When a team is 4-36, it’s hard to label any player an X-factor.
But for those four wins the Sixers have this season, one of the biggest difference makers has been second-year forward Jerami Grant.
In each of the four wins, Grant has posted positive numbers in the plus-minus column. In fact, Grant has 11 plus-games this season, third on the team behind JaKarr Sampson and T.J. McConnell. In addition, Grant’s plus-22 on Nov. 4 in Milwaukee is the highest registered by any Sixer this season.
Though it’s far from a perfect stat, it does show which players can make things happen. For the Sixers, that has been Grant.
“I think he can be an elite defender,” head coach Brett Brown said after Tuesday’s practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“He’s a versatile player whose growth could be expedited by his three-point percentage — his three-point shot,” Brown said. “We’ve grown him and if he can improve on that and the defensive qualities we’ve recognized, he’s a keeper for sure.”
Yes, if there is one flaw in Grant’s game it’s his shooting percentage. The second-year player out of Syracuse is connecting on just 19.7 percent of his threes this season and 42.2 percent on all of his shots. Though he’s averaging 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, Grant’s outside game has fallen back this season. Nevertheless, Grant has fired up a three-pointer in all but five of the Sixers’ 40 games this season, but has hit a three in just 11 of his appearances.
Though he’s a catalyst on the court for the Sixers and notching plus-games, Grant’s shooting hasn’t done him any favors.
“I’m definitely struggling from the three-point line this season, but I’m getting better,” Grant said. “It feels more comfortable when I shoot it, I just have to be more confident.”
Regardless, Brown says Grant has “earned the right” to fire up open threes despite his shooting percentage and experience. In his two seasons at Syracuse, Grant went a combined 6 for 20 from three-point range, including 0 for 5 in 32 games of his final season.
He also went 49 for 156 (31.4 percent) from three in his rookie season, not exactly showing signs of becoming a solid NBA three-point shooter.
But perhaps Grant has to start shooting and making three-pointers in order to turn himself into a bona fide rotation player in the NBA. At 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Grant is long and lean and maybe undersized to be the prototype NBA power forward like his dad, Harvey, or uncle, Horace. But as a stretch-four with athleticism and the addition of a perimeter game, Grant could turn into that X-factor player.
“You just have to get him older,” Brown said. “The thing we always remind him and the thing he appreciates is the privilege of shooting NBA threes. When your percentage doesn’t mirror what it should, but you know that’s where he has to go, it’s a luxury and a privilege he doesn’t abuse. He puts in the time. I say that because that’s going to be the swing vote that separates him.
“I think he’s a stretch-four man and he can play three. Where he’s the most dangerous is when four-men try to guard him and chase him in a catch-go.”
Grant is also dangerous on defense, where his quickness and length are troublesome to the opposition. Brown says he encourages Grant to go after shots from the weak side and his 1.6 blocks per game are the best on a team that leads the NBA in blocked shots.
Plus, opponents shoot nearly 53 percent when Grant is off the court compared to 49 percent when he’s on the floor. Those numbers would stand out even more if Grant shot a better percentage from three.
He knows it, too.
“I just have to make them,” Grant said. “I’ve put the work in, I just have to knock them down.”