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One on One: Why has Jerami Grant struggled this season?

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Dom & Bobby debate why Grant has not reached the place he left off last season.

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The debate over who should start at power forward rages on, whether the heady veteran in Patrick Patterson, or the energetic youth in Jerami Grant should move to the forefront. However, what cannot be denied is that Grant has taken a massive step backward in play this season, last game not withstanding.

In raw production, Grant has seen a 18% decrease in points scored per possession and 23% decrease in rebounds per possession, while most of his other stats have seen little change. His efficiency has also fallen off, with 7% and 8.5% decreases in FG% and FT% respectively, despite just completing the best offensive game in his OKC tenure.

Today, we debate the cause of this steep regression. Was it as simple as his performance last season being an unsustainable anomaly, resulting more from variance and non-mean results? Or have adjustments been made (either by OKC or opponents) which have nullified his impact and reduced him to a far-below-replacement player? On top of that, is Grant struggling under the pressure of his first big NBA contract? Today, we debate.

Bobby: Statistical regression to the mean

Last season, 15 of Grant’s 17 highest scoring games came in February or later. His True Shooting Percentage climbed 10 points from Pre-All-Star to Post-All Star. That’s not improvement in technique or skill; it’s variance in the results. Players get very little time to practice in the middle of the season. That’s why it’s pretty rare to see anything more than incremental improvement by players except during the offseason, with first year players being the main exception.

The question then becomes — which version of Grant is the real version? Usually career numbers are the best way to gauge the answer to this question. Grant’s career efficiency aligns with the early season numbers, as well as the numbers from this season (about 55% TS%). His scoring numbers also fall into his career range (about 0.15-0.17 points per possession) versus the anomaly numbers during late last season of about 0.24 points per possession.

Where Grant has legitimately seemed to improve is defensively. He is contesting more shots (a trajectory that matches the past several seasons), and is causing players to score at a lower efficiency differential than in past seasons. His steal and block numbers are consistent with career numbers. Overall, his defensive discipline has seemed to improve.

So while his numbers perhaps raised fans expectations of his plays to a level that wasn’t reasonable, as his numbers late last season were mostly due to variance, Grant still is showing himself to have utility. However, if he could start showing results somewhere between his numbers late last season and his career averages, a mark that isn’t outside the range of normal improvement, it would be very beneficial for this team.

Dom: Too many adjustments

Some of Grant’s season last year revealed marked improvement from the raw prospect he once was when OKC acquired him. And while some of those numbers may be slightly fluky, he seemed to show enough to indicate he’s capable of certain things he once was not capable of, such as a bit more ball handling and on occasion shooting from distance. Grant’s regression may at least in part be caused by adjustments by the way he’s being utilized in the offense, particularly behind the arc.

In 2017-2018, Grant averaged 1.4 3-point attempts per game, and shot 29%. That number has now over doubled at 3.1 per game while his percentage dipped to 23%. At the same time, he’s taking a much higher proportion of those shots as non-corner 3 point attempts, a location that he wasn’t particularly accurate from last year, but was the year prior, and is generally considered the best place for a shooter. Some of this dip in percentage may be due to the location he’s spotting up outside the line.

As for his 2-point percentages, Grant has again moved away from more efficient spots. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s taken more 3-point shots this year (up 15% from last year in terms of percentage of possessions used) but most of what he’s gone away from isn’t his midrange shooting, but shots at the rim. He’s gone from taking 66% of his shots at the rim all the way to 55%, with only a small contribution of his new 3 point attempts being shots that used to be midrange.

By pulling himself away from the rim, he hasn’t reduced the more difficult 2s he’s taking but instead just making easy shots harder. He’s not a pure 3-point shooter, and by forcing him into that role the defense will more often than not succeed. We’ve seen a similar trend with Domantas Sabonis when he left OKC for Indiana.

For the Thunder, Grant was used as a floor spacing power forward when he can’t shoot and his best position was center. I don’t think Grant is a center, but he’s definitely not a guy who can be relied on right now to stretch the floor and take over a third of his shots from distance. His shot profile is a possible candidate for his shooting decline and an adjustment needs to be made somewhere to get him back at the rim.

Poll

Why do you think Grant has not yet performed consistently well this season?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    He is regressing to a mean that he outperformed last year.
    (15 votes)
  • 75%
    The team has mis-used him with current adjustments.
    (67 votes)
  • 7%
    Other - write in below!
    (7 votes)
89 votes total Vote Now