Jerami Grant gives Nuggets ‘a seamless fit’ for their youth movement — and another Maryland connection
By Pat Graham
Jul 12, 2019 at 10:00 AM
DENVER — Jerami Grant's introductory news conference turned out to be a real show stopper.
Actually, more of a sound-check interrupter.
Between rehearsals before an Ariana Grande concert Thursday at the Pepsi Center, the newly acquired Denver Nuggets big man chatted about how defense just may be his best attribute and how much he was looking forward to playing alongside All-Star center Nikola Jokic.
It was all music to the Nuggets' ears.
The acquisition of Grant in a deal with Oklahoma City was the only significant change the Nuggets have made so far in the offseason. It could be just the move they needed to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference.
“The year we're coming off of, to add a guy like Jerami, I'm as excited as I've ever been with any team I've been associated with,” said Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly, who surrendered a 2020 first-round pick to the Thunder in the deal.
With the trade, Connelly, a Baltimore native and 1994 graduate of Towson Catholic High, added even more Maryland flavor to his team. Grant, who grew up in Hyattsville and starred at D.C.-power DeMatha Catholic, joins coach Michael Malone (played at Loyola Maryland, coached at Friends School), swingman Will Barton (City, Lake Clifton) and assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. (who, in addition to growing up in Baltimore as his father starred for the Bullets, played at Johns Hopkins) as yet another DMV connection in Denver.
“I have people always tell me that they’re rooting for us just because of the Baltimore ties we have,” Will Barton told The Baltimore Sun during Denver’s 2019 playoff run. “I feel that the more success we have, the more fans we will have back home.”
The youthful Nuggets are also banking on cohesion to improve on a season that saw them go 54-28 and earn the No. 2 seed in the West. They’re basically running it back even as teams in the West got stronger and stronger. Although, Denver now has Grant and Michael Porter Jr., the No. 14 selection in 2018 who sat out last season as he recovered from another back surgery.
“When you look at our culture it's something we've hung our hat on and I think is very positive and it's developed organically,” Connelly explained. “We're very sensitive to who we bring in and I don't think you could find someone who would be a more seamless fit than Jerami.”
The 25-year-old Grant is coming off a career season where he averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. He also shot 49.7% from the field and 39.2% from 3-point range.
In his opinion, though, his best biggest contributions could be on the defensive end. Grant found himself covering anyone from Damian Lillard to James Harden to Anthony Davis.
Malone liked the sound of that.
“For me, what really stands out in today’s NBA is his ability to guard and cover whoever,” said Malone, whose team beat San Antonio in seven games during the first round of the playoffs before losing to Portland in seven games in a second-round series. “Adding a player of Jerami’s talent and the person that he is, his ability to add to our culture, is just going to make us a better team and a more dangerous team.”
There might be times when Grant finds himself paired on the floor with Jokic and Paul Millsap, who had his $30 million option picked up. Not that Malone has given it much thought.
“I'm enjoying the moment,” Malone said. “But I'm excited that he's on our team. He's going to play for us. He was a starter on a playoff team. He helped the OKC Thunder play at a high level. I have no idea on minutes or rotation. I will promise you he will be a prominent figure in our rotation.”
Grant’s early impression of the Nuggets is they’re a team that likes to work the ball around. Especially Jokic, who averaged 7.3 assists during the regular season to go with 20.1 points and 10.8 rebounds.
“They always move the ball at an extremely high clip and get a lot of open shots and get a lot easy baskets,” Grant said. “I'm definitely excited to be here.”
Asked to evaluate his offseason, Connelly cracked, “probably give myself an `A-plus.’
“The patience of ownership with not just players but myself and [Malone],” Connelly added. “They’ve seen we have a wacky vision, to build around Nikola. We’ve seen that take shape. We turned the corner last year.”