This could’ve been an awful summer for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Several weeks before free agency started, Paul George’s status was up in the air and the Thunder were also worried that they may lose Jerami Grant if another team started a bidding war for his services. Oklahoma City wanted to bring the 24-year-old forward back, but they could only offer so much given their luxury-tax situation. Fortunately for Sam Presti and the rest of the organization, both George and Grant agreed to multi-year deals with the Thunder shortly after free agency got underway on July 1.
Fans who haven’t watched many Thunder games may be wondering why Grant received a three-year, $27.4 million deal. After all, he averaged just 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and a block last year. But Grant is one of those players whose biggest contributions don’t appear in a box score. However, advanced analytics show his value. Last year was a career-year for Grant in terms of Win Shares, VORP, Box Plus/Minus, True Shooting Percentage, PER and Offensive Rating.
During the playoffs, OKC performed like a 51.9-win team in Grant’s 103 minutes on the floor. In the 186 minutes that Carmelo Anthony replaced Grant on the court, they performed like an 18.7-win team. HoopsHype caught up with Grant to discuss his free-agency experience, expectations for next season, his offseason training and much more.
What specific aspects of your game are you focused on improving this offseason and can you walk me through your training regimen?
Jerami Grant: I’m really focused on my shooting. That’s probably the part of my game that I’m focusing on the most. Also, I’ve been trying to improve my balance – staying balanced when I’m getting to the basket. Mainly, I want to be able to create [shots] for myself a little bit more. Those things are my main focus this summer. My workout regimen has been really intense because I know that this upcoming year is a big one for me. I’m working out pretty much the whole day. I wake up to work out at 6 a.m. and then, depending on the day, I’ll go through another workout at either noon or 1 p.m. Then, I also get in a night workout around 6:30 p.m. That’s been my schedule for pretty much the whole summer. It’s been pretty intense.
I know you’ve worked a lot on your three-point shooting throughout your career. Two years ago, you shot 37.1 percent from three. Then, last year, it dropped to 29.1 percent. How can ensure that the work you’re putting in this summer translates into better shooting during games?
JG: I’ve definitely had my ups and downs when it comes to my shooting. I’ve shot the ball well one year, then [my percentage] may go down a little bit the next year. Then it may go up again and then down again the following year. One thing I’ve learned from experience is that you have to get game reps in during the summer. This summer, I’ve been trying to get as many game reps in as possible, shooting the ball quickly and trying to get a lot of pick-up in to simulate real-time game speed. There’s a big difference between shooting in workouts and shooting in games, which is why I’m trying to get games reps this summer.
Who are some of the guys you’ve played pick-up with this summer?
JG: I’ve been playing pick-up my brother, Jerian Grant, and Victor Oladipo. I came out to LA and played with a bunch of guys like Jordan Clarkson, Kelly Oubre, DeMarre Carroll and many others. I played pick-up in DC with a lot of the NBA guys and overseas guys who are from there. I also played in a [pro-am] summer league against Will Barton. There have been a lot of guys. I’ve been trying to play as much high-quality pick-up as possible. In DC and LA, there are so many guys from there who come back home during the offseason, so it makes it easy to find really talented guys to play against.
With Carmelo Anthony leaving, it seems like you’re poised to take on a bigger role. I know it’s always hard to see a teammate go, but are you excited about the opportunity for more minutes and touches? And how are you preparing yourself for that?
JG: Yeah, definitely. Obviously, we all loved Melo and everything, but the situation is what it is. I’m definitely excited to be able to play extensive minutes and play important minutes on a contender. Getting a chance to show what you can do while being part of an organization like this, being part of a team like this, it means a lot. They’ve shown a lot of trust in me by giving me this new contract and [and a bigger role]. Now, I’m just excited and ready for the season to get rolling.
You mentioned the new contract. How was your free-agency experience? I know it didn’t last very long – you agreed to terms quickly – but what was it like in the weeks leading up to July 1? Did you know all along that you’d be back with the Thunder or was it up in the air?
JG: I really wanted to be back in OKC. Going in, I was thinking, “As long as we can reach terms that make sense for both sides, I’ll be very happy.” The plan was always to re-sign with OKC and do whatever I needed to do to come back here. I think my agent, Steve [McCaskill], did a great job negotiating the deal and making the process as easy as possible for me. It wasn’t too stressful, to be honest. Steve and everyone else made it really easy on me.
When you sign a multi-year contract like that, it’s clear that your hard work paid off. It also means you have some financial/job security rather than having to worry about those things. Has that sunk in yet?
JG: For me, I don’t really think about it. I know I just got a good contract, but my focus is just on playing well. It does lift a burden off your shoulders. You aren’t thinking that you have to play well every time [or else you may be out of the league] and you aren’t as uptight. At the same time, my mentality and focus are the exact same as they were when I entered the league and grinded to get to where I am now. I have the same mindset, but I do feel a little bit more free.
There’s this narrative that Russell Westbrook is a bad teammate and that people don’t want to play alongside him. You hear it from some media members and from opposing fans. Some people say it’s because he doesn’t pass enough, some people bring up his personality. As someone who’s played with Russ for two years and gotten to know him well, what do you think of that narrative?
JG: That’s just ignorant. I think people just listen to the media [who say that] and believe it, but Russ is a great teammate and a great person. Players obviously want to play with him. PG just re-signed to come back. I just re-signed to come back. I know of a lot of players who want to be in OKC. I think that’s a huge misconception in the media and I don’t know why it’s said. He’s a great player and everyone wants to play with great players because we all want to win. He definitely passes the ball. I’m not really sure what else to say about that. It’s just ignorance.
Most of the guys from last year are returning, plus the team added players like Dennis Schroeder and Nerlens Noel this offseason. The Western Conference is obviously loaded, but how do you think this team stacks up in the West?
JG: I definitely feel like we’re contenders. We have amazing talent on our team, honestly, we’re right up there with the other top teams in the West. We have a great opportunity to do something really special, as long as everyone is focused and everyone is playing their hardest. If that happens, I think we’ll be fine and we’ll definitely get to where we want to get to.
A lot of people – whether they’re fans or media – are saying it’s inevitable that the Golden State Warriors are going to win the title. Or they’ll say only the Warriors and Houston Rockets have a shot at winning it all. How do you react to that kind of stuff? Do you use it as motivation?
JG: Definitely. Obviously, the media and whoever are going to say whatever they want to say. They can say that there’s only one or two teams that can win the championship. But, at the same time, we know what we’re capable of doing. With the team that this front office has put together, we’re extremely confident going into the season. As long as we focus on us and focus on what’s happening internally, I think we’ll be fine.
Last summer, the front office added a focal point in Paul George and another big piece in Carmelo Anthony, so there was a big adjustment period. This year, with the exception of a few new players, it seems like there’s continuity and chemistry going into the season. How beneficial is that?
JG: I think we needed last year to build chemistry and get some experience [playing together] under our belt. Now, we added a few people and lost a few people, but we’re coming back with a lot of the same players. I think when you look at the core of our team, it’s largely the same group that came together last year. I think we’ll be fine now that we have that year of experience together under our belt. We just have to continue to jell together. We’ve been doing a great job of that and the coaching staff has done a great job of getting us together so we can get a feel for our new teammates. I think we just need to keep pushing forward and let everything fall into place.