Currently sitting at 0-9 following a loss in Oklahoma City on Friday night, the Philadelphia 76ers are the last remaining winless team in the NBA for the second straight season. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projects the team will not be favored to win a game until Feb. 6 against Brooklyn. If you haven’t read all the hot takes and jokes about everything I just laid out, well, you probably just spend your time a lot more wisely than I do. So while the Sixers appear destined to engage in an epic season-long battle with the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers for lottery pole position, player development once again provides the most meaningful reason to keep paying attention.
Although the main focus in terms of the long-term ceiling for the franchise rightfully lies in the play of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, the Sixers have also used the last few seasons to sift through the second round of the draft and the undrafted free agent pool in search of valuable role players. Robert Covington is the prime example of this process (sorry), with T.J. McConnell the latest potential find. It’s only been a few weeks, but T.J. looks like he could use his plus court vision to serve as a consistent backup point guard in the league for a long time.
Yet, with a slew of first-round draft picks and potentially Dario Saric and Joel Embiid joining the active roster next season, Philadelphia’s days of having a ton of spots to search for fringe players may be coming to a close. Sooner than you think, the team is going to have to start making decisions about whether some of these lovable band of misfits are worthy of hanging around for the long haul. One of those players is Jerami Grant.
Now in his second NBA season after being drafted in the second round, Grant has started six of the team’s nine games this season at both the small and power forward positions. While on/off splits aren’t a perfect stat, let’s take a look at Grant’s numbers thus far on the season:
On Court: 91.8 ORtg, 104.4 DRtg
Off Court: 93.9 ORtg, 110.1 DRtg
However, Grant’s offensive game hasn’t progressed beyond trying to stuff it whenever he gets around the rim. He’s shooting a ghastly 4-33 on jump shots this season, including 2-15 from three. Following his rookie season where he only converted 26.3 percent of his jumpers, it’s become increasingly apparent he can’t stick as a small forward in a functioning offense.The data backs up what the old-fashioned eye test tells you when you watch Grant play: he’s a plus-defender, but somewhat of a liability on the offensive end. Offensively, Grant is basically a one-trick pony. Granted, it’s a really terrific trick to watch.
So while we know he’s a very capable wing defender, how does Grant’s defense specifically translate when he has to play power forward? He certainly has the rim protection part of it down, averaging 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes after a 1.8 figure in his rookie year. While it’s tough to tell how often he was guarding power forwards, Grant has held opponents to a field goal percentage 6.3 percent lower than normal on shots within six feet of the basket this season.
Taking a look at specific lineups the Sixers have used this season, the team’s defensive ratings come out very well when Grant is at power forward. Looking at the most frequently used lineup with each center, the team has a defensive rating of 89.5 with Grant alongside Nerlens Noel (across eight minutes), 90.8 next to Jahlil Okafor (22 minutes) and 79.3 paired with Christian Wood (six minutes). Certainly, these are small sample sizes in each case, but the numbers are encouraging enough that I’d like to see head coach Brett Brown go with these alignments more often.
In the end, I’m still not sure whether or not Jerami Grant is a usable piece in the long-term for the Sixers. What I’m relatively certain of, however, is that his best chance for success comes at power forward. While I realize it’s difficult given that the team’s two best players are both big men, I’d ideally like to see as much of Grant playing the 4 as possible this season. After all, sometimes all guys need is the right situation. Usually, when someone says that it refers to finding the right team. Here, I think it might be finding the right position.