The Portland Trail Blazers have gotten off to an excellent start to the season. Damian Lillard’s return from injury has helped the team elevate compared to last season's failure. Give credit to the front office for a great off-season by surrounding Lillard with talented players who play their roles to perfection. While players like Lillard and Anfernee Simons have led the charge for Portland, one of their unsung heroes has been Jerami Grant, who the Blazers traded for this past offseason.
It’s been an uphill journey for Grant through the course of his career. A few seasons ago, he was trying to find his footing as far as transitioning from a role player to a top-three option on a playoff contender. In the past few seasons, Grant showed flashes of All-Star potential when he played for the Detroit Pistons. However, with the franchise being in rebuild mode, he didn’t receive the proper attention that he should have. The situation in Portland is different now. Grant has returned to a winning position, which he has been familiar with since he entered the NBA.
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Coming into the season, there were mixed opinions as far as where the Trail Blazers will be placed in the Western Conference standings. While many believed they could be contenders, others believed they would finish at the bottom of the race. However, the Blazers have gotten off to one of their best starts in the last decade. They’re the number one team in the West while being ranked top 10 in defense, continuing to compete at the highest level. Credit is deserved for head coach, Chauncey Billups, for preparing his team for each matchup.
Grant is in a position that fits him and the Portland Trail Blazers. Being the third option on offense, he is able to be an energizer on both ends while being a great complement next to Lillard and Simons. What makes Grant great on the offensive end is his anticipation. He always has his hands ready for a pass and once he receives the ball, he makes his move. One of Grant’s patented moves has been his ability to step into his mid-range jumper in isolation. Plus, he’s shown to be a great pick-and-roll partner as well, showing his ability to score against larger defenders.
On defense, Grant continued to elevate and set the tone on that end as well. It will be interesting if coach Billups decides to run more small-ball lineups. The reason is that Grant is such a terrific rim protector at the forward position. His athleticism and quickness allow him to block shots and he is always prepared for when a shot goes up. If he continues his dominance on that end, people can consider Grant as a Defensive Player of The Year candidate. Portland averages four blocks per game so far this season, as Grant is averaging one block. Grant continues to be one of the anchors of the defense this season for the Blazers, which is a reason they’re one of the best teams on that end.
Grant is averaging 20.7 points per game to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Despite his role being reduced, he’s continuing to give the same production on offense as he did in his last few seasons with Detroit. Oftentimes, the Blazers have relied on down the stretch to make big plays. The first example is an early matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. As the team made their comeback, Grant was one of the leading factors in the Blazer's snatching momentum.
In the past, Portland has always relied on Damian Lillard to make the biggest shot. We’ve seen it multiple times throughout his career while even sending teams home in the playoffs with a game-winner. However, Billups prepared for Lillard to be covered while inbounding the ball. So what did he do? He drew up a play for another star who is not afraid of pressure. Being covered by LeBron James on the right corner, Grant made his move and found an opening to the basket, making a driving layup with three seconds remaining in regulation. The Blazers came out with a big win and began the season 3-0.
The next game-winner occurred against the Phoenix Suns. As Grant’s partner in crime, Anfernee Simons, delivered a game-winner against the same team, the forward would return the favor. In a game without both Lillard and Simons, Grant had to step in as the number one option. With that being said, he affected the game in a multitude of ways. His ability to score and get others involved sparked momentum for the Blazers. At one point in the contest, the team held a double-digit lead over the Suns.
As Phoenix rallied a fourth-quarter comeback, Grant would spoil their momentum by hitting a game-winner along the right baseline. Once again, it was an indication that the forward was not afraid of the pressure. Grant took advantage of the open shot and caused a defensive breakdown for Phoenix to lose the contest.
The trade this off-season has worked wonders for the Portland Trail Blazers. After trading CJ McCollum during the trade deadline last season, many believed the Blazers were heading into rebuild mode. However, it’s safe to say that the acquisition of Grant has allowed the franchise to turn to a new direction. Grant’s versatility will only continue to be on display as the Blazers continue to emerge as a contender in the Western Conference.