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Why Jerian Grant is a Dark Horse for Rookie of the Year

When the New York Knicks took Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, it brought a round of boos from the Knicks fans in the offense. And whether Knicks president Phil Jackson hit or whiffed on that pick will take more than one season to decide. But when he traded Tim Hardaway Jr. for Jerian Grant, he hit a home run, and that move has been understated.

In fact, Grant might be announced as this season’s Rookie of the Year come next spring, and there are three reasons he has a legitimate chance at the award. He’s NBA ready, he has more opportunity and the narrative will be in his favor.

NBA Readiness

One thing that Grant has going for him is that he’s 22 while most of the top draft choices are still teenagers. For perspective, he’s five months older than Anthony Davis. That’s not to say he’s going to come in on Davis’s level, but four more years of playing basketball at a high level — even the NCAA level — matters.

While Karl-Anthony Towns is certainly more likely to become an elite player in four or five years, out of the gate, Grant could be more impactful.

He doesn’t just have the age on the other guys either. He’s got the pedigree. His father, Harvey Grant, played 11 years in the NBA. His uncle, Horace, spent 17 years in the league, won three titles with Michael Jordan’s Bulls and another with the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers.

His younger brother, Jerami, played 65 games with the Philadelphia 76ers last year. And Jerian is the better player out of the two.

There may be players taken above him who have a brighter future, but he arguably has the best “present” of anyone.

Opportunity

While the fact he’s ready is a help, it wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t ready in the ways that’ll allow him to step in and make the most of the opportunity. And both the way he plays and his maturity bode well for him sliding immediately into heavy minutes.

With Phil Jackson doling out praise, it seems like he’s going to get a real chance to make an impact right away. This from Charley Rosen’s “Phil Files” on ESPN:

“He knows the game and has a certain flair for it,” Jackson says of Grant. “He’s quick, has 3-point range, knows how to pass, can break a defense down with his handle, knows how to get through screens and is comfortable getting people involved on offense.”

Equally as impressive as Grant’s game, Jackson says, is his demeanor. After he was declared academically ineligible for the second semester of his junior year, Grant could have moved on from Notre Dame.

“But Jerian fessed up, took his punishment and, despite being urged to make himself available in the NBA draft, went back to school,” Jackson says. “To me, that reveals a lot about his character.”

Jackson said he’d be competing for playing time with Langston Galloway. But that’s not even a competition. Not only should he be doing that, don’t be shocked if he’s the starter by Thanksgiving; be surprised if he’s not.

And his style is perfect for the NBA, per Draft Express’s Jonathan Givony:

Grant’s best attribute from an NBA standpoint clearly revolves around his playmaking ability. He is a decisive passer and an extremely unselfish player overall, making reads automatically and whipping the ball impressively all over the court. He has a tremendous natural feel for finding the open man regardless of where they are on the floor, being capable of making every pass in the book, be it high or low, and to cutters, rollers or shooters. Unlike many big guards, he’s not a combo looking to make the transition to the point, he’s already a tremendous distributor.

His 7.3 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted ranks fourth among DX Top-100 prospects, despite the fact that he shared playmaking duties with another capable guard in sophomore Demetrius Jackson, a strong NBA prospect in his own right. Grant’s 6.22 pure point ratio ranks second in our Top-100, an indication of not only his passing skill but also how infrequently he turns the ball over, coughing it up on just 14% of his possessions.

And while he’s a pass-first guy, it’s not like he can’t shoot or score. Per Givony:

Grant was a capable scorer for the Irish, averaging over 18 points per-40 pace adjusted on a solid 60% TS%. He doesn’t really excel in any one area here, but rather picks his spots nicely, pushing the ball up the floor in the early offense and finding places to score out of pick and rolls, spot-ups and in one on one situations. Far from being a non-shooter like many big guards, Grant made a decent amount of 3s throughout his career, hitting 1.5 per game on average, at a 34.5% clip.

A pass-first point guard who can penetrate and hit the three? It’s not hard to see that working in the Triangle offense. And with the offense beginning with him, he’ll still get plenty of touches in an offense that’ll still feature Carmelo Anthony first. But that’s OK because it means Grant will be piling up dimes.

Other contenders will either be depending on other players to get them touches (e.g. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers, Towns) or competing with more-featured ball handlers for touches (e.g. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons).

Grant will have the chance to log big assist numbers and add solid, high-efficiency scoring. That would bode well for his chances at winning ROY.

Narrative

Finally, playing with the Knicks, he’ll have a great chance at winning the “narrative” part of the discussion. Whether the Knicks make the postseason or not, they’ll be in the running, and Grant will get a good chunk of the credit for the turnaround.

It won’t be all because of him. Having more NBA caliber players around him sure will help. Having Anthony back will make a ton of difference. Robin Lopez cleaning up the offensive glass and getting second-chance points will have an impact on efficiency.

There will be a number of things that are contributing factors, but it’ll be easy to look towards the quarterback as one of the pivotal reasons if the Knicks’ offense is less of a total disaster than it was last year. And frankly, if his passing translates to the NBA, it’ll be entirely fair to give it to him.

And one thing we know from the home of “Linsanity” is that the New York media can blow up a story like none other in the league. If Grant is in the conversation for ROY, it’s hard to not see him winning it just because the voice of the New York media is so loud when the case isn’t legitimate. If it is legitimate, just say out of the way of the oncoming subway train.

If Grant can come out and be an impact player for the Knicks, which is a very realistic possibility, look for him to pull a Damian Lillard and be the dark horse ROY winner.

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