands Full
What being The Guy looks like in Detroit
Like a lot of people, I fell in love with Jerami Grant a little during Denver’s playoff run last season. Grant jackknifed his way into easy baskets, guarded everyone from Donovan Mitchell to Anthony Davis, and seemed to fit seamlessly in the front court next to Nikola Jokic. As the playoffs went on it was clear Grant was going to get paid.
Over the offseason, Grant chose to sign with the Detroit Pistons for $20 million a year — a number, reportedly, that the Nuggets were willing to match. The best guess as to why Grant chose to leave a title contender for a bottom feeder is that he wanted to be more than just a guy. He wanted to be The Guy.
To say that I was skeptical of Grant’s potential as a number one option would be putting it lightly. And after Grant went 12 for 41 from the field in preseason it was fair to wonder whether he had bit off more than he could chew. But now that there’s been a handful of regular season games played we have more information to evaluate Grant’s potential as a go-to guy on offense.
The chart below shows every game that Grant has played at least 25 minutes in since he entered the league in 2015. The x-axis shows Grant’s usage rate (an estimate of how frequently a player is involved in the offense while on the court) in those games and the y-axis shows his scoring efficiency, as measured by true shooting percentage (a measure of how efficiently a players gets his points, which accounts for points scored from twos, threes, and free throws).
In Basketball On Paper, Dean Oliver introduced a concept known as a player’s “skill curve,” which suggests that at a certain point an increase in a player’s offensive workload will start to correspond with a decrease in their offensive efficiency. The more involved a player is on offense, the more bad shots they’re forced to take.
In the chart above, there are signs of Grant’s efficiency tailing off in games when his usage rate ticks above 30 percent. But overall this season he’s been highly efficient. So far, Grant is averaging 25 points a game on 59 percent true shooting, while being assisted on a career low 66 percent of his made field goals. In other words, Grant is taking more difficult shots than ever before and doing it without sacrificing much efficiency.
The difference between Grant’s points per game and the next leading scorer on Detroit (Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose are tied with 13.9 points per game) is 11.2 points. Only the Washington Wizards have a larger gap between their leading scorer (Bradley Beal at 34.9 points per game) and second leading scorer (Russell Westbrook at 19.3 points per game).
But what’s impressed me the most is that in addition to shouldering the scoring burden for his team, Grant is often guarding the opposing team’s best player. That’s rare in today’s NBA where most players who carry a high offensive workload tend to guard the other team’s least threatening offensive player to save energy for when they have the ball.
One way to contextualize just how much of a defensive workload Grant has is by looking at the usage rate of the players he’s guarded most frequently. Below is table ranking high usage wings by the weighted usage rate of their defensive assignments, according to the NBA’s matchup data.
Grant, whose most frequent matchups this season include Jaylen Brown, Khris Middelton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, ranks fourth on this list — right below established two-way star Jimmy Butler.
I should note that this table doesn’t say anything about how effective a defender is. It’s possible Grant is getting torched in all of these matchups. But it’s a reasonable approximation of how hard a player is having to work while on defense.
Although Grant’s emergence hasn’t translated to team success in Detroit, I don’t think it’s fair to label him as a Good Stats, Bad Team guy. When you consider that the Pistons are getting outscored by 12.8 points per 100 possessions when Grant is off the court (compared to 3.7 when he’s on the court), Grant might be the only thing keeping the Pistons even remotely competitive on a nightly basis.
And at $20 million a year, Grant’s contract looks like a bargain given his production. If nothing else, Detroit paid to have one of the most valuable trade chips in the league if they ever decided to move on from Grant.
The Most (And Least) Exciting Teams Thus Far
Gamebletron2000 is a site that provides real-time gambling data on games in progress. One of the features of the site is that it tracks how exciting a game is by measuring changes in market-implied win probability. In short, the more probabilistic lead changes there are, the more exciting the game is.
I emailed Todd Schneider, the creator of Gambletron2000, earlier this week and asked if he would be willing to share the data on how exciting every NBA game has been so far this season. He obliged and I made the following chart, which shows each team’s average excitement score from Gambletron200 versus their Net Rating, via Cleaning The Glass.
Of course, there’s a relationship between how good a team is and how boring their games are. If a team blows out all their opponents they’re going to have both a high Net Rating and a low excitement score.
Still, I feel like this chart could be a useful guide for helping a new fan to the NBA pick a team to root for.
Do you want to root for a great team that beats the brakes off their opponents? Watch the Bucks. Would you rather cheer for a deeply flawed, but competitive team that finds themselves in a lot of close games? Tune into Wizards basketball. Are you fully satisfied in all areas of life and feel like you need to balance things out by experiencing something a little bad for you? The Timberwolves are for you.
MVP Check In
Last week I introduced The F5 MVP tracker, an early season MVP model. At the time of its introduction, the model favored James Harden, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in that order. Here’s an updated look at the ten players with the best chances to win the MVP according to The F5 model and how that compares to Basketball-Reference’s MVP Tracker and betting markets.
Right now, LeBron James and Jokic are 1A and 1B in the The F5 model. Basketball-Reference’s Tracker favors Jokic and Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, betting markets still like Luka Doncic’s chances best.
I don’t have much to say here other than that a bet on Jokic to win the MVP is a bet on the Nuggets to play better than their current 5-6 record. The Nuggets are not going to start winning more games by having Jokic play worse so improvement is either going to come from the Nuggets supporting cast or from Jokic going up an another level himself. Either way, given that the Nuggets are ranked 10th in Net Rating, a bet on Jokic to win the award still seems like a pretty good one to me.